Millers edged out by promotion hopefuls...
SEMI Ajayi’s third goal in the space of a week was in vain as promotion-chasing Norwich City earned a narrow victory at the AESSEAL New York Stadium despite a fine performance from Paul Warne’s side.
The Millers went toe-to-toe with the high-flying Canaries for large spells of the game but goals either side of the interval from Kenny McLean and Ben Godfrey turned the match in the visitors’ favour.
Following their last-gasp victory over QPR in midweek, Warne made three changes to his starting line-up.
One enforced change was the omission of Joe Mattock, following his tenth yellow card of the season at Loftus Road – with experienced operator Billy Jones asked to ply his trade in the left-back slot.
Warne decided to freshen his midfield options as Matt Crooks and Anthony Forde returned to the side, at the expense of Jon Taylor and Richie Towell, who were named as substitutes.
There was a late change to the Millers bench with Ryan Williams withdrawn prior to the kick-off with his girlfriend being taken into labour.
The Millers had the first sight of goal when Joe Newell hung up a cross which was nodded down by Forde into the path of Ben Wiles, who blazed his effort, from just outside the box, into the visiting faithful behind the goal.
Moments later, Jones raced down the left-flank to present Newell – with the chance to strike on the turn but Tim Krul snuffed out the danger, with an easy save before Norwich failed to deal with Zak Vyner’s arrowed free-kick into the box and the ball almost fell kindly for Michael Smith, but Tom Trybull was on his toes to hack clear.
In the next Millers attack, Forde and Newell combined smartly to pave the way for the latter to float an inviting centre which was met by the head of Smith, but the Millers frontman failed to trouble Krul, as his effort flew wide before Max Aarons had the visitors first attack of note with a cross-cum-shot which forced Michael Ihiekwe into a hurried clearance, which looped over the Millers goal.
Just past the quarter hour, Ihiewke became the first to see yellow for a late challenge on Marco Stiepermann near the touchline before Onel Hernandez got the better of his marker to fire a stinging drive which Marek Rodak was forced to parry and the ball smashed against a retreating Rotherham defender before rebounding into the grateful hands of the Slovakian stopper.
Just before the half hour mark, Jones became the latest to incur the wrath of the referee by felling Emiliano Buendia to receive a caution before Newell’s first-time cross looked to have given Smith, a glimpse of goal but a timely intervention from Canaries skipper Christoph Zimmermann prevented the Millers striker shooting goalwards.
Minutes later, Richard Wood put his body on the line to block Hernandez’s fierce drive en-route to goal before Buendia’s slide-rule cross looked inch-perfect for Teemu Pukki, at the near post, but the Finnish striker could only toe-poke wide from close range.
The AESSEAL New York Stadium faithful got to their feet to acclaim Wiles, who embarked on a superb run from halfway which bisected a number of Norwich defenders before the youngster slashed an effort harmlessly wide of the target while Pukki was fortunate to escape sanction for an act of simulation, just outside the Millers area.
With half-time approaching, the Millers fell behind when a threaded ball saw Pukki loop an innocuous ball over the top of the Rotherham defence and McLean won the battle of wills – with both Wood and Rodak, who failed to take charge, and the Norwich midfielder executed a smart finish to hook the ball into the unguarded net.
In stoppage time, the home fans had their hearts in their mouths when Krul launched a long kick upfield, and aided by the strong wind, Rodak backtracked nervously towards his own goal, as the ball flew narrowly wide of the target.
Half-time- Rotherham United 0 Norwich City 1
The Canaries were quick out of the blocks at the start of the second half and Pukki got in behind to drill a low effort which whistled across the home goalmouth before Newell’s eye-of-a-needle pass presented Ajayi – with the chance to turn, on the edge of the box, and bare down on goal, but the Nigerian’s prodded effort was blocked by a retreating visiting defender.
Moments later, Norwich failed to clear their lines and Jones latched onto the pieces to strike a fierce effort from distance which was straight down the throat of Krul before Rotherham levelled matters, eight minutes into the half, thanks to man-of-the-moment Ajayi.
There looked little danger for the Canaries when the Millers switched play until Wiles got the better of Aarons to slide a ball into the path of Ajayi, who took Krul off guard, by striking a curling right-footed effort, which beat the outstretched hand of the Dutch ‘keeper to find the far corner of the net.
However, the Millers joy proved short-lived as Norwich regained the lead within four minutes after Pukki almost diverted Hernandez’s dangerous cross into the bottom corner of the net.
Daniel Farke’s side continued to press and McLean curled an inviting corner into the Millers box and Godfrey emerged from the ruck of bodies to power a downward header from close range which dribbled into the heart of the home goal.
Minutes later, Stiepermann was the first visiting player to be cautioned for hauling down Newell before the home fans were on their feet when Smith’s up-and-under saw Wood ushered out, arguably illegally, in the box by a number of Norwich defenders but the referee waved away home protests.
Moments later, Rodak’s long punt saw Newell in a footrace with Krul with saw the Millers midfielder get to the ball first but his cross back into the box was hacked clear by an away defender.
With the game in the balance, Jones’s forward pass was cushioned superbly by Smith into the advancing run of Wiles, who got the ball from under his feet, to fire a rasping effort from distance which had Krul flying across goal, as it shaved the far post before Buendia almost sealed the deal for the visitors, with a superb dummy and shot from long range, which was inches wide of the target.
Minutes later, Norwich turned defence into attack in the blink of an eye and Pukki showed Vyner a clean pair of heels to race towards goal but Rodak was his equal with a smart, smothered save before the home ‘keeper was called into action again to deny Hernandez, in the next phase of play.
Sub Jerry Yates almost made an immediate impact from the bench when Smith flicked on Jones’ long ball but the Millers striker could only hook wide with his first touch, under pressure from a visiting defender.
In the dying minutes, the home side were indebted to Jones for a goal-saving block to deny Buendia before Aarons was yellow-carded for timewasting.
In the Millers last attack of note, sub Taylor skipped past Jamal Lewis to whip in a delightful centre, which was inches away from the attentions of Yates – with Krul punching clear – as the visitors held on to record victory.
Full-time- Rotherham United 1 Norwich City 2
Teams:- Rotherham- Rodak, Vyner, Ajayi, Wood (Yates 83), Forde (Taylor 62), Crooks (Towell 62), Ihiekwe, Newell, Smith, Wiles, Jones. Unused- Price, Palmer, Kayode.
Norwich- Krul, Godfrey, Zimmermann, Lewis, Buendia (Vrancic 90), Stiepermann, Trybull, Pukki (Rhodes 90), McLean, Hernandez (Klose 90), Aarons. Unused- McGovern, Leitner, Hanley, Cantwell.
Referee- O Langford
Attendance- 11026 (2615)