ROTHERHAM United gave their Championship survival hopes a timely boost as they put promotion chasing Brighton and Hove Albion to the sword thanks to goals from Danny Ward and Matt Derbyshire.
Danny Ward struck his second goal of the season to give Neil Redfearn’s men a deserved interval lead and despite second-half pressure from the visitors, Matt Derbyshire sealed the points with a cool finish near the end as the Millers earned their third home victory on the bounce.
Following their FA Cup exit at the hands of Leeds United at the weekend, the Millers made just one change to their starting line-up for the visit of the Seagulls.
Last year’s top scorer Derbyshire was handed a Millers recall as Frazer Richardson was named on the substitutes bench with Manchester City loanee Shay Facey reverting back to his favoured right-back slot after playing in a more advanced role at Elland Road.
The AESSEAL New York Stadium faithful would get their first glimpse of Tunisian international Aimen Belaid, who joined from Levski Sofia last week while one-time Millers loanee David Stockdale was named between the sticks for Chris Hughton’s men.
The Millers had the first sight of goal when Joe Newell made something out of nothing to ghost past the attentions of Bruno Saltor to present Derbyshire with a shooting opportunity and the ex-Olympiakos striker jinked inside before firing an effort harmlessly over the crossbar.
Moments later, the visitors had Lewis Dunk to thank for a timely tackle on Danny Ward, who looked poised to strike, following fine approach play from the home side which included a fantastic dummy from Derbyshire in the build-up.
In the visitors’ first foray of note, Kirk Broadfoot had to be on his toes to head clear a dangerous cross but the ball fell invitingly for Brighton’s new signing Anthony Knockaert, who flashed a first-time effort across the face of goal which home ‘keeper Lee Camp could only watch fizz past the upright.
At the other end, Grant Ward showed Liam Ridgewell a clean pair of heels as he ghosted from the right flank to drill a left-footed effort which was comfortably smothered by Stockdale.
The visiting fans had their hearts in the mouths when Stockdale took a chance as he dallied in possession following a backpass and although Derbyshire got a foot to the ball, the Brighton ‘keeper had a let-off, as the ball was diverted away from goal.
Moments later, a fine home move involving Derbyshire paved the way for Grant Ward to curl a delightful centre which was tailor-made for Danny Ward, who headed narrowly wide of the target.
Just before the half hour, Millers skipper Broadfoot was in the thick of the action as he firstly latched onto Richie Smallwood’s free-kick before pouncing on the loose ball after the Seagulls failed to clear, but his cross-cum-shot fizzed across the goalmouth.
In the home side’s next attack, Danny Ward and Derbyshire combined to release Grant Ward, who floated a deep centre which found the advancing run of Paul Green, whose looping header from the edge of the box was plucked out of air by Stockdale.
Moments later, Broadfoot led from the front with a superb tackle in his own half to launch a Rotherham counter-attack and Newell’s pass gave Derbyshire the opportunity to cut inside to fire a rasping effort which whistled past the visitors upright.
The home side were looking the most likely and Danny Ward demonstrated an exquisite piece of skill to split open the Brighton rearguard but from a tight angle, Derbyshire’s left-footed effort was diverted to safety by Stockdale.
However, the Millers were duly rewarded for their pressure on the stroke of half time when a switch of play released the marauding Joe Mattock down the left flank and the ex-Wednesday defender delivered a tantalising centre which skimmed off the head of Dunk and Danny Ward, who was lurking menacingly at the far post, rifled a low effort which sneaked in at Stockdale’s near post.
Half-time:- Rotherham United 1 Brighton and Hove Albion 0
The visitors looked a revitalised outfit after the break and they missed a guilt-edged chance to level matters soon after when James Wilson’s defence splitting pass saw Dale Stephens race clear but with Green in hot pursuit, the Albion midfielder got the ball slightly stuck in his feet and he could only screw an effort wide of the target despite having just Camp to beat.
At the other end, Newell tumbled under the challenge of Stephens on the edge of the box but Smallwood failed to make it count when his resultant free-kick hammered against the visitors wall.
Moments later, Derbyshire got in a foot to instigate a Rotherham counter attack and Ward exchanged passes with the frontman, who fired an effort which stung the palms of Stockdale before Brighton came within a whisker of the equaliser when Tomer Hemed’s dangerous centre was inches away from being tucked home by Manchester United loanee Wilson, who failed to make contact with an outstretched leg.
The opportunity was Wilson’s last action of the game and his replacement Bobby Zamora almost made an immediate impact when his assist paved the way for Jamie Murphy to fire an effort which was straight down the throat of Camp.
Moments later, Camp produced a save for the cameras as he acrobatically kept out Knockaert’s curling free-kick after Murphy was upended by Green on the edge of the box.
The Millers fans breathed a huge sigh of relief when firstly Knockaert’s ball over the top caught the home side napping but Zamora seemed to misjudge his header as it flew wide before the ex-Tottenham striker had an opportunity to give Hemed a tap-in moments later, but his wayward ball failed to find his fellow striker.
Zamora was in the thick of the action and when Bruno galloped down the flank to fizz a cross which was inch-perfect for the veteran striker but his downward header whistled past the post to the relief of the home faithful.
In a moment of respite for the hosts, Grant Ward fired a piledriver from distance which stung the hands of Stockdale before Rotherham effectively sealed the deal with just four minutes remaining thanks to Derbyshire.
Grant Ward showed great tenacity to block Ridgewell’s clearance and the Tottenham loanee dinked a cross which Bruno inavertedly headed into the path of Derbyshire, who kept his nerve to dink the ball into the top corner of the net giving Stockdale no chance.
In the dying minutes, Green forced a fine save from Stockdale with a stinging drive before the visitors’ knew it wasn’t go to be their day when Beram Kayal headed against the post following Knockaert’s centre in the final action of the evening.
Full-time:- Rotherham United 2 Brighton and Hove Albion 0
Rotherham United 2
Brighton and Hove Albion 0
Teams:- Rotherham- Camp, Facey (Richardson 75), Broadfoot, Belaid, Mattock, G Ward, Smallwood, Green, Newell, D Ward (Clarke-Harris 75), Derbyshire. Unused- Cairns, Collins, Wood, Ledesma, Thorpe.
Brighton- Stockdale, Bruno, Greer (Crofts 83), Dunk, Ridgewell, Knockaert, Stephens, Kayal, Murphy (LuaLua 73), Wilson (Zamora 62), Hemed. Unused- Maenpaa, Calderon, Goldson, Baldock.
Referee- O Langford
Attendance- 9269 (375)