TEN-MAN Rotherham United almost grabbed a point against all the odds as Leeds United held on to claim a narrow victory despite a brave rearguard action from the Millers.
The home side had a first half to forget as both Greg Halford and ‘keeper Lee Camp had to be withdrawn because of injury, either side of New Zealand striker Chris Wood putting the Whites ahead.
The home side were given a mountain to climb at the interval as Peter Odemwingie was sent for an early bath before Souleymane Doukara doubled Leeds’ lead just before the break.
Skipper Richard Wood gave the Millers hope of salvaging a point late on before Dominic Ball blasted over with the goal at his mercy in the dying seconds as Garry Monk’s side withstood the late Millers’ rally.
Following their last outing at Derby County, Millers chief Kenny Jackett reshuffled his pack for the televised hosting of Leeds United, by making three changes to his starting line-up.
Experienced full-back Stephen Kelly was recalled to the full-back berth as Joe Mattock had to settle for a substitutes spot while Dominic Ball was given an opportunity to impress at the heart of the Rotherham rearguard alongside home skipper Wood.
Further forward, Chelsea playmaker Izzy Brown was asked to provide the ammunition for in-form frontman Danny Ward.
In the early minutes, Leeds had the first sight of goal when Charlie Taylor cut inside from the left flank with menace, leaving Tom Adeyemi in his wake as he delivered a tantalising centre which was snuffed out at the far post.
The Millers were forced to make an early substitution as midfield shield Halford had to be replaced following a hefty knock and Will Vaulks took his place in the home engine room.
Despite a slow start by both teams, the visitors took the lead just before the quarter hour when the ball was switched to Taylor on the left flank, who injected pace into the move, to dart past the attentions of both Kelly and Brown, and the highly-rated left back kept his nerve to drill a ball to the unmarked Wood, who calmly slid the ball into the heart of the home goal.
The visitors were lifted by the strike and they came within a whisker of doubling their advantage when Kalvin Phillips swung an inviting corner with saw Leeds’ skipper Liam Cooper ghost away from the attentions of two Rotherham defenders rise highest to power a downward header which had Camp nervously scurrying across goal as it shaved the outside of the upright.
In the Millers’ first foray of note, Camp’s long punt forward was flicked on by Ward into the path of Odemwingie, who controlled smartly to advance into the box with menace before drilling a powerful low-footed effort which squirmed under the body of Rob Green to find the far corner of the net but any Rotherham joy soon turned to despair as the assistant referee had already raised his flag with the Nigerian international deemed offside.
Minutes later, Leeds failed to clear the ball decisively and with both Brown and Adeyemi working hard to win possession, Ward tried his luck from distance but his effort failed to trouble Green in the visitors goal.
The game took a turn for the worst for the Millers, just before the half hour mark, when Darnell Fisher’s ball into the channel saw Odemwingie have an aerial duel with Cooper, with the Nigerian seemingly leading with his elbow in the challenge and the referee had no hesitation in brandishing a red-card to the ex-Stoke and West Brom striker to leave the Millers down to ten men.
The home side responded superbly to the setback and Ward almost sneaked behind the Leeds rearguard but Taylor was on his toes to prevent him shooting goalwards before Fisher blasted over from distance, in the next phase of play.
The Millers were dealt a cruel blow, minutes later, when Camp bravely stepped forward to snatch a cross from the left flank but with the ex-Derby stopper struggling to shrug off an earlier knock following a collision with Hadi Sacko, the home side were forced to make their second substitution of the evening because of injury.
However, the Millers shrugged off their latest setback when Vaulks launched a bullet throw into the box forcing Taylor to head over his own bar before Green was forced to claim the resultant corner from Newell.
At the other end, Doukara pounced on a loose ball before screwing a long-range effort wide of the target before Leeds had their hearts in their mouths when Brown plucked a ball out of the sky paving the way for Adeyemi to usher the ball into the path of Wood, who scooped the ball over the bar despite having the goal at his mercy but the home skipper’s blushes were spared by the offside flag.
However, the Millers were indebted to their captain just before the break when Sacko left Kelly grounded as he clipped a centre to the far post which saw Doukara strike goalwards but Wood put his body on the line to block his effort en-route to goal.
Deep in first-half stoppage time, Leeds continued to press and Kemar Roofe’s slide-rule pass saw Doukara ghost into the box to work a shooting position and he calmly stroked the ball past the outstretched hand of sub ‘keeper Lewis Price to find the far corner of the net.
Half-time:- Rotherham United 0 Leeds United 2
The visitors started the second half as they finished the first when Phillips’ free-kick was only half cleared into the path of Sacko, who fired a rasping effort from distance which whistled narrowly over the home bar.
Minutes later, good work from Wood down the right flank paved the way for Phillips, to fire a dipping effort which had Price scurrying across goal as it fizzed narrowly wide of the target.
In a rare blot on Leeds’ copybook, Eunan O’Kane became the first to see yellow for hauling down Adeyemi in full flow before the ex-Torquay midfielder almost went from villain to hero with an inch-perfect ball over the top which put Sacko in the clear but Price was quick off his line to smother the danger.
Moments later, Roofe seemingly got the better of Kelly before tumbling under his challenge in the box but the referee waved away visiting appeals for a spot kick before Kyle Bartley rose highest to meet Phillips’ corner, in Leeds’ next attack, but Price was well-stationed to grasp his powerful header on his own line.
With time running out for the home side, Adeyemi was tripped by Phillips in an inviting position and from the resultant free-kick, Ward curled an effort over the Leeds wall and despite Green being rooted to the spot, the ball flew harmlessly wide of the target.
The Millers refused to throw in the towel and Vaulks released sub Anthony Forde, who couldn’t get his shot away with Cooper in attendance, before he pulled the ball back into the path of Vaulks, whose shot from the edge of the box was deflected over by Luke Ayling.
In the next phase of play, the Millers halved the deficit with skipper Wood’s second goal of the season.
The visitors failed to clear a corner decisively and Brown headed the ball into the danger area and Wood, who looked decidedly offside, got on the wrong side of his marker to power a header which Green got a hand to, but the ball looped into the corner of the net.
Monk’s men were visibly rattled and after Phillips had a shot blocked en-route to goal, Vaulks worked a yard of space to drill a shot from distance which forced Green into a superb full-length save.
The Millers came within a whisker of grabbing a point when from the resultant corner, Leeds again failed to clear their lines and Wood had a point-blank header saved by Green before he attempted to bundle the ball home and with Kelly unable to stab the ball goalwards, Ball blasted the ball over from just yards out.
Full-time:- Rotherham United 1 Leeds United 2
Rotherham United 1
Leeds United 2
Teams:- Rotherham- Camp (Price 35), Kelly, R Wood, Ward, Odemwingie, Ball, Halford (Vaulks 4), Fisher, Newell (Forde 76), Adeyemi, Brown. Unused- Price, Mattock, Fry, Belaid, Yates.
Leeds- Green, Ayling, Bartley, Cooper, Roofe (Antonsson 73), C Wood, Doukara (Dallas 63), O’Kane, Taylor, Phillips, Sacko (Berardi 90). Unused- Silvestri, Grimes, Vieira, Mowatt.
Referee- S Attwell
Attendance- 10513 (2277).