Ten-men Millers slip to derby defeat.....
TEN-MEN Rotherham United made the short hop from promotion chasing Sheffield United empty-handed, after strikes from Jack O’Connell and Mark Duffy, either side of the interval, earned the Blades the derby day honours.
One-time Millers loanee O’Connell came back to haunt his former club with an early opener before skipper Will Vaulks was red-carded, just shy of the half hour mark, following a rash tackle on George Baldock.
Despite a spirited effort, the Millers hopes of gaining a share of the spoils were extinguished when Duffy added a second with fifteen minutes to go.
Following their hard-fought victory over Blackburn Rovers in their last outing, Millers chief Paul Warne made two changes to his starting line-up for the trip to Bramall Lane.
Academy youngster Ben Wiles were recalled to the first eleven following his impressive substitutes cameo against the Lancastrians while Joe Newell joined him in the Millers engine room, at the expense of Richie Towell and Anthony Forde.
The home side were quick out of the blocks and after O’Connell was felled near the touchline, Oliver Norwood delivered a tantalising free-kick into the box and Marek Rodak, who was initially unsighted, could only bundle the ball away from goal, but fortunately for the Millers, the ball ran to safety.
Moments later, Baldock fired a snap effort which was bravely blocked by Clark Robertson before Billy Jones was forced to turn the ball behind, in the next Blades attack.
The home side took the lead from the resultant play on five minutes when Norwood, in a planned training ground move, played a slide-rule pass to the front post and with the Millers defence napping, O’Connell got the run on his marker to calmly slide the ball with his trusted left-foot into the far corner of the net giving Rodak no chance.
The Millers responded positively to the early setback and Vaulks launched a quick counter attack from the heart of midfield to present Jon Taylor with the chance to plant an inviting centre which was inches away from the outstretched leg of Michael Smith before Wiles showed fleet of foot to cut inside before unleashing a low drive from distance which forced Dean Henderson into a smart smothered save.
However, the visitors were almost undone for a second time when Jones lost possession and Scott Hogan’s run and pass enabled David McGoldrick to skip away from the challenge of Robertson before dragging a low effort, from just inside the box, which fizzed past the far post.
Minutes later, Warne’s side caught the home side at sixes and sevens with Newell and Taylor taking a short corner and the latter raced towards goal but the speedy winger was unable to get his cross away, as he was snuffed out by a retreating Blades defender.
The Millers were stepping up the pressure and Vaulks’ fierce effort was blocked by O’Connell before Taylor darted into the box to curl a left-footed shot which was deflected wide of the target.
However, just before the half-hour mark, Rotherham were given a mountain to climb when Vaulks, in attempting to deny a quick Blades attack, launched into a wild challenge on Baldock, near the touchline and the referee had no hesitation in brandishing a red card to the Millers skipper.
The Millers were forced into a midfield reshuffle with Ajayi moving into the Vaulks’ role in a 4-4-1 formation and John Fleck became the next to threaten the visitors goal with a fierce left-footed effort which was straight down the throat of Rodak, who kept his nerve with a smart catch.
Minutes later, the Millers were indebted to an assistant referee’s flag in denying the Blades a second goal when Fleck’s pass split open the Rotherham defence but Baldock, despite racing clear, could not prevent the ball going behind the line before finding Hogan, who turned the ball home from close range.
In the next home attack, Norwood and McGoldrick combined to put Hogan, who looked decidedly offside, away but the former Villa striker could only plant the ball into the grateful hands of Rodak before Jones’s perfectly weighted pass gave Taylor the opportunity to curl a cross, which narrowly evaded the attentions of Smith, at the other end.
With half-time approaching, Norwood stung the palms of Rodak with a rasping effort from distance, but the Slovakian ‘keeper parried the ball to safety.
Half-time- Sheffield United 1 Rotherham United 0
The Blades had the first sight of goal at the start of the second half when Fleck dragged a shot from distance harmlessly wide of the target before Rodak floated a long free-kick into the heart of the home box but Robertson could not direct his header goalwards and the chance was lost.
Minutes later, Chris Basham’s eye-of-a-needle pass presented McGoldrick with the chance to strike but Rodak stood up tall to gather his effort on his own line before John Egan put in a superb sliding challenge to prevent Smith from breaking away, at the other end.
Just past the hour mark, McGoldrick failed to trouble the Rotherham goal with a rising effort which cleared the crossbar before Baldock and Basham combined to great effect, as the latter strode into the Millers box, but an over hit cross evaded the home runners.
The home side missed an opportunity to double their lead when Wiles was stripped of possession and Fleck’s defence splitting pass saw McGoldrick bare down on goal and although Rodak blocked his initial effort, the Millers failed to clear the danger and Fleck gave McGoldrick a second opportunity, but he fluffed his lines by blazing his shot into the home faithful behind the goal.
The Millers were very much in the contest and Warne introduced Ryan Williams and Forde into the fray with twenty minutes remaining but Rodak was again called into action to deny Baldock with a parried save.
Moments later, Rodak kept his side in the game with a superb reflex save after Enda Stevens got around the back to meet Duffy’s cross with a powerful header but Rotherham’s relief was only temporary as Duffy went from creator to scorer, by getting Fleck’s pass from under his feet before unleashing a rasping left-footed effort, from just outside the box, which arrowed into the top corner of the net.
Following the goal, there was a nice touch from the four corners of the ground who gave a minute’s applause for the passing of Joan Stewart, the wife of chairman Tony Stewart, this week.
In the latter stages of the game, Fleck came close to adding a third following a slick Blades move but Smith blocked his effort en-route to goal before Norwood curled a delightful long-range effort narrowly wide of the target.
Full-time- Sheffield United 2 Rotherham United 0
Sheffield United 2
Rotherham United 0
Teams:- Sheffield United- Henderson, Baldock, Stevens, Fleck, O’Connell, Basham (Madine 65), Hogan, Egan, Norwood, McGoldrick (Cranie 84), Duffy. Unused- Dowell, Sharp, Coutts, Stearman, Moore.
Rotherham- Rodak, Mattock, Vaulks, Ajayi, Taylor (Forde 69), Robertson, Ihiekwe, Newell (Williams 69), Smith, Wiles, Jones (Crooks 82). Unused- Wood, Price, Towell, Yates.
Referee- G Eltringham
Attendance- 27402 (2243)