Neil Warnock’s Rotherham United side gave their Sky Bet Championship survival hopes a huge boost as they defeated Premier League hopefuls Ipswich Town 1-0 at Portman Road.
Leon Best was again the hero as his third goal in two games on the stroke of half time proved to be the difference between the sides in an end-to-end encounter in Suffolk.
The Millers turned in the perfect away performance at the hands of Mick McCarthy’s side, as another well-drilled showing sent the 344 travelling Millers fans back to South Yorkshire in jubilant spirits.
Warnock reshuffled his pack with four changes to the starting 11 that began the exhilarating 3-3 draw with Derby County at AESSEAL New York Stadium.
Jerome Thomas’ absence through injury paved the way for a return to action for Grant Ward, while Danny Ward dropped to the bench at the expense of Leon Best who registered a brace against the Rams.
Lloyd Doyley also made his return at the heart of the defence at the expense of Danny Collins, while the previously suspended Greg Halford was preferred to Paul Green as the shield in the Millers’ midfield.
The first chance of the game was forged by the hosts after five minutes had elapsed at Portman Road when Freddie Sears rose above Doyley in the box to connect with a header that flashed over Lee Camp’s crossbar from the edge of the six yard box.
Early indications in Suffolk suggested that it would be an open encounter between the Millers and the Tractor Boys with possession swinging between the two sides in the early exchanges.
A swift counter-attack from the hosts almost led to the opening goal when some clever hold up play from Brett Pitman in the area saw him tee up Freddie Sears, who will have been disappointed as he fired an effort at goal which made for a routine save for Lee Camp in the visitors’ goal.
The Millers fathomed their first opportunity of note from an unlikely source as midfield anchor man Richie Smallwood was given too much room in an advanced position. The former Boro man couldn’t believe his luck as the home defence backed off on his route to goal but was thwarted by a smart save from Bartosz Bialkowski who got down well to smother his effort at the near post.
Halford’s return from suspension once again added the long throw weapon to the Millers’ armoury and Warnock’s side almost made it count just before the 40 minute-mark. An arrowed delivery from the right flank was only cleared as far as Frecklington who was forced to loop an effort at goal which went narrowly wide of the back post with Derbyshire lurking.
Neither goalkeeper had found themselves too busy in the early exchanges but Aaron Chambers gave Camp his first real test of the afternoon five minutes before the interval. A stray ball fell kindly for the Ipswich full back on the edge of the area but his connection wasn’t the sweetest and allowed the Millers’ stopper time to get down and cancel out his effort.
With the Millers arguably shading the first half, they took the lead moments before the break. They launched a rapid counter with Derbyshire on the right hand side who turned in a low cross to the near post where Best swept the ball into the back of the net under pressure, to register for the third time in his last two outings.
Half-time: Ipswich Town 0 v 1 Rotherham United.
With Mick McCarthy’s words at the break still ringing in their ears and the introduction of debutant Liam Feeney at the break, the hosts came bursting out of the traps.
Just four minutes of second half action had elapsed when a well-worked corner almost yielded an equaliser for the hosts at Portman Road. It took the heroics of some goal line defending from Stephen Kelly to deny Sears who must have thought the net was about to ripple as he picked up a backheel in the box and turned it goalwards, before the Republic of Ireland international intervened.
The former Tottenham Hotspur full back was called into action moments later with McCarthy’s side piling on the pressure following the restart. This time Kelly had to rise highest at the back post to thwart Christophe Berra, whose effort looked goalbound until hitting the retreating Millers defender.
The game continued to swing from end-to-end following a good spell from the hosts and it was the Millers who would threaten this time. Frecklington was the man at the heart of another rapid counter from Warnock’s side and he found the feet of Best, who looked high on confidence as he unleashed a low effort at goal from 25 yards which cannoned off a blue shirt and away from danger.
The lively Sears was almost on target again and this time Kelly was not on hand to get in the way of his effort in the box. The former West Ham forward capitalised on an advantage played by the referee before cutting inside and rocketing an effort wide of the far post with the goal at his mercy.
The Millers would have been happy with their one goal advantage but refused to rest when attacking the Ipswich goal and that was in evidence when Richie Smallwood seized possession high up the field, before releasing Derbyshire who caught sight of goal and took aim with a shot that was blocked on the edge of the area.
With the hosts throwing bodies forward the Millers were forced to soak up pressure and would not have been pleased when Pitman crafted a good chance for the hosts as he won a free kick 20 yards out.
The former Bournemouth man dusted himself down and stepped up to take the free kick with purpose but his explosive strike ended up with the Ipswich fans behind the goal.
McCarthy’s side began to throw everybody forward and introduced Millers old boy Ben Pringle late on, but a flurry of attacks came to nothing due to the resilience of the visitors’ rearguard and Warnock’s side held on to record a crucial three points to lift them out of the relegation zone.
Millers: Camp; Kelly, Broadfoot, Doyley, Mattock; Halford; G Ward, Smallwood, Frecklington, Derbyshire (Newell 79); Best.
Unused: Kenny, Wood, D Ward, Green, Burke, Clarke-Harris.
Bialkowski, Chambers, Smith, Berra, Knudsen, Hyam (Bru 74), Skuse, Douglas (Feeney HT), Pitman (Pringle 70), Sears, Murphy.
Unused: Crowe, Maitland-Niles, Digby, Foley.
Attendance: 20,318 (344).