Williams goal in vain....
RYAN Williams’ second half opener proved a false dawn for the Millers as Bristol Rovers overturned the deficit to record victory at the Memorial Stadium.
Following a lacklustre first-half, the Australian struck to give Paul Warne’s men the advantage but Millers’ joy proved short lived as Ellis Harrison levelled matters before Liam Sercombe notched the all-important home winner – with fifteen minutes remaining.
The game took another cruel twist for the Millers near the end as top-scorer Kieffer Moore was sent for an early bath following an altercation with home defender Lee Brown.
Warne made three changes to his starting line-up for the long trip to Gloucestershire.
Semi Ajayi returned to the heart of the Millers rearguard, alongside Michael Ihiekwe while Joe Newell and Williams were recalled to the visitors’ engine room as Anthony Forde and Richie Towell had to settle for substitute berths.
David Ball was rewarded for this fine solo effort against Wigan Athletic last time out, by retaining his starting place, just behind Millers top-scorer Moore.
The Millers had the better of the early exchanges and Ball pounced on a loose ball before looking to put Moore in the clear but his heavy pass ran out of play without troubling the home side before Newell dug out a cross which looked perfect for Moore to strike goalwards but the ball skipped up wickedly off the home surface which prevented the Ipswich loanee firing towards goal.
In their first foray of note, Rovers squandered a gilt-edged chance to take the lead when play was switched to the right flank whereby Dan Leadbitter got a yard on his marker to deliver a delicious centre which looked inch-perfect for Billy Bodin, just yards out from goal, but the home striker fluffed his lines when he headed over with the goal at his mercy.
The Millers suffered a blow as midfield anchorman Darren Potter was forced to withdraw, midway through the half, due to injury before Newell floated a corner which had Adam Smith backtracking nervously as he tipped the ball over his own bar before Moore rose highest from Newell’s resultant corner but he could not keep his towering header down, as it flew harmlessly over.
At the other end, Bodin produced a clever piece of skill which paved the way for Stuart Sinclair to clip a delicate cross which saw Sercombe power a header which failed to trouble the Millers goal before Ollie Clarke became the first to see yellow for a late tackle on sub Will Vaulks.
From the resultant free-kick, Moore’s superb knockdown presented skipper Lee Frecklington with the opportunity to strike from the edge of the box but he failed to make sufficient contact before Vaulks blasted over when he should have done better.
Just past the half hour mark, Bodin fired an ambitious free-kick from distance but Marek Rodak was able to watch the ball sail wide before Joe Partington’s sweeping ball gave Leadbitter another opportunity to stretch his legs before playing another tantalising centre into the Millers box but Sercombe, who got on the wrong side of his marker, was unable to divert the ball goalwards from close range.
Moments later, Bodin tried his luck from long range but Rodak snuffed out the danger with a smothered save before the highly-rated forward showed fleet of foot in the Millers box to work a shooting position but Shaun Cummings blocked his low shot en-route to goal.
Half-time- Bristol Rovers 0 Rotherham United 0
Following the break, Tom Lockyer strode menacingly from defence to unleash a rasping effort from distance which forced Rodak into a smart save before Vaulks dragged a low shot harmlessly wide of the Rovers goal, at the other end.
Minutes later, Sercombe latched onto a weak Rotherham clearance to volley goalwards but Ihiekwe stuck out a timely leg to divert the ball to safety with Rodak flying across goal, in anticipation of the ball finding the bottom corner.
Arguably against the run of play, Rotherham broke the deadlock on 56 minutes when Ball almost latched onto a visitors clearance but the ball fell invitingly for Newell, who showed great awareness to hook the ball across the field where Moore appeared to tangle with Sinclair, but fortunately for the Millers, Williams was in support and although the Australian initially got the ball stuck under his feet, he took a decent touch before powering a low effort which beat the outstretched hand of Smith to nestle in the bottom corner of the net.
The hosts responded positively to the setback and Sercombe cut inside to drill an effort which was deflected wide before Rovers levelled matters on 64 minutes, in the next phase of play, after Moore’s attempted headed clearance hammered against Semi Ajayi for another home corner.
Following another incisive corner, Rodak’s acrobatic punch looked to have cleared the danger but Leadbitter put the ball back into the box where sub Chris Lines flicked on and while Rodak and Ihiekwe hesitated, Ellis Harrison pounced on the indecision to flick the ball into the heart of the Millers goal from close range.
The Rovers’ tails were up and Bodin attempted a superb dipping volley from over 35 yards which had Rodak backtracking nervously as it whistled narrowly over the bar before the home side turned the game on its head by taking the lead with 15 minutes to go.
Following the breakdown of a home attack, there looked little danger until Harrison hooked the ball acrobatically back into the danger area and with no Millers defender taking charge, Sercombe kept his nerve to advance into the box and despite Rodak narrowly his angle, the lively home winger coolly slid the ball past the attentions of the Slovakian to find the visitors goal.
Despite the setback, the Millers immediately raced upfield and after Frecklington was crowded out, Newell fizzed a dangerous cross cum shot which whistled across the home six yard box. In the aftermath of the move, Moore appeared to clash with Brown and the Millers frontman received his marching orders, leaving the Millers down to ten men for the latter stages of the game.
Despite the numerical disadvantage, the Millers continued to press and Vaulks fired wide from distance before Ball appeared to tumble under a hefty challenge in the box but the referee waved away visiting appeals for a spot kick.
Minutes later, Newell curled a tantalising centre which presented Ihiekwe with the chance to level matters but he blazed his point-blank header over the bar before sub Jonson Clarke-Harris had the Millers last chance of note with a long range effort which flew well wide of the target.
The home side almost added gloss to the scoreline in the dying seconds when Bodin was denied before sub Tom Nichols had a snap shot which was deflected narrowly behind.
Full-time- Bristol Rovers 2 Rotherham United 1
Bristol Rovers 2
Rotherham United 1
Teams:- Bristol Rovers- Smith, Leadbitter, Brown, Lockyer, Sweeney, Sercombe, Clarke (Gaffney 61) , Harrison (Nichols 90), Bodin, Partington (Lines 61), Sinclair. Unused- Slocombe, Broadbent, Broom, Telford.
Rotherham- Rodak, Mattock, Ajayi, Frecklington, Ball (Yates 85), Potter (Vaulks 22), Ihiekwe, Newell, Williams, Moore, Cummings (Clarke-Harris 85). Unused- O’Donnell, Wood, Forde, Towell.
Referee- B Huxtable
Attendance- 7531 (226)