ROTHERHAM UNITED earned their fifth win in six games in the most dramatic of circumstances as Greg Halford’s late spot kick saw them claim another three points in their battle against the Championship drop.
Lee Frecklington put the Millers ahead at the interval before Matt Derbyshire saw red to leave the home side shorthanded for the remaining half an hour.
Sub Luke Murphy’s fortuitous equaliser looked to have earned the visitors a point before the game took a twist when Marco Silvestri saw red for bundling over Frecklington paving the way for Halford to be the match winner.
Following the international break, the Millers named an unchanged line-up following their eye-catching victory at Ipswich Town last time out for the visit of Steve Evans’ Leeds United.
Frazer Richardson shrugged off injury concerns by being named on the substitutes bench alongside Jerome Thomas in the only changes to the Millers squad since their trip to Suffolk.
The Millers had the first sight of goal when Lee Camp’s punt upfield was deftly flicked by Leon Best into the path of Frecklington, who tried his luck from distance, but his effort failed to trouble the visitors’ goal.
Moments later, Halford’s bullet throw into the Leeds box looked inch-perfect for Best on the six-yard box, but the inform striker failed to make a connection despite having the goal at his mercy.
At the other end, Leeds penned the Millers back deep into their own half and following fine flowing passing involving Alex Mowatt, Mirco Antenucci attempted a dink from just inside the box but his effort harmlessly cleared the home crossbar.
Minutes later, Kirk Broadfoot’s weak clearance paved the way for Mowatt to drill an effort from distance which whistled narrowly over the home bar before a threaded ball put Chris Wood in the clear, despite the New Zealander looking decidingly offside and his lay-off gave Antenucci, a sight of goal, and his snap shot forced a good reflex save from Camp before the ball was hacked to safety.
Just before the half-hour mark, the Millers broke the deadlock when Halford switched the play to release Joe Mattock, who swung a delightful centre from the left flank, which bisected the Leeds defence and Frecklington timed his run to perfection to superb steer the ball, despite being on the stretch, past the attentions of Silvestri, to find the heart of the visitors goal.
Moments later, Antenucci made something out of nothing to drill a low effort through a ruck of bodies but Camp was well-stationed to snuff out the danger before Frecklington showed his defensive instincts to prevent Wood shooting goalwards following a fine move from the visitors.
Moments later, Stephen Kelly put his body on the line to block Antenucci’s goalbound effort before fine interplay involving Halford and Frecklington gave Grant Ward a glimpse of goal, at the other end, but he blazed his effort from the edge of the box over the bar.
The home fans had their hearts in their mouths when Giuseppe Bellusci strode from the back to find Antenucci, with his back to goal, and the Italian unleashed a fantastic strike from distance which shaved the home upright.
With half-time approaching, Broadfoot rose highest to meet another Halford exocet throw but his point-blank header blazed over before Best became the first to see yellow, following an aerial clash with Silvestri.
Half-time:- Rotherham United 1 Leeds United 0
Following the interval, a Leeds defensive error was pounced upon by Grant Ward, whose pull-back looked inviting for Matt Derbyshire, but his effort was blocked before Richie Smallwood was snuffed out at the back post.
In the next phase of play, Mattock swung a delightful centre which saw Best rise highest at the far post and his back header almost fell kindly for Stephen Kelly, but he was unable to turn the ball goalwards.
Moments later, Halford’s long throw had the Leeds defence at sizes and sevens and following ping-pong around the visitors box, Smallwood flashed an effort which flew narrowly wide of the target.
Liam Bridcutt became the latest to see yellow for a cynical foul on Grant Ward, who looked to launch a Rotherham counter and the home side almost made the visitors pay from the resultant free-kick when Mattock’s inswinger found the unmarked Best, but the ex-Newcastle striker could only head into the side netting.
Just past the hour mark, the Millers cause was not helped when they were reduced to ten men when Derbyshire went up for an aerial challenge with Gaetano Berardi and the Swiss defender reacted angrily to the challenge and referee Kevin Friend brandished a red card, adjudging the Millers striker had led with the arm.
Millers chief Neil Warnock immediately threw Danny Ward into the fray before sub Mustapha Carayol fired a long-range effort over the home bar.
The home fans were incensed when Bellusci clashed with Danny Ward following another aerial duel but the Italian escaped with a yellow-card before the Millers had Camp to thank for preserving their slender lead when Antenucci’s mazy run had the Millers in a daze before firing an effort which was arrowing into the corner of the goal before the ex-Derby ‘keeper’s superb late intervention.
The Millers were determined to retain their advantage and Mattock was the latest to throw his body infront of sub Stuart Dallas’ point-blank shot when he looked certain to score before Leeds skipper Sol Bamba fluffed his lines when he headed wide from Dallas’ corner despite having the goal at his mercy.
Despite Rotherham’s brave rearguard action, the home side were dealt a cruel blow when Charlie Taylor’s cross was headed clear by Broadfoot and Luke Murphy struck a long range effort, which took a wicked deflection of a home defender, to wrongfoot Camp and find the heart of the home goal.
The visitors were lifted by the equaliser and Bridcutt tried his luck from distance which forced Camp to smartly tip over the bar before Wood headed over from Dallas’ corner in the next Leeds attack.
The game took a dramatic twist with two minutes remaining when Rotherham launched a quick counter attack and Danny Ward showed opportunism to spot Frecklington at the far post and Bellusci made a hash of an attempted clearance and the Rotherham midfielder looked to round Silvestri, who dumped him to the floor, prompting the referee to show his second red card of the afternoon.
As Leeds had used their allocated number of substitutes, Bellusci was forced to take on the goalkeeping gloves and Halford kept his nerve from the spot to slide the ball into the bottom corner of the goal to send the AESSEAL New York Stadium into ecstasy.
Full-time:- Rotherham United 2 Leeds United 1
Rotherham United 2
Leeds United 1
Teams:- Rotherham- Camp, Kelly, Broadfoot, Doyley, Mattock, Halford, G Ward (Richardson 90), Smallwood (Newell 81), Frecklington, Derbyshire, Best (D Ward 64). Unused- Kenny, Wood, Thomas, Clarke-Harris.
Leeds- Silvestri, Berardi (Murphy 74), Bamba, Bellusci, Taylor, Diagouraga, Bridcutt, Mowatt (Carayol 58), Cook (Dallas 58), Antenucci, Wood. Unused- Peacock-Farrell, Coyle, Cooper, Adeyemi.
Referee- K Friend
Attendance:- 11418 (2311)