GRANT Ward’s wonder goal proved in vain as Rotherham United slipped to their first defeat in three games at the hands of promotion chasing Burnley.
The Clarets edged the televised Roses clash as Sam Vokes netted a late winner after Ward had cancelled out Andre Gray’s first-half opener.
Following their first back-to-back wins in England’s second tier since December 2003 since their handsome 2-0 victory over Birmingham City last weekend, the Millers made one just change to their starting line-up with Tottenham loanee Ward returning to the home engine room as Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe was unavailable as he returned to his parent club Norwich City after the completion of his loan spell at the AESSEAL New York Stadium.
For the visitors, former England international Joey Barton made his full Clarets debut in the middle of the park as multi-million pound signing Gray led the line for Sean Dyche’s men after shaking off a hamstring injury.
The Millers had the first sight of goal when a fine flowing move involving Tony Andreu and Matt Derbyshire paved the way for Ward to get the ball from under his feet before striking a rasping effort from distance which stung the palms of Tom Heaton.
However, in their first foray of note, Burnley stunned the home faithful by making the breakthrough on nine minutes.
There looked little danger when George Boyd cut inside from the right flank but his clipped ball over the top saw the ball loop invitingly in no-man’s land between the home defence and Lee Camp and jet-heeled striker Gray pounced to calmly stroke the ball past the advancing home ‘keeper into the heart of the home goal.
The Millers responded superbly to the setback and Andreu waltzed into a crossing position to float a near-post centre which saw Derbyshire nip infront of his marker to glance a header harmlessly across the face of goal before Burnley failed to clear Joe Newell’s corner decisively but Ward fluffed his lines as he dragged his shot well wide of the target from the edge of the box.
Moments later, Jonson Clarke-Harris was tripped just outside the box by Barton and Andreu almost made the visitors pay from the resultant free-kick when he struck his shot with his instep and the ball fizzed away from the upright with Heaton nervously scurrying across his goal.
In the next home attack, Newell’s clever ball inside gave Andreu another sight of goal but he snatched at his long-range shot as it failed to trouble the visitors goal before the home fans’ had their hearts in their mouths when Tendayi Darikwa advanced with menace before firing a rasping effort which seemingly took a double deflection, the first one off Richie Smallwood, but Camp was not too be deceived as he kept his eye on the ball’s trajectory to parry the ball to safety.
Just past the half hour mark, Burnley came within a coat of paint in doubling their lead when David Jones’ infield pass was controlled by Welsh international Vokes, who fired a wonderful half-volley from distance which seemed to take Camp by surprise as it smashed against the home crossbar before rolling tantalisingly to safety.
The visitors were looking threatening and Boyd’s wicked cross had to be punched clear by Camp and the home ‘keeper was again called into action when Jones cut inside with menace before unleashing a fierce effort which was arrowing into the bottom corner until the ex-Bournemouth stopper’s late intervention.
With half-time approaching, Barton’s eye catching ball released Gray down the right flank, who fizzed a dangerous centre across goal before Scott Arfield’s assist gave Jones an opportunity to strike but his tame effort was carefully shepherded to safety by the home defence.
In Rotherham’s best moment of the half, Camp’s long punt upfield was superbly controlled by Derbyshire, who cleverly worked a yard of space on his marker on the edge of the box before striking a low effort which had Heaton at full stretch as the England ‘keeper was forced to palm the ball to safety.
In first half-stoppage time, Vokes had a snap shot deflected narrowly wide of the target before Andreu’s headed Jones’ corner clear in the last action of the half.
Half-time:- Rotherham United 0 Burnley 1
Following a slow start to the half by both sides, Farrend Rawson’s ball looked harmless enough but Clarke-Harris robbed Darikwa’s pocket near the corner flag before pulling the ball back into Andreu’s path but as the Frenchman looked to strike, a retreating defender got a foot in as his shot rolled wide of the target.
Moments later, Newell left Barton in his wake as he powered away from the former England international and the ex-Peterborough midfielder had the Clarets defence on the retreat as he stroke menacingly towards the visitors box but his pass was just too strong for Clarke-Harris, who was unable to pull the ball back across goal.
Just before the hour mark, Barton was urged to shoot by the travelling contingent and he obliged with an effort which was blocked en-route to goal before Arfield pounced on the rebound to strike a shot which had Camp flying across goal as it fizzed narrowly wide of the target.
Moments later, skipper Danny Collins became the first to see yellow as he hauled down Gray, who had got on the wrongside of the experienced defender but to his relief, he had home support in attendance as the referee brandished a yellow card.
Minutes later, Smallwood joined him in the book for a late foul on Barton before caretaker manager Eric Black looked to breathe life into the Millers with a double substitution with just under 20 minutes remaining as Danny Ward and Chris Maguire entered the fray.
The move paid dividends when the Millers levelled matters with 15 minutes to go when Clarke-Harris’ piece of skill started the move before Maguire’s switch of play was picked up by Joe Mattock, who played the ball inside to Grant Ward, who jinked inside his marker before striking a thunderbolt from distance which arrowed into the top corner of the goal, sparking wild celebrations amongst the home faithful.
The Millers were visibly lifted by the equaliser and Maguire fired wide from an acute angle following good work from Derbyshire but Rotherham’s joy proved shortlived as the Lancastrians regained the lead with ten minutes remaining.
Following an incisive attack by the Clarets, a clever lay-off on the edge of the box gave Arfield an opportunity to strike and although Camp stood up tall to block his fierce effort, Vokes was on-hand to poke the ball home from close range into the unguarded net.
With time running out for the hosts, sub Danny Ward dragged a shot harmlessly wide of the target before Clarke-Harris tried his luck with a dipping effort which had Heaton scurrying nervously back towards his own goal but it cleared the crossbar.
Clarke-Harris became the next to incur the wrath of the referee following a late tackle on Barton, which earned him a yellow card before sub Chris Long soon joined him for kicking the ball away in the last noteworthy incident of the game as the visitors’ successfully ran down the clock to move up to third in the Championship table.
Full-time:- Rotherham United 1 Burnley 2
Teams:- Rotherham- Camp, Buxton, Mattock, Collins, G Ward, Clarke-Harris, Rawson (Broadfoot 77), Newell (D Ward 71), Andreu (Maguire 71), Derbyshire, Smallwood. Unused- Collin, Ledesma, White, Richardson.
Burnley- Heaton, Duff, Keane, Mee, Gray (Long 88), Vokes, Barton, Jones, Boyd (Taylor 76) , Darikwa, Arfield. Unused- Gilks, Lowton, Kightly, Taylor, Ulvestad, S Ward.
Referee:- P Bankes
Attendance:- 9752 (1595).