REPORT | Rotherham 0 v 2 Aston Villa
TWO second-half goals paved the way for Aston Villa to record victory at the AESSEAL New York Stadium despite a determined late rally from the home side.
The West Midlanders had the better of the first half as the Millers were indebted to ‘keeper Lewis Price for a series of saves and Aïmen Belaïd for clearing from his own line to go into the break level.
The Millers looked more of a threat in the second half but an unfortunate own goal by emergency defender Will Vaulks and Jonathan Kodjia’s late strike turned the game in Villa’s favour.
Following their last-gasp defeat at the hands of Brentford last time out, the Millers made two changes to their starting line-up for the visit of Aston Villa.
Irish winger Anthony Forde was rewarded for his impressive substitute cameo at Griffin Park, which was capped by his first league goal for the club, by being handed a start while youngster Jerry Yates was asked to add more firepower to the Millers frontline as interim manager Paul Warne reverted to a 4-4-2 formation as Richie Smallwood and Joe Newell had to settle for substitute berths.
The Millers were given a pre-match boost as club skipper Lee Frecklington shrugged off an ankle injury to join them on the bench but Richard O’Donnell was not available for the home side after suffering a broken finger in West London with Price continuing to deputise between the sticks.
The visitors had the first sight of goal when Semi Ajayi failed to deal with Neil Taylor’s punt upfield and Kodjia looked to have got on the wrong side of Belaïd in the box before tumbling under his challenge but the referee waved away faint appeals for a spot kick.
There was a hefty collision between Tom Adeyemi and Albert Adomah near the touchline which led to the Cardiff loanee requiring lengthy treatment before Villa were denied the opener by the offside flag when Kodjia tussled with Ajayi before the ball fell kindly for Birkir Bjarnason, whose clever inside pass presented Conor Hourihane with the opportunity of sliding the ball into the far corner of the net but the ex-Barnsley midfielder’s joy was curbed by the assistant referee.
The visitors were looking the most likely and Mile Jedinak’s clipped ball forward was pulled back by Adomah into the path of Bjarnason, who looked a certain scorer, just yards out but a combination of Belaïd and Ben Purrington appeared to deny the Icelandic international, who looked to stab the ball home before the same player attempted a bicycle kick, moments later, but the ball fizzed harmlessly over the home bar.
Just past the quarter hour, Warne was forced into a reshuffle as full-back Stephen Kelly was forced to withdraw, with what appeared to be a muscle injury. Smallwood was introduced into the Millers engine room with Vaulks dropping back into an unfamiliar right-back slot.
Minutes later, Ajayi was penalised for bundling over Henri Lansbury on the edge of the box and the ex-Forest midfielder dusted himself down to take the resultant free-kick as he picked out the unmarked Kodjia, in the box, but the Villa striker could not control his header as it blazed over the bar.
In Villa’s next attack, Rotherham failed to clear the danger with neither Belaïd and Purrington taking charge of the situation and Hourihane pounced on the loose ball to fire an instinctive effort which forced Price into a smart save, as he parried the ball to safety.
Price was in the thick of the action and the home side were thankful to their ‘keeper for retaining parity, just before the half hour, when Belaïd dallied in possession and Adomah stripped him of the ball before baring down on the home stopper, but Price bravely stood up tall to block his drilled effort.
In a rare foray from the home side, Forde swung over a tantalising corner which saw Adeyemi emerge from the ruck of bodies to plant a header which looked destined for the bottom corner but Kodjia was well-stationed by the upright to hack the ball clear before Taylor embarked on a mazy run to ghost into the box to drill a low effort which had Sam Johnstone scurrying across goal as it whistled narrowly wide of the target.
The home side were finding their feet and Taylor’s direct run and pass almost looked inch-perfect for the run of Danny Ward but the home striker was unable to get the ball under his spell as Johnstone was quick off his line to snuff out the danger.
With half-time approaching, the visitors came within a whisker of the lead when Lansbury’s pinpoint clip over the top held up in the wind and Adomah calmly lofted the ball over the advancing Price, but Belaïd showed fleet of foot to acrobatically clear the ball from underneath his own crossbar – and keep the scores level going into the interval.
Half-time- Rotherham United 0 Aston Villa 0
There was a moment of controversy at the start of the second half when Adeyemi looked to have outmuscled Baker, who was laid prone on the floor, on the edge of the box before Yates latched onto the loose ball to fire an effort which Johnstone got a hand to, but the ball found the bottom corner of the goal but any Rotherham celebrations were cut short as the referee blew for an infringement by the Cardiff midfielder.
Moments later, Frecklington made an instant impact following his half-time introduction with a crunching tackle on Alan Hutton, which saw the referee brandish a yellow card to the Millers’ talisman.
In the visitors’ first foray of the half, Baker’s powerful header into the box paved the way for Hourihane to try his luck with an acrobatic effort but the ball failed to trouble Price in the home goal before Adeyemi’s powerful run, at the other end, had the Villa defence backtracking as Vaulks drilled a cross-cum-shot which whistled across the face of the six-yard box.
Belaïd became the next to see yellow for a needless late clip on Hourihane near the corner flag before Vaulks was on-hand to superbly divert Lansbury’s dangerous centre to safety, in the visitors’ next attack.
However, Steve Bruce’s men took a stranglehold on the game by breaking the deadlock, with 22 minutes remaining.
The ball was threaded to the right flank where Kodjia drilled a superb centre into the corridor of uncertainty with neither Price or the Rotherham rearguard in a position to clear and as Hourihane looked well placed to tap home into the unguarded goal, Vaulks in attempting to clear could only divert the ball into the roof of the home net.
The home side responded superbly to the setback and Forde latched onto a ball into the box to fire an instinctive shot which was bravely blocked by James Chester en-route to goal before sub Jordan Amavi curled a delightful effort which forced the backtracking Price into a superb fingertip save.
Moments later, Lansbury’s slide-rule pass paved the way for Hourihane to take aim from distance and his left-footed curling effort fizzed narrowly wide of the home target before the darling of the Villa faithful turned from hero to villain, moments later, when Adomah’s cushioned header put him in the clear but he dragged his shot wide when he really should have doubled the visitors’ lead.
The miss almost proved crucial when Forde ghosted from the right flank to fire a low effort which gathered pace off the AESSEAL New York Stadium surface forcing Johnstone in a full-length save before the ex-Walsall winger turned provider with an incisive cross which skimmed off Baker’s head as it whistled narrowly past the visitors upright.
The Millers were cranking up the pressure and both Forde and Frecklington had shots blocked on the edge of the box before Villa sealed the deal with three minutes to go when Kodjia had the home defence tracking back towards their own goal and with no home defender putting in a challenge, the Villa striker dug out an effort which beat the outstretched hand of Price as it found the Millers net via the inside of the post.
Full-time- Rotherham United 0 Aston Villa 2
Rotherham United 0
Aston Villa 2
Teams:- Rotherham- Price, Kelly (Smallwood 18), Vaulks, Forde, Ward (Frecklington 46), J Taylor (Newell 60), Ajayi, Adeyemi, Belaïd, Purrington, Yates. Unused- Bilboe, Mattock, Bray, Warren.
Aston Villa- Johnstone, Baker, N Taylor, Lansbury, Chester, Hourihane, Bjarnason (Grealish 33, Amavi 44), Hutton, Jedinak, Kodija (Davis 89), Adomah. Unused- Bunn, Richards, Elphick, Bree, Davis.
Referee:- S Martin
Attendance:- 10720 (2567).