Millers come out on top in five-goal encounter...
SKIPPER Richard Wood led from the front to notch the all-important goal in five to give Rotherham United, a much-needed victory, in their push for the League One play-offs, at the expense of in-form Fleetwood Town.
In an enthralling opening at the AESSEAL New York Stadium, both sides traded goals as Nathan Pond’s own goal cancelled out Ashley Eastham’s opener for the visitors.
Joe Newell gave Rotherham the early initiative in the second half with a well-taken strike but Fleetwood hit back immediately through Cian Bolger.
With the game in the balance, Wood proved the Rotherham hero with his fourth goal of the season, as he bundled an effort home from close range.
Following their defeat at the hands of Charlton Athletic last time out, Millers chief Paul Warne made two changes to his starting line-up for the visit of the Lancastrians.
Versatile Will Vaulks was asked to ply his trade in the right-back berth, at the expense of Josh Emmanuel, while Ben Purrington kept his place on the opposite flank – with Joe Mattock still ruled out because of a hamstring injury.
Richie Towell returned to the Millers engine room following injury while playmaker David Ball was handed a recall against his former club, as Ryan Williams had to settle for a substitutes berth.
The visitors had the first sight of goal when Ashley Hunter and Jack Sowerby combined smartly to split open the Rotherham reaguard and Conor McAleny, who notched a brace in the reverse fixture on the opening day of the season, raced into the home box but Semi Ajayi cut out the danger with a timely intervention.
McAleny was in the thick of the early action and he latched onto a weak home clearance to take aim from distance and his fizzed effort took a slight deflection of Richard Wood, as it whistled narrowly wide of the target.
However, Fleetwood were rewarded for their fast start when Hunter swung a tantalising corner into the danger area and Eastham rose highest to plant a downward header which forced Marek Rodak into a reflex save but the visiting centre-half was the quickest to react to fire home the rebound into the roof of the home net from just yards out.
The Millers responded positively to the setback and Anthony Forde teased and tormented his marker to float a delicate centre which saw Michael Smith head towards goal but former Rotherham ‘keeper Alex Cairns was able to watch the ball sail harmlessly wide.
However, Rotherham got themselves back on level terms when Joe Newell got a yard on Lewie Coyle to deliver a tantalising centre which Anthony Forde attempted to turn goalwards but the ball inavertedly struck the retreating Nathan Pond, to find the bottom corner of the net giving Cairns no chance – with Smith on-hand for a tap-in at the far post.
The home side were visibly buoyed by the equaliser and Palmer tried his luck from distance to sting the palms of Cairns before Ball screwed an effort into the visiting faithful behind the goal following Purrington’s cross.
In the aftermath of Ball appearing to be felled off the ball in the box, Forde clipped an inviting cross which was met by the head of Smith, but his effort lacked power as Cairns was able to gather with a minimum of fuss.
Just before the half-hour mark, tensions rose as Smith and Pond were involved in an altercation – which arguably saw the Fleetwood skipper fortunate to escape further sanction and the duo clashed again, minutes later, when Smith struck an effort from long range which was deflected wide by the long-serving visiting defender.
Smith was proving a thorn in Fleetwood’s side and the tall frontman showed a fantastic work-rate to charge down Cairns’ attempted clearance, before the ball went dead before Towell fired an ambitious effort from distance which failed to trouble the visitors’ goal.
In a rare Fleetwood foray, Paddy Madden broke clear to fire a speculative effort which flew harmlessly wide – although the referee adjudged the shot had taken a slight deflection of a retreating home defender to the bemusement to all of those with a Rotherham United persuasion.
At the other end, Wood had an aerial duel with Cairns, as the Fleetwood ‘keeper did just enough to palm the ball to safety before Towell struck a fierce effort from just outside the box but Cian Bolger put his body on the line to deflect the ball over the bar.
With half-time approaching, Ajayi evaded the attentions of his marker to meet Forde’s corner but the ball skimmed off his head, as it flew to safety before Newell’s free-kick smashed against the Fleetwood wall, after the Millers’ midfielder was unceremoniously hauled down by former Rotherham loanee Toumani Diagouraga.
Half-time- Rotherham United 1 Fleetwood Town 1
The Millers were quick out of the blocks in the second half and Smith’s knock-on paved the way for Ball to ghost into the box, to fire a deflected effort narrowly wide before Smith emerged from a ruck of bodies, in the resultant corner, to loop a header which cleared the Fleetwood crossbar.
The home side continued to press and it was no surprise when they took the lead, just six minutes into the half, when Forde’s dangerous corner was only half-cleared to Palmer, on the edge of the box, and the ex-Burton midfielder showed good awareness to pop a header into the path of Newell, who unleashed a sweet strike which beat the outstretched hand of Cairns, to nestle in the heart of the visitors goal.
However, Rotherham’s joy proved short-lived as Fleetwood equalised, just two minutes later, when Hunter curled a fantastic set-piece into the box and Bolger got a run on his marker to power a header into the roof of the home net – with an acrobatic Rodak unable to keep out.
Just before the hour mark, Vaulks fired a snap effort which was diverted by Ball towards goal but Cairns was on his toes to snuff out the danger before Hunter’s cross-cum-shot, at the other end, almost sneaked in at the far post with Rodak nervously scurrying across goal.
Minutes later, Rotherham were caught napping when sub Jordy Hiwula got around the back to drill a cross which fell invitingly for Sowerby to fire a low effort which struck sub Josh Emmanuel en-route to goal before Newell dug out a cross but an off-balance Smith was unable to direct his header goalwards, as it flew harmlessly wide.
Bolger became the first to see yellow for cynically bundling over Taylor near the touchline and the Millers made them pay from the resultant free-kick when Newell swung an inviting centre into the Fleetwood six-yard box and Wood won a battle of wills with Pond to bundle the ball home from close range.
Minutes later, Towell’s slide rule pass paved the way for Emmanuel to advance with menace before striking a low effort from distance which whistled narrowly wide of the target before Smith was denied twice by Bolger before trying his luck with a third effort which grazed the far post.
The Millers came within a whisker of sealing the deal when Newell fired into the side netting before Vaulks shrugged of the attentions of his marker to sweetly meet Taylor’s corner but his point-blank header flew inches wide.
In the next phase of play, Smith showed his tenacity as he outfought Eastham near the by line to race into the box before curling an effort which had Cairns anxiously looking over his shoulder, as it whistled wide.
In the dying minutes, the home faithful had their hearts in their mouths when Wes Burns got the better of Vaulks to bare down on goal but Rodak showed fleet of foot to dive at the feet of the visiting substitute to divert the ball to safety.
Full-time- Rotherham United 3 Fleetwood Town 2
Teams:- Rotherham- Rodak, Vaulks, Ajayi (Emmanuel 64), Wood, Forde (Taylor 69), Palmer, Ball (Lavery 78), Towell, Purrington, Newell, Smith. Unused- Price, Ihiekwe, Yates, Williams.
Fleetwood- Cairns, Coyle, Eastham, Pond, Dempsey, McAleny (Hiwula 65), Bolger, Diagouraga, Madden (Grant 65), Hunter, Sowerby (Burns 80). Unused- Neal, Glendon, Jones, Biggins.
Referee- C Boyeson
Attendance- 7562 (156)