Rotherham United slipped to a 2-1 defeat at the hands of table-topping Brighton and Hove Albion at the Amex Stadium despite a spirited performance on the south coast.
Tomer Hemed gave the Seagulls’ league position credibility early on as he fired them into a first half lead, before Dale Stephens crashed home a second to give the hosts breathing space.
The Millers found a way back into the game when second half substitute Jonson Clarke-Harris guided a header beyond David Stockdale 20 minutes from time but Steve Evans’ side couldn’t find a second despite a stirring effort at the death.
The Rotherham United boss refreshed the look of his side with three changes to the team that started at The Valley at the weekend.
Newly-appointed skipper Lee Frecklington was the enforced change as a result of his calf injury sustained in the capital, with Chris Maguire occupying the vacancy created on the right hand side of midfield.
Starting shirts were also awarded to Aidy White and Matt Derbyshire who adopted the places of Tony Andreu and Clarke-Harris who dropped to the bench.
The Millers were almost undone early on by a cleverly worked set piece from the hosts after just eight minutes had elapsed. Dale Stephens’ centre from a corner was keenly attacked by Beram Kayal who couldn’t guide his header on target despite being unchallenged in the box.
The early exchanges suggested that it would be an end-to-end affair at the Amex Stadium and Evans’ side helped set that tone just moments later.
The on loan Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe was the architect with his pinpoint cross from the right to pick out Matt Derbyshire in the box whose header flashed wide of former Millers’ loanee David Stockdale’s post.
The pendulum swung back in favour of the hosts just after the 20 minute mark when Sam Baldock’s quick thinking launched a rapid Brighton counter attack which allowed Jamie Murphy time and space on the left hand side, but the former Sheffield United midfielder steered his low strike wide of Lee Camp’s far post from the edge of the area.
The open encounter at the Amex Stadium eventually got it’s first goal on 27 minutes when some creative play on the left hand side from Murphy saw him deliver an inviting centre to the near post which was met by Hemed who applied a clinical finish to beat Camp and give Brighton and Hove Albion the advantage.
The on loan Odjidja-Ofoe was deployed in the area behind Derbyshire in the forward line and proved to be a thorn in the hosts’ side in the opening 45 minutes. The powerful Belgian was instrumental in another Millers’ attack which involved Aidy White and Joe Mattock down the left before his he whipped in a teasing centre which was hacked away at the near post by a retreating Brighton defender.
The experienced Danny Collins assumed the armband in the absence of the injured Frecklington and showed his capabilities as the leader with a body on the line tackle to prevent Baldock an almost certain goal as he raced through one-on-one.
Half-time: Brighton and Hove Albion 1 v 0 Rotherham United.
Danny Ward was introduced as a half time substitute in place of White and it wasn’t long before he made the hosts aware of his introduction. A well-crafted move down the left flank saw the former Huddersfield Town man find space to cross on the byline before Chris Maguire crashed an effort over the crossbar with the goal at his mercy.
A spell of Millers pressure ensued and saw the visitors threaten with a series of corners. Their most notable effort from that phase came when Collins leapt highest to meet Odjidja-Ofoe’s deep cross but couldn’t direct his header at goal with any purpose and the hosts were able to clear their lines.
After a slow start to the second period Chris Hughton’s side got back into their stride when Murphy’s mazy run saw him escape the attentions of two Millers’ defenders before rounding Camp and prodding the ball towards goal where a recovering yellow shirt hoisted the ball clear.
The Seagulls went into the clash on top of the Sky Bet Championship table and further enhanced their position at the head of the pack when Dale Stephens picked up on a loose ball 20 yards from goal and crashed home an effort to double his side’s advantage on 67 minutes.
However, their two-goal cushion was halved moments after 70 minutes had passed when substitute Jonson Clarke-Harris rose highest in the box and expertly guided Joe Newell’s free kick from the right home with a well-placed header.
The hosts almost reclaimed that advantage in spectacular fashion and would have done so had Camp not been at his best to acrobatically tip over a wonderful dipping volley from Bruno Saltor from the edge of the area to ensure Evans’ side remained in the game.
The Fourth Official’s board displayed six minutes added time for Evans’ side to find an equaliser and the introduction of former Brighton man Greg Halford to the forward line showed the Millers’ intent. However, the Seagulls defended resiliently and ensured Evans’ side were unable to take a share of the spoils from their trip to the Amex Stadium.
Full-time: Brighton and Hove Albion 2 v 1 Rotherham United
Brighton and Hove Albion: Stockdale, Saltor, Greer ©, Huenemeier, Bong, Kayal, Stephens, March (Rosenior 89), Murphy, Baldock (Zamora 69), Hemed (Ince 80).
Unused: Maenpaa, Dunk, Forster-Caskey, Manu.
Millers: Camp, Buxton, Rawson, Collins ©, Mattock, Maguire, Smallwood (Halford 78), Newell, White (D Ward HT), Odjidja-Ofoe, Derbyshire (Clarke-Harris 60).
Unused: Collin, Ledesma, Green, Andreu.
Attendance: 21,397 (165 away).