ROTHERHAM UNITED slipped to a home defeat as a poor second-half show saw Southend United coast to a comfortable 3-0 victory at New York Stadium.
With honours even at half-time, a double strike from Britt Assombalonga gave Steve Evans’ men a mountain the climb before David Martin rubbed salt into home wounds with a third near the end.
Following their goalless draw with York City last week, the Millers made one change to the starting line-up with Jason Taylor recalled at the expense of Kari Arnason, who was on international duty with Iceland.
Swinton-born Ryan Cresswell was at the heart of the visitors’ defence with former Millmoor favourite Graham Coughlan taking a place on the substitutes bench for Paul Sturrock’s men.
The visitors made a bright start and Ryan Leonard’s looping cross forced Scott Shearer to tip over before the Rotherham stopper was in action again seconds later to parry Kevan Hurst’s resulting corner to safety.
In Rotherham’s first foray forward, a deep punt caused indecision in the Southend rearguard as Kayode Odejayi successfully shrugged off the attentions of his marker and with Ben Pringle in support, the ball rolled kindly into the path of Lionel Ainsworth, whose instinctive low drive narrowly evaded the upright.
Minutes later, as Rotherham failed to clear decisively, Hurst pounced on the loose ball before unleashing a rasping drive which forced Shearer to take evasive action by tipping the ball over the bar.
At the other end, Gareth Evans’ snap shot blazed well over before Pringle’s tame effort was comfortably gathered by Paul Smith moments later.
On the half-hour mark, Rotherham countered with menace and Pringle’s eye-of-a-needle pass found Evans, who worked a yard of space on Sean Clohessy before striking a low drive which forced Smith into a smart save.
The Millers were looking the most likely at this stage and the influential Pringle had Smith nervously scurrying across goal as he struck a fearsome effort which whistled past the upright.
However, against the run of play, Southend came within a whisker of making the breakthrough when Hurst’s tantalising free-kick found the head of Cresswell, who directed his header goalwards but despite Assombalonga tapping the ball home, the assistant referee came to the Millers’ rescue as he was adjudged to have been in an offside position.
Moments later, Assombalonga shimmied past Ian Sharps before drilling an effort from an acute angle which Shearer blocked with his legs before the big centre-half had to be on his toes to prevent Assombalonga breaking clear in the next visitors’ attack.
Half-time:- Rotherham United 0 Southend United 0
The Millers reshuffled the pack at the interval with Daniel Nardiello entering the fray to support Odejayi upfront at the expense of Ainsworth, who had a largely frustrating afternoon.
The home side started with a positive intent and Evans’ had a shot blocked before home appeals for a spot-kick were waved away as Odejayi appeared to be wrestled to the floor before Michael O’Connor curled an effort harmlessly over the bar.
However, Southend stunned the home faithful by making the much-needed breakthrough minutes later.
Following a period of pressure, Martin dinked a tantalising cross which saw Assombalonga get the better of Craig Morgan before powering a point-blank header which gave Shearer no chance in the home goal.
The Millers responded positively to the setback and Cresswell’s last-ditch intervention prevented Nardiello from looking a certain scorer before O’Connor’s floated corner found Sharps but his towering header was blocked by a ruck of bodies in the six-yard box.
However, the visitors’ took a stranglehold on the proceedings by doubling their advantage on 66 minutes.
Clohessy’s bobbling cross was missed by everyone before finding Assombalonga, who cleverly worked a shooting position to fire a rising effort which arrowed into the top corner of the goal.
The Millers were visibly shaken by the double salvo and the visitors almost made it three when Gavin Tomlin’s pass carved open the home rearguard enabling Hurst to pick out Assombalonga but he couldn’t divert the ball goalwards with his outstretched foot.
Martin drilled a low effort narrowly wide of the target before Southend deservedly sealed the game with the third on 74 minutes.
Following a switch of play, Tomlin’s snap cross saw Assombalonga nip infront of his marker before deftly flicking the ball goalwards but he was denied his hat-trick as Shearer’s superbly diverted the ball onto the upright but Martin was perfectly positioned to nod the ball home from point-blank range.
The visitors’ were running riot and as Rotherham failed to clear, Assombalonga drilled a left-footed effort across goal with Shearer stranded, but with the goal at his mercy, Tomlin dragged his shot wide of the target with Bob Harris stationed on the goalline.
With time running out, Assombalonga fizzed an effort narrowly wide of the target before he was substituted near the end to enjoy the acclaim of the visitors’ support following a virtuoso display.
Full-time:- Rotherham United 0 Southend United 3
Rotherham:- Shearer, Hunt, Morgan, Sharps, Harris, Ainsworth (Nardiello 46), Taylor, O’Connor, Pringle, Evans (Noble 64), Odejayi (Denton 56). Unused:- Warrington, Tonge, Bradley, Agard.
Southend:- Smith, Clohessy, Straker, Cresswell (Coughlan 81), Timlin, Martin, Hurst, Leonard, Assombalonga (Clarke-Harris 87), Tomlin, Barker. Unused:- Eastwood, Bentley, Paxman, Benyon, Woodyard
Referee:- T Harrington
Attendance:- 7,328 (472)
Man of the Match:- Bob Harris