REPORT | Rotherham 0 v 2 Brighton and Hove Albion
BRIGHTON and Hove Albion got their promotion charge back on track with a 2-0 victory over injury-hit Rotherham United.
The Millers, who were missing a host of first-teamers, acquitted themselves well for the majority of the encounter at the AESSEAL New York Stadium but they were undone by second-half goals by French playmaker Anthony Knockaert and sub Solly March.
Following their weekend defeat at the hands of Aston Villa, caretaker manager Paul Warne made three changes to his starting line-up for the visit of the Seagulls.
Joe Mattock returned to the left-back slot as Ben Purrington had to settle for a place on the bench while Will Vaulks was again asked to fulfil the right-back role as Stephen Kelly was ruled out with an injury sustained against the West Midlanders.
In the Millers engine room, club skipper Lee Frecklington made his first start since early January, alongside the returning Richie Smallwood, while one-time Millers ‘keeper David Stockdale was between the sticks for the visitors.
Following a slow start by both sides, the Millers had the first sight of goal when Jon Taylor cleverly cut inside before letting fly from long range but Stockdale was well-positioned to smother the danger.
At the other end, Jiri Skalak looked to be heading into a cul-de-sac before being nudged over by Semi Ajayi but the in-form Knockaert failed to make the Millers pay from the resultant free-kick on the edge of the box when his left-footed effort cleared the crossbar.
Moments later, Dale Stephens stung the palms of Lewis Price with a fierce effort from distance before Jerry Yates got the better of Beram Kayal to play a slide-rule pass into the path of Tom Adeyemi, who got the ball from under his feet to stab an effort goalwards but Stockdale showed good reflexes to keep the ball out with his legs.
The home side were almost caught napping when Bruno Saltor’s throw was nonchalantly flicked on by Tomer Hemed into the path of Skalak, who volleyed goalwards but the Czech international was unable to control his effort as it flew over the Millers bar.
Moments later, Liam Rosenior’s superb ball bisected the Rotherham rearguard and Skalak skipped to the by-line but his dangerous centre was hacked clear by a retreating home defender before the Brighton centre-halves combined to great effect, in the visitors next attack, when Lewis Dunk’s far post header saw Uwe Hunemeier power a header towards the home goal but it fizzed narrowly over.
The Millers goal was living a charmed life and they were indebted to Vaulks for preserving parity when Dunk rose highest to meet Skalak’s corner to loop a header which flew past Price but the emergency full-back was superbly marshalling his post to head the ball clear from his own line.
Vaulks was in the thick of the action and after the Seagulls failed to deal with a bullet throw from the ex-Falkirk midfielder, Yates was the quickest to react to poke the ball goalwards but Stockdale came to the visitors rescue with a smart reflex save.
Vaulks became the first to see yellow for a foul on Skalak and the visiting midfielder dusted himself down to float a free-kick which saw Dunk ghost around the back to slide a dangerous ball across the box before Skalak picked up the pieces to find Dale Stephens, whose drilled effort was blocked en-route to goal.
The Millers squandered an opportunity to take the lead when Stockdale’s mishit clearance fell kindly for Anthony Forde, who worked a yard of space on Hunemeier to find a shooting position but he fluffed his lines with a rising effort which failed to trouble the Seagulls goal.
At the other end, Ajayi showed a great turn of speed to prevent Sam Baldock from racing away towards goal before Aïmen Belaid’s pinpoint pass paved the way for Mattock to play a tantalising ball from the touchline and Adeyemi got the better of a tussle with Dunk but the Cardiff loanee powered his header over.
However, the Millers were fortunate to go into the break on level terms when firstly Ajayi was caught napping as Baldock bared down on goal but Price was his equal with a superb reflex save before Dunk rose highest to meet Knockaert’s resultant corner but the highly-rated defender’s point-blank header was blocked by the ruck of bodies in the six-yard box before the ball was bundled to safety.
Half-time- Rotherham United 0 Brighton and Hove Albion 0
The Millers had their hearts in the mouths, early in the second half, when Skalak raced away from Smallwood to give Hemed, a glimpse of the goal and the Israeli international curled an effort which whistled narrowly over the home bar.
However, Rotherham failed to heed the warning as Brighton opened the scoring soon after.
A threaded ball split open the Rotherham defence and Beram Kayal looked to skip past Price, but the ball got caught under his feet and Baldock pounced on the rebound to poke the ball towards goal and although Belaïd got back to clear the ball from his own line initially, Knockaert was on-hand to fire the ball home on the rebound.
The visitors were buoyed by the breakthrough and Hemed broke clear to present Skalak with the opportunity to strike goalwards but Vaulks put his body on the line to block the shot.
In a rare Rotherham foray, Forde drilled a centre which evaded the attentions of Stockdale but Hunemeier was on-hand to head clear before Kayal tussled with Adeyemi, in the home box, with the Brighton midfielder adamant that the ball struck the arm of the Cardiff loanee but the referee waved away visiting protests, by awarding the free kick to the Millers.
Moments later, Knockaert cut inside with menace to present Hemed with the chance to fire a snap shot which took a wicked deflection which wrongfooted Price but fortunately for the Millers, the ball dribbled wide before Skalak ghosted from the left flank before firing a rasping effort which had Price grasping at thin air as it flew narrowly over the home bar.
The visitors effectively sealed the deal with ten minutes to go when sub March picked up the ball by the right touchline before injecting pace into the move by ghosting past sub Joe Newell to drill a left-footed effort from just outside the box which squirmed under the body of Price before finding the bottom corner of the net.
The Seagulls, who came into the clash on the back of two defeats, almost rubbed salt into home wounds when firstly Baldock sprung the offside trap to race clear but he blazed his effort over, despite having the goal at his mercy before sub Richie Towell looked decidedly offside as he raced clear but he dragged his shot wide despite having just Price to beat.
Full-time- Rotherham United 0 Brighton and Hove Albion 2
Rotherham United 0
Brighton and Hove Albion 2
Teams:- Rotherham- Price, Mattock (Purrington 73), Vaulks, Forde (Bray 71), Frecklington, Taylor, Ajayi, Adeyemi, Belaïd, Smallwood (Newell 59), Yates. Unused- Bilboe, Wilson, Dawson, Warren.
Brighton- Stockdale, Saltor, Hunemeier, Dunk, Stephens, Kayal, Skalak, Baldock (Towell 84), Hemed (Murray 75), Knockaert (March 73), Rosenior. Unused- Walton, Sidwell, Norwood, Tomori.
Referee- G Eltringham
Attendance- 8366 (1006).