Late heartbreak for Millers..
NINE-MAN Rotherham United came within minutes of an unlikely point before Adam Webster’s late header broke their hearts to settle a close encounter with Bristol City, in the home side’s favour.
The Millers acquitted themselves well for the majority of the Ashton Gate clash but their cause was undermined by the dismissals of Billy Jones and Richie Towell, to leave them playing the last 18 minutes of the game with nine men.
Despite a brave rearguard action from the Millers, Webster finally breached their defences, late on, by heading home from close range.
Following their Boxing Day defeat at the hands of Bolton Wanderers, Millers boss Paul Warne made four changes to his starting eleven.
Versatile defender Jones was recalled in the full-back berth with Zak Vyner ineligible to face his parent club.
Warne freshened up his midfield options with Jon Taylor and Ryan Williams returning to the side, at the expense of Anthony Forde and Joe Newell, who had to settle for substitute berths.
Academy youngster Ben Wiles was handed his first league start in the ‘No 10’ role behind Michael Smith – with Jamie Proctor ruled out because of injury.
In the early minutes, Rotherham had the first sight of goal when Williams was felled but Taylor released the pressure on the hosts, from the resultant free-kick, with an over hit centre, narrowly evading the attentions of Semi Ajayi.
In City’s first foray of note, former Millers loanee Jack Hunt found himself in acres of space to deliver a delicious centre which was inches away from the outstretched leg of Callum O’Dowda, who would have had a tap-in, if he was able to make a telling connection.
Minutes later, Marlon Pack was penalised for tripping Williams and Taylor swung an inviting centre which home ‘keeper Niki Maenpaa was forced to punch clear, under pressure from Ajayi, before Clark Robertson and Will Vaulks, failed to trouble the City goal with headed efforts, in the matter of minutes.
At the other end, Josh Brownhill had a long-range free-kick deflected over by the Rotherham wall before O’Dowda curled in a tantalising corner which Famara Diedhiou looked to turn goalwards at the near post but a combination of Marek Rodak – with the initial save followed by Joe Mattock’s clearance kept the ball out.
The Millers had a let-off when a long arrowed ball fell kindly for Hunt, who cleverly juggled the ball to work a yard of space on Mattock, before finding Jamie Paterson, but the ex-Forest midfielder was unable to generate enough power on his header, as Rodak comfortably plucked his effort out of the sky.
Just past the quarter hour, Vaulks’s quarterback pass was controlled superbly by Williams, who looked to skip past Hunt, before the City full-back recovered to snuff out the danger before Tomas Kalas was forced to head Taylor’s corner over, in the next phase of play.
In Rotherham’s next attack, Taylor nipped the pocket of Jay Desilva to present Smith with the chance to strike from distance but Maenpaa got his body behind his shot before City had faint appeals for a spot kick when Diedhiou’s downward header from Pack’s cross struck Ajayi, but the referee waved away home protests.
Minutes later, Jones showed all his experience to prevent Hakeeb Adelakun from having a clear shot at goal – with a timely tackle before Wiles’ tenacity in midfield paved the way for Taylor to get the better of Dasilva in the box before striking a fierce effort from a tight angle, which smashed into the side netting.
Taylor was in the thick of the action and fine work by Towell and Wiles on halfway presented the former with the chance to play a slide rule pass into the path of the Millers speedster, who looked to beat Dasilva on his outside to drill a low effort from the edge of the box, which stung the palms of Maenpaa, who gathered smartly.
Just past the half-hour, the Millers had a scare when Brownhill’s long range effort was spilled by Rodak before Jones put his body on the line to bravely block Paterson’s fierce effort. With Rotherham heads still in a spin, Brownhill tried his luck from distance with a dipping shot which fizzed narrowly over the visitors’ bar.
Minutes later, Adelakun ghosted in from the left flank to flash an effort which Rodak was able to watch sail harmlessly wide of the target before Rodak’s long punt was not dealt with decisively by Adam Webster and Taylor had the opportunity to fire a snap effort, from just outside the box, which brought a parried save from Maenpaa before the home side scrambled the ball clear.
The Millers came closest to breaking the deadlock, just shy of the break, when Vaulks’ floated ball saw Maenpaa failed to take command with a weak punch and Taylor latched onto the pieces to bobble an effort goalwards, from the edge of the box, but frustrating for the visitors, it dribbled wide, despite the net being unguarded.
Warne’s side finished the half strongly and after Hunt was yellow-carded for cynically hauling back the lively Taylor, Pack almost headed into his own net, with a hurried clearance from Williams’ dangerous centre, but the ball shaved the outside of the upright.
Half-time- Bristol City 0 Rotherham United 0
The visitors started the second half as they finished the first when Vaulks’ drilled a low centre which Diedhiou was forced to turn behind before Robertson attempted an scissors kick, from the resultant corner, but the Millers centre-half was left red-faced, as he failed to connect.
At the other end, Adelakun blazed a speculative effort over before Diedhiou got the better of Ajayi in a tussle on the edge of the box but his deflected effort looped harmlessly into the hands of Rodak.
Minutes later, Williams’ snap effort was blocked by Kalas before Jones became the next to see yellow for a clumsy challenge on Pack, to halt a quick home counter.
In Rotherham’s next attack, Wiles’ instinctive left-footed volley was in avertedly blocked by Ajayi en-route to goal before the young midfielder took Vaulks’ pass in his stride before hooking goalwards, soon after, but Maenpaa could watch his effort fly harmlessly over.
Moments later, Towell drilled a low effort through a ruck of bodies in the box but Kalas stuck out a timely leg to divert the ball to safety.
The Millers were looking the most likely, at this stage, but there hopes of an elusive away win were dealt a blow when Diedhiou had a foot race with Jones, and the home striker tumbled under his challenge in a tangle of legs, near the by-line, and the referee brandished a second yellow card to the Rotherham full-back.
Warne reacted immediately by bringing defensive reinforcements in the shape of Sean Raggett, in his first outing following a lengthy lay-off – with Semi Ajayi moving to full-back, in a 4-4-1 formation.
Moments after, Dasilva was cautioned for a late challenge on Ajayi, the game reached boiling point when Towell, in an attempt to prevent a City breakaway, launched into a lunging tackle on Brownhill, on halfway – with the referee having no hesitation in giving the Irishman a straight red card.
In light of their numerical advantage, City were going for the kill and the Millers were indebted to a superb reflex save from Rodak to deny Brownhill before Hunt got around the back to hang a cross which looked inviting for Diedhiou, at the far post, but the Senegalese striker lost his footing, as he attempted to head goalwards.
The Millers were putting their bodies on the line and Smith epitomised the fighting spirit with a defensive clearance, near the Millers goal, to prevent Eliasson’s snap shot sneaking in at the near post before a combination of Vaulks and Mattock brought Paterson’s dangerous run and shot to an end.
However, Rotherham’s brave resistance was finally broken with four minutes remaining when City had numbers on the right flank and Hunt had time to deliver an inviting centre which saw Webster power a header towards goal and agonisingly for the Millers, Rodak got a glove to his shot, but it was not a strong enough hand, to keep the ball out, as it dribbled over the line.
The life was visibly sucked out of the Millers and the hosts almost added gloss to the scoreline when Hunt blasted over after Rodak parried Paterson’s initial effort before Brownhill rattled the crossbar with a curling effort, in the last noteworthy action of the game.
Full-time- Bristol City 1 Rotherham United 0
Bristol City 1
Rotherham United 0
Teams:- Bristol City- Maenpaa, Dasilva (Eliasson 77), Webster, Brownhill, Diedhiou, O’Dowda (Weimann 79), Adelakun (M Taylor 59), Paterson, Pack, Kalas, Hunt. Unused- O’Leary, Wright, Kelly, Morrell.
Rotherham- Rodak, Mattock, Vaulks, Ajayi, J Taylor (Forde 83), Towell, Robertson, Williams (Manning 76), Smith, Wiles (Raggett 67), Jones. Unused- Price, Wood, Palmer, Newell.
Referee- S Duncan
Attendance- 21207 (550)