Ball nets late Millers equaliser.......
DAVID Ball’s last-gasp equaliser earned Rotherham United a deserved share of the spoils following a pulsating Roses clash with in-form Blackburn Rovers.
Following a fairly even first half, Rovers stepped on the gas after the break and they were rewarded, just past the hour mark, when Bradley Dack stroked home, in front of the large travelling contingent.
However, the Millers showed their new found resolve, in recent weeks, when Ball notched his sixth goal of the season, in all competitions, when he poked home from close range- with just minutes remaining.
Following their back-to-back victories over Bury and Walsall over the festive period, Millers chief Paul Warne made the first change to his starting line-up for four games with Richard Wood returning to the heart of the Rotherham rearguard and taking the skipper’s armband, at the expense of Lee Frecklington, who was missing because of injury.
Will Vaulks reverted to his favoured central midfield role whereby he was locking horns with former Millers Wembley hero Richie Smallwood, who was named in the Rovers’ engine room, on his first return to the AESSEAL New York Stadium since his summer switch over the Pennines.
The Lancastrians had the first sight of goal when Wood unceremoniously chopped down Elliott Bennett on the edge of the box but free-kick specialist Charlie Mulgrew failed to make it count from the resultant set piece when his curling effort struck the Millers wall.
At the other end, Anthony Forde delivered a delicious centre which skipped off the AESSEAL New York Stadium surface but Paul Caddis was on the cover to snuff out the danger before Ball and Jerry Yates combined superbly in the box which saw the latter force a corner from Paul Downing.
In the next phase of play, Forde swung a delightful centre which saw Semi Ajayi rise highest but his downward header was straight down the throat of David Raya before the visitors ‘keeper was again called into action when Ryan Williams’ incisive run and pass gave Vaulks the opportunity to try his luck from distance and the ex-Falkirk midfielder fired a daisycutter which forced Raya into a smart save, as the ball dribbled narrowly wide of the Rovers goal.
Just before the quarter hour, Bennett floated a centre which saw Craig Conway bundle the ball towards the home goal but Marek Rodak was well-stationed on his own goal line to pluck the ball out of the sky before the Millers were indebted to Rodak for keeping the scores level following a fantastic double save after Dack was allowed to deliver a cross into the danger area and Derrick Williams appeared to be denied, at least twice from point-blank range by the Millers ‘keeper- with the Slovakian showing great reflexes and fleet of foot before Joe Mattock put his body on the line to deny Bennett from close range. In the aftermath of the move, the Millers fans behind the goal rose to their feet to herald their side’s resoluteness to keep Rovers at bay.
Minutes later, Josh Emmanuel skipped to the by line to fire a near-post centre which saw Ball in an aerial duel with his marker, but the in-form Millers striker was unable to divert his point-blank header towards goal, as it flashed wide of the target before Derrick Williams cut inside from the left flank to fire a rasping effort from long-range which forced Rodak into a smart, parried save.
In the next Millers attack, Mattock paved the way for Richie Towell to play a superb disguised pass which presented Ball with the chance to dig the ball from out of his feet, to curl a delightful effort which had Raya nervously looking over his shoulder, as the ball fizzed narrowly wide of the visitors goal.
With half-time approaching, Smallwood had to be on his toes to prevent Forde from shooting goalwards.
Half-time- Rotherham United 0 Blackburn Rovers 0
The visitors started the second half in a positive vein and Williams injected pace into a move to float an inviting centre which was met by the head of Bennett, at the far post, but his header failed to trouble Rodak before Caddis fired a speculative effort from over 30 yards, in the next phase of play, which flew into the Rovers faithful behind the goal.
Following a slow start to the half, Warne attempted to inject impetus back into Rotherham’s play as Joe Newell and Jonson Clarke-Harris were introduced into the fray and the move paid immediate dividends as Vaulks’ left-footed volley was blocked en-route to goal by Smallwood before the same player met Newell’s free-kick into the box but the Millers midfielder could not control his header, as it ballooned over the bar.
However, just past the hour mark, Blackburn broke the deadlock when sub Dominic Samuel showed a good turn and lay-off on halfway to give Smallwood the opportunity to play a slide-rule pass into the path of Dack, who advanced menacingly towards the Rotherham goal and with the home side short of defensive cover, the highly-rated midfielder kept his nerve to calmly stroke the ball past the advancing Rodak to find the bottom corner of the goal.
The Millers responded superbly to the setback and Clarke-Harris rose majestically to meet Newell’s corner but he could not control his header as it flew across the Rovers goalmouth before Mulgrew incurred the wrath of the referee for a rash challenge on Clarke-Harris near the corner flag to earn a yellow-card.
From the resultant free-kick from Newell, Blackburn only half-cleared the danger as Towell picked up the pieces to fire a snap shot which was blocked on the edge of the box before Mattock fired goalwards, minutes later, but his effort struck Newell and Ball, en-route to goal which took the fizz out of his shot.
With time running out for the hosts, Towell’s dipping half-volley was deflected over before a high punt into the box caused havoc in the Rovers box and Mattock’s knock-on saw Ball deftly flick the ball towards goal but Raya guessed his intentions to keep the ball out.
However, Blackburn’s resistance was finally broken in the last minute of normal time when Forde swung a tantalising centre which was met by the head of Vaulks, who emerged from the ruck of bodies in the box to steer the ball towards goal and Ball was on-hand to poke the ball into the roof of the net from close range.
With the Millers fans in full voice, Newell and Ball both had faint appeals for a spot kick before Clarke-Harris ghosted into the box but he was unable to get his shot away thanks to the efforts of a retreating Rovers defender.
In the dying seconds, Towell blasted a half-volley narrowly over the upright before the final whistle brought acclaim from both sets of fans following an enthralling encounter.
Full-time- Rotherham United 1 Blackburn Rovers 1
Rotherham United 1
Blackburn Rovers 1
Teams:- Rotherham- Rodak, Emmanuel, Mattock, Vaulks, Ajayi, Wood (Ihiekwe 83), Forde, Ball, Towell, Yates (Clarke-Harris 59), R Williams (Newell 58). Unused- O’Donnell, Purrington, Cummings, Wiles.
Blackburn- Raya, D Williams, Smallwood, Graham (Ward 85), Mulgrew, Caddis (Nyambe 64), Dack, Downing, Evans, Bennett, Conway (Samuel 64). Unused- Leutwiler, Whittingham, Tomlinson, Butterworth
Referee- M Coy
Attendance- 9347 (1821).