Makeshift Millers earn battling point.....
Injury-hit Rotherham United defied the odds to earn a battling point against fellow play-off contenders Fleetwood Town, after trailing twice in the AESSEAL New York Stadium clash.
Following a lacklustre first-half showing, the Millers trailed at the interval following Ched Evans’ well-taken header.
Freddie Ladapo’s 12th goal of the season got the home side back on level terms but it proved a false dawn as Evans struck, almost immediately, to put Fleetwood ahead for a second time.
However, the Millers were not to be outdone and Matt Crooks, who was asked to play in a makeshift centre-half role, was on-hand to turn the ball home for a second equaliser after Adam Thompson was denied.
With injury and illness sweeping through the Millers camp, boss Paul Warne was forced into a team reshuffle, as he made four changes to the starting line-up, from the one which took to the field at Southend United last time out.
The Millers defensive options were at a bare minimum and Warne reverted to a 3-5-2 formation with Joe Mattock, who was skippering the side, Adam Thompson and Crooks forming the back three.
Trevor Clarke and Matt Olosunde were providing the width with Kyle Vassell playing at the tip of a central midfield three – alongside Ben Wiles and Dan Barlaser.
In-form Ladapo and Michael Smith were asked to lead the Rotherham line with academy youngster Jacob Gratton rewarded for netting a brace for the club’s second string in midweek, by being named on the home bench for the first time.
The visitors had the first sight of goal when Lewie Coyle swung over a tantalising centre which Crooks had to head over his own crossbar before the same player was well-placed to divert Danny Andrew’s cross-cum-shot to safety, in the next phase of play.
The Millers had a stroke of fortune when Kyle Dempsey made something out of nothing to drill a low effort from just outside the box which smashed against the foot of the post before Paddy Madden looked to turn the rebound home but Daniel Iversen got up smartly to smother his effort – although any follow-up goal would have been chalked off for offside.
The Lancastrians were looking the most likely and Wes Burns’ looping header fell kindly for Madden to volley goalwards, but his well-struck effort, via a slight deflection, fizzed narrowly wide of the target before Evans volleyed over from the resultant corner.
Just past the quarter hour, Mattock became the first to see yellow for hauling down Evans on the edge of the box and Andrew almost exacted retribution from the following free-kick with a fierce left-footed effort which stung the palms of Iversen – with the Danish stopper gathering at the second attempt.
The Millers were struggling to find their rhythm and Clarke, became the latest player to be cautioned, after the Irishman was robbed in possession by Burns, before hacking down the Fleetwood winger on the edge of the box.
Evans smashed the resultant free-kick into the Millers wall but the former Sheffield United striker deservedly put Town ahead just before the half hour mark.
The visitors worked the play sufficiently whereby Burns got to the touchline before pulling the ball back to Coyle, who delivered an inviting centre into the danger area and Evans, who had expertly peeled away from his marker, was able to plant a guided downward header, which beat the outstretched hand of Iversen, to find the bottom corner of the home goal.
Minutes later, Jack Sowerby blasted over from distance before Mattock had Rotherham’s first shot in anger with a long-range effort which whistled narrowly over the visitors bar.
In the Millers next attack, Olosunde fizzed a centre into the Fleetwood box and Smith appeared to tumble under the challenge of Coyle in the six-yard box following a tussle, but, the referee waved away vehement home appeals for a spot-kick.
Minutes later, Ladapo latched onto Smith’s flick-on to work a shooting position in the box but the former Plymouth striker drilled a low effort through a ruck of bodies which was straight down the throat of Billy Crellin.
In the last noteworthy action of the half, Town came close to doubling their advantage when Dempsey nipped the pocket of Wiles on halfway before advancing menacingly towards the home goal – but he fired over from a promising position on the edge of the box when he should have done better.
Half-time- Rotherham United 0 Fleetwood Town 1
Following a poor first half, the Millers started the second half in a more positive vein and Vassell got the better of Coyle to drill a low cross which was met by Ladapo, but the Millers frontman was unable to guide the ball goalwards - with his attempted flick, before Chiedozie Ogbene, who was introduced at the interval, put on the jet-burners to dart past Andrew but his over-hit cross evaded the attentions of Smith, in the box.
Minutes later, Burns took aim with a low effort from distance which had Iversen at full-stretch, as he palmed the ball out – with Madden lurking for a tap-in before Peter Clarke had to be on his toes to divert Barlaser’s fizzed corner to safety, at the other end.
There was a moment of controversy when Mattock bravely put his head to meet an arrowed switch of play before being unceremoniously felled by Coyle, who received a yellow-card in the process, which paved the way for Smith to lob the ball over Crellin to find the unguarded goal, but the play had long been brought back for the earlier foul.
However, the Millers were justly rewarded for their second half efforts with an equaliser when Ogbene caused havoc, once again, and Olosunde latched onto the pieces to deliver a delicious centre which was inch-perfect for Ladapo, who skilfully steered his header into the far corner of the net, as it nestled in via the inside of the post.
However, Rotherham’s joy proved short-lived as Fleetwood regained their lead, almost immediately, when the home defence failed to deal with an innocuous ball forward and with neither Olosunde or Thompson taking charge of the situation, Evans sensed an opportunity to stretch for the loose ball, in a tackle-like fashion, and his bravery paid dividends as the ball squirmed past the advancing Iversen to roll tantalisingly into the heart of the home goal.
Moments later, Evans was denied a hat-trick goal, when Iversen produced a superb acrobatic save to deny him following a fine run and drive from the Welsh international.
Minutes later, Ogbene did the hard yards to give Olosunde the opportunity to swing a centre which was met by the head of Smith, but he could only head harmlessly wide of the goal before Ogbene and Ladapo combined to great effect, but the latter had a shot blocked on the edge of the box by a retreating Fleetwood defender.
Despite not being at their best, the Millers showed their battling qualities, once again, when Fleetwood failed to clear the danger and Barlaser caressed a long ball over the top of the visitors’ rearguard and Thompson smartly got the ball under his spell to drill a low effort which went under the body of Crellin, and Crooks was on-hand to tap the ball home from close range, for his ninth goal of the campaign.
With the game in the balance, the Millers were going for the jugular and Barlaser screwed a shot wide before Mattock was felled by Coyle in the box, but the referee waved away home protests.
Minutes later, Ogbene left a number of Fleetwood defenders in his wake to race into the Fleetwood box but sub Carlton Morris could not take advantage of his work, by firing over, off-balance.
Full-time- Rotherham United 2 Fleetwood Town 2
Rotherham United 2
Fleetwood Town 2
Teams:- Rotherham- Iversen, Mattock, Thompson, Vassell, Wiles (Hastie 77), Ladapo, Barlaser, Crooks, Clarke (Ogbene 46), Olosunde, Smith (Morris 81). Unused- Price, Robertson, Lamy, Gratton.
Fleetwood- Crellin, Coyle, Andrew, Clarke, Souttar, Burns, Dempsey, Evans (Eastham 83), Coutts, Madden, Sowerby (Morris 83). Unused- Cairns, McAleny, Biggins, Saunders, Garner.
Referee- P Wright
Attendance- 7883 (126)