REPORT | Rotherham 0 v 1 Fulham
ROTHERHAM United’s relegation to England’s third tier was confirmed following a narrow home defeat at the hands of play-off chasing Fulham.
Sone Aluko’s close range effort proved the difference between the sides in a lacklustre encounter – which brought the Millers Championship tenure to an end after three seasons.
Following the international break, Millers interim manager Paul Warne made three changes to his starting line-up for the visit of the Cottagers.
Norwich loanee Carlton Morris was rewarded for his impressive cameo appearance, in the Millers’ last outing at Loftus Road, with his first start in Rotherham colours while there were recalls for Richie Smallwood and Darnell Fisher, who was available following injury.
The Millers were quick out of the blocks and they came within a whisker of the opener as early as the third minute when Fisher’s slide rule pass paved the way for Joe Newell to deliver a superb first-time cross which bisected the two Fulham centre-halves and Danny Ward ghosted in between them to plant a point-blank header, which flew past the motionless David Button, but although the home faithful waited for the net to ripple, the ball flashed the wrong side of the upright.
At the other end, Stefan Johansen curled a free-kick into the danger area but Semi Ajayi, who put pen to paper on a permanent deal at the AESSEAL New York Stadium earlier in the week, got the better of an aerial tussle with Scottish international Chris Martin, who was unable to direct his header goalwards.
Moments later, Smallwood’s misplaced pass saw Kevin McDonald put Johansen in the clear and although the Norwegian midfielder calmly rolled the ball past the advancing Lewis Price and into the Millers goal, any joy was curtailed by an earlier offside award.
In the Millers’ next attack, Ward’s lay-off presented skipper Lee Frecklington, with the opportunity to curl a delightful effort from 20 yards out which had Button at full stretch to keep the ball out, as it was arrowing towards the top corner of the visitors’ goal.
The home side had a scare when Scott Malone’s dangerous cross evaded the attentions of the flying Price, who failed to cut out the danger, before the ball struck the retreating Aimen Belaid, who diverted the ball towards his own goal but the Tunisian managed to hack clear at the second attempt.
Just before the hour mark, Johansen teased and tormented the Rotherham backline before sliding a ball into the path of Martin, who shrugged off the challenge of Ajayi on the edge of the box to give Neeskens Kebano an opportunity to strike but he fluffed his lines with a wayward effort which failed to trouble Price in the home goal.
Moments later, Malone delivered another tantalising centre from the touchline which was inch-perfect for Aluko, who looked a certain scorer, but he planted his point-blank header wide – although his blushes were spared by the offside flag before Ryan Fredericks caught the Millers napping with an unmarked run on the right flank but Price charged from his goal to narrow down the angle before the ball was cleared by a retreating defender.
In the Cottagers’ next attack, Michael Madl presented the dangerous Malone with another chance to whip in a dangerous centre and Ajayi, in attempting to clear, could only spoon the ball towards his own goal but fortunately for the Millers, the ball looped narrowly over the bar.
Half-time- Rotherham United 0 Fulham 0
Following a low-key start to the second half, Fulham squandered a gilt-edged chance to take the lead when Kebano’s threaded pass paved the way for Tom Cairney to drag the last remaining Millers’ defender wide before playing a ball across the face of the box to Martin, who had just Price to beat, but the Derby loanee seemingly took his eye off the ball, as it screwed off his foot before flying harmlessly wide of the target despite having the goal at his mercy.
At the other end, Newell caught the Fulham defence square to ghost in unnoticed to bare down on Button’s goal and after drawing the Fulham stopper to the near post, he pulled the ball back to Taylor, who under pressure from a retreating defender, could only scuff the ball back into the path of the visitors’ keeper, from just yards out, whereby a clean connection would have resulted in a certain Millers’ goal.
Just before the hour mark, Martin almost atoned for his earlier miss when he rose highest to meet Kebano’s corner but his glancing header flashed narrowly wide of the target.
However, Rotherham failed to heed the warning as Fulham broke the deadlock with 25 minutes remaining.
The Millers failed to take advantage of a number of attempts to clear after Fulham had ghosted in behind the defence and despite Fisher producing a heroic block and sub Floyd Ayite being denied at one stage, the long goalmouth scramble ended when Aluko forced the ball home from close range.
The Millers were visibly deflated by the setback and with both Fisher and Frecklington seemingly replaced because of injury, Ward pounced on a loose ball in the Fulham box, but he failed to make it count as he failed to make a telling connection initially before Fredericks threw his body in the way of his second attempt.
In the dying minutes, Johansen saw yellow for cynically hauling back sub Anthony Forde as he looked to launch a Millers counter and despite late home efforts which saw Belaid blast over wildly after Fulham failed to clear, Slavisa Jokanovic’s men successfully ran down the clock to earn a victory which saw them leapfrog Sheffield Wednesday to take the sixth and last play-off position – with seven games remaining.
Full-time- Rotherham United 0 Fulham 1
Rotherham United 0
Teams:- Rotherham- Price, Vaulks, Frecklington (Forde 79), Ward, Morris (Yates 62), Taylor, Ajayi, Fisher (Purrington 75), Newell, Belaid, Smallwood. Unused- O’Donnell, Kelly, Wood, Bray.
Fulham- Button, Fredericks, Malone (Ream 90), McDonald, Kebano (Ayite 63), Cairney, Johansen, Madl, Aluko (Sessegnon 90), Martin, Kalas. Unused- Bettinelli, Cyriac, Sigurdsson, Petsos.
Referee- T Robinson
Attendance- 9004 (1245).