DESPITE a brave effort from the Millers, in new boss Kenny Jackett’s first game in charge, Republic of Ireland international Paul McShane struck a late winner for Jaap Stam’s Reading to leave the home side empty-handed.
The game looked to be heading for a goalless draw after Lee Camp saved Gareth McCleary’s penalty on the hour mark but McShane broke Millers’ hearts with a close range effort with five minutes to go.
Within 24 hours of being appointed at the AESSEAL New York Stadium helm, Jackett wasted no time in making his mark by naming six changes to the side that lost at Birmingham City in their last outing.
Joe Mattock returned to the left-back slot while experienced centre-half Richard Wood was given an opportunity to impress at the heart of the Rotherham rearguard alongside Middlesbrough loanee Dael Fry.
Joe Newell was asked to provide the ammunition from the left-hand side of midfield as Greg Halford filled a central role while Dexter Blackstock made his first Millers start upfront alongside in-form striker Danny Ward.
The visitors were quick out of the blocks and McCleary’s cross from the by-line caused havoc in the home defence before Liam Kelly tried his luck from distance but his effort was deflected high into the air before Camp, after initial hesitation, snuffed out the danger.
At the other end, Reading failed to deal with a long ball forward and Blackstock tussled with a retreating defender and the ball fell invitingly into the path of Newell, who controlled smartly to scoop a right-footed effort which forced Ali Al-Habsi into an acrobatic save, as the Oman international palmed the ball to safety.
Moments later, Yann Kermorgant had to head clear from underneath his own crossbar before Halford’s powerful header almost gave Wood, a glimpse of goal, but Al-Habsi was on his toes to cut out the threat.
In an enthralling opening, McCleary cut inside with menace before dragging a shot narrowly wide of the target before Taylor pounced on the rebound of his own corner to drill a low effort which almost sneaked in at the near post before Al-Habsi’s late intervention.
From the resultant corner, Taylor curled an inviting centre which saw Halford glance a header goalwards but a combination of Al-Habsi and the ruck of bodies en-route to goal kept the ball out.
Just past the quarter hour, Halford’s bullet throw into the box had the Reading defence at sixes and sevens and Newell pounced on the loose ball to shoot goalwards but the ball struck Chris Gunter, with home fans and players vainly appealing for a spot-kick.
Minutes later, another exocet throw from Halford was flicked on by Wood into the path of Blackstock, who looked to sneak in between two defenders, to poke home from close range but he could not make a clean connection despite having the goal at his mercy.
Moments later, Danny Williams fired a long range effort harmlessly wide of the target before Darnell Fisher put his body on his line with a fantastic block to prevent Roy Beerens from troubling the home goal.
From the resultant corner, one-time Millers’ loanee John Swift took aim from distance but Camp was able to watch the ball fly over his crossbar before the ex-Chelsea midfielder tried his luck, in the next phase of play, with a curling effort which whistled past the home upright.
The Royals were commanding the lion’s share of possession and following a visitors’ spell on the ball, Beerens screwed a shot harmlessly wide of the target before McCleary fired a cross-cum-shot which flew across the face of the Millers goal, in the last action of the half.
Half-time- Rotherham United 0 Reading 0
The Millers started the second half on the frontfoot and after Halford was tripped in full flow, Newell flighted an inviting centre which was the prelude to a scramble in the Royals box and Blackstock tried his utmost to turn goalwards but the referee released the pressure on the visitors, by awarding a free-kick, with Blackstock and Gunter receiving yellow-cards following a confrontation after the whistle sounded.
Just before the hour mark, the Millers twice came within a whisker of the breakthrough when firstly Halford’s long throw saw the rampaging Wood emerge from the mass of bodies in the box to power a header which was superbly kept out by Al-Habsi before the Royals keeper was in the thick of the action once again when Ward and Frecklington combined superbly to see the former race clear but the visitors’ keeper kept out his low effort with his feet.
Despite being second best at the start of the second half, Reading had the perfect opportunity to break the deadlock just before the hour mark when Joey Van Den Berg twisted in the box before being felled by Fry and the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
However, the Millers had Camp to thank for preserving parity when McCleary drilled the ball in the centre of the goal but the flying Millers’ keeper kept the ball out with a trailing leg.
The AESSEAL New York Stadium rose as one to acclaim the home ‘keeper before Kermorgant’s audacious effort from Gunter’s cross whistled wide before Beerens dragged a low effort harmlessly wide of the target.
Minutes later, Halford took one for the team to earn a yellow card by upending Swift as he looked to race clear before Kermorgant volleyed narrowly wide from Beerens’ centre.
The visitors were looking the most likely and McCleary stung the palms of Camp with a low drive from distance before Kermorgant released the stranglehold on the hosts when he blazed over the bar after Rotherham wasted numerous opportunities to clear the danger.
Minutes later, the Millers had a huge let off when Swift came within inches of haunting his former club.
The tricky midfielder embarked on a mazy run which put the Millers’ defence on the backfoot before unleashing a rasping drive from the edge of the box which smashed against the home crossbar before falling to safety.
With the game in the balance, McCleary almost atoned for his penalty miss with a low drive which had Camp at full stretch before Fry’s superb intervention from Gunter’s dangerous centre kept the scores level.
However, Reading were finally rewarded for their pressure with five minutes to go when a flighted corner fell for Beerens on the edge of the box and the Royals winger curled an effort which Camp could only parry into the danger area and sub McShane kept his nerve to control smartly before firing high into the roof of the net from close range.
The Millers fought to the end and Frecklington’s tame effort was straight down the throat of Al-Habsi before Ward put sub Anthony Forde in the clear but the Royals’ keeper was quick off his line to narrow the angle and deny the ex-Walsall winger with his feet.
Full-time- Rotherham United 0 Reading 1
Rotherham United 0
Teams:- Rotherham- Camp, Mattock, Wood, Frecklington, Ward, Taylor, Halford, Fisher, Fry, Blackstock (Forde 75), Newell (Brown 64). Unused- Price, Vaulks, Forster-Caskey, Ball, Belaid.
Reading- Al-Habsi, Gunter, Van Den Berg, Beerens, Swift (Evans 90), Obita, McCleary, L Moore, Kermorgant, Williams, Kelly (McShane 28). Unused- Moore, Samuel, Blackett, Gravenberch, Watson.
Referee- S Duncan
Attendance- 8800 (644).