ROTHERHAM United suffered last-gasp heartache as they conceded a late goal as Preston North End edged a feisty Roses clash.
The Millers took the lead thanks to Tony Andreu’s first-half opener but Eoin Doyle levelled matters just past the hour mark.
With the game heading for a rare draw for the Millers, Preston grabbed the winner with effectively the last kick of the game, when Rotherham failed to deal with a long throw into the box and a flick-on seemingly from sub Jonson Clarke-Harris looped over Camp to leave the Millers empty-handed.
Following their disappointing defeat at the hands of Fulham last time out, the Millers made just one change to their starting line-up as Shay Facey was thrown immediately into the fray after putting pen to paper on a loan deal from Manchester City earlier in the day.
Facey, who becomes Neil Redfearn’s first signing of the January transfer window, was asked to make his English senior professional debut as he replaced Frazer Richardson in the right-back slot, as the ex-Leeds defender was unavailable after suffering concussion at Craven Cottage.
Experienced defender Richard Wood was named amongst the Millers substitutes after Redfearn recalled him early from his loan spell at Chesterfield.
The Millers had the first sight of goal when the home side failed to clear a visitors' free-kick decisively and Danny Ward’s slide-rule pass presented Grant Ward to deliver a first-time cross which Manchester United ‘keeper Sam Johnstone smothered smartly.
Moments later, Johnstone was in the thick of the action when he was forced to punch Joe Newell’s tantalising free-kick to safety before Andreu almost broke clear but the Norwich loanee lost his footing on the slippery surface.
The Millers came within a whisker of the opening goal when Kirk Broadfoot marauded forward with ease before playing a throughball which saw Danny Ward get on the wrong side of Bailey Wright and the ex-Huddersfield striker rounded Johnstone before shooting from a tight angle, but unlike his Bolton strike on Boxing Day, Wright was on-hand to divert his strike to safety from his own goalline.
The Millers hopes were dealt a blow when skipper Lee Frecklington had to be replaced after he failed to shrug off an early knock before Facey showed fleet of foot to divert Paul Gallagher’s dangerous free-kick to safety with home skipper Tom Clarke lerking menacingly.
In the home side’s next attack, Daniel Johnson’s sweeping pass released Greg Cunningham, who fizzed a fierce left-footed cross which struck the onrushing Doyle in the six-yard box, but fortunately for the Millers, the ball landed narrowly past the visitors upright.
Just before the half hour mark, Richie Smallwood was penalised for bundling over Joe Garner in an inviting position but Gallagher failed to make the Millers pay when his free-kick struck the visitors wall.
At the other end, the Millers launched a lightning counter-attack which saw Newell dink a ball over the top which Danny Ward flicked on into the path of Andreu, but Cunningham got a foot in as the French playmaker looked to shoot goalwards.
The game swung in the space of a minute when Garner’s clever pass looked to have put Adam Reach in the clear but Facey showed good pace to clear the danger and the Millers turned defence into attack in the blink of an eye as they broke the deadlock in the next phase of play, with a move started and finished by Andreu.
There looked little danger when Andreu curled a pass to the left flank but Danny Ward cleverly advanced with purpose before delivering a superb centre and Andreu ghosted in almost unnoticed between the Preston rearguard to plant a downward header from six yards into the bottom corner of the net giving Johnstone no chance.
However, the Millers had sub Paul Green to thank for preserving their lead as Preston came close to levelling almost immediately when Johnson’s superb centre was pounced upon by Garner, who cleverly worked a shooting position, and the home frontman looked a certain scorer but the likes of Green and Broadfoot put their bodies on their line as they threw themselves in front of his goalbound shot, diverting the ball to safety.
Half-time:- Preston North End 0 Rotherham United 1
The Millers were quick out of the blocks at the start of the second half and Smallwood had a low shot blocked by a retreating defender before Joe Mattock got the better of Marnick Vermijl before firing a cross-cum-shot which had Johnstone flying across goal to parry the ball to safety.
Newell became the first to see yellow for hauling down Gallagher before fine one-touch passing from the visitors had the home side on the retreat which paved the way for Mattock to swing a delightful centre which was only half-cleared into the path of Grant Ward, who spooned an effort narrowly over the home bar from the edge of the box.
Despite their positive start to the half, the Millers were almost undone when a superb cross from the left flank saw Garner win an aerial duel with Camp, who failed to punch clear, and the ball looped tantalisingly towards goal but Mattock was on his toes to blast the ball from his own-line, with the home side vainly appealing that the ball had crossed the line.
Moments later, the Millers were indebted to their ‘keeper for keeping the scores level when Reach curled a delightful corner which saw sub Paul Huntington ghost away from his marker to power a goalbound header which the ex-Bournemouth ‘keeper superbly tipped over the bar.
The Millers were weathering a home storm as sub Alan Browne sneaked behind the Rotherham rearguard as he latched onto a centre from the left flank, but Camp bravely stood up tall to prevent his deft flick from short range finding the net before the same player almost got on the end of Gallagher’s centre moments later, but a ruck of visitors’ bodies prevented him getting a clear header, as the ball fizzed wide of the target.
In a rare foray from the visitors, Danny Ward made something out of nothing to fire a rasping effort from distance which Johnstone was forced to tip over the bar before Rotherham resistance was finally broken just past the hour mark.
Gallagher swung another dangerous centre into the heart of the Rotherham box and Broadfoot could only head the ball into the air and Huntington showed good awareness to plant the ball back into the danger area and Doyle was on-hand to divert the ball home from point-blank range.
The game nearly turned on its head when Preston almost grabbed the lead when Johnson’s clever pass saw Cunningham float an inch-perfect centre which Doyle headed goalwards but Camp showed good reflexes to keep the ball out before Mattock bravely blocked Garner’s follow-up from just yards out.
Moments later, Browne emerged from a ruck of bodies to meet Reach’s inswinging corner but his header flashed narrowly wide of the target before Rotherham finally regained their composure when Danny Ward came within inches of connecting with Grant Ward’s cross from the touchline before hard work from Green presented the Millers striker with another shooting opportunity but he skied his shot over the bar when he should have done better.
With time running out for both teams, Grant Ward launched a Rotherham raid but Newell’s cross was eventually snuffed out by Gallagher before Danny Ward fizzed a cross straight into the arms of Johnstone.
The Millers had a late scare when sub Danny Collins was penalised for towering over Garner but Camp managed to read Gallagher’s intentions from the resultant free-kick as he parried the ball to safety.
However, the Millers suffered heartbreak in the last kick of the game when a long throw into the box was flicked on at the near post by Clarke-Harris, by all accounts, and the ball agonisingly looped over Camp, as the Millers returned over the Pennines empty-handed.
Full-time:- Preston North End 2 Rotherham United 1
Teams:- Preston- Johnstone, Vermijl, Cunningham, Clarke, Wright (Huntington 46), Johnson, Gallagher, Doyle (Hugill 81), Garner, Welsh (Browne 53), Reach. Unused- Kirkland, Kilkenny, Woods, Brownhill.
Rotherham- Camp, Mattock, Broadfoot, Frecklington (Green 11), D Ward, G Ward, Rawson (Collins 83), Newell, Andreu (Clarke-Harris 58), Facey, Smallwood. Unused- Collin, Wood, Ledesma, Derbyshire
Referee:- C Breakspear
Attendance:- 12027 (1038)