Rotherham United fuelled their charge for Sky Bet League One promotion with a hard-fought 3-2 win over Burton Albion after an end-to-end encounter at AESSEAL New York Stadium on Saturday.
Millers fans, players and coaching staff alike were subject to a rollercoaster of emotions as the game tipped in favour of both sides, but it was the home side who prevailed, as a Michael Smith double and a Freddie Ladapo strike helped them to three more precious third tier points.
Burton were the first to draw blood through Stephen Quinn before Jamie Murphy added his name to the scoresheet but another relentless display from Paul Warne’s side ensured they preserved their place at the top of the third tier table.
Following the dominant display in midweek which helped the Millers to see off the challenge of then table-toppers Ipswich Town to reclaim their place at the head of the Sky Bet League One pack, Paul Warne understandably named an unchanged side for the hosting of the Brewers.
Deadline Day additions Curtis Tilt and Josh Koroma were ineligible for selection with the paperwork on their deals not being completed time, meaning they watched their new teammates in action from the comfort of the stands.
The only other change to the 18 was the omission of Frenchman Julien Lamy from the substitutes’ bench following his loan move to AFC Wimbledon, which paved the way for Trevor Clarke to fill the void among the replacements.
It has been Dan Barlaser famed for his fantastic range of passing in recent weeks, but it was Bristol City loanee Hakeeb Adelakun who almost unlocked the door with just a minute-and-a-half on the clock. His beautifully weighted pass picked out the run of Kyle Vassell, whose first touch was equally impressive to take him behind the last man before the forward in red-hot form flashed a drive just wide of the far post.
The visitors’ first notable venture into the Millers half came on six minutes when the Millers found themselves guilty of overplaying in the middle of the park, allowing one-time Rotherham loanee Stephen Quinn chance to drive for the box where his low effort was turned behind for a corner.
It was from that corner that Burton found the opener and it came in emphatic fashion too. The initial danger had been dealt with by the Millers’ rearguard from the dead ball but they were unable to legislate for some magic from Murphy, who stepped inside from the left and thundered an unstoppable effort into the far corner, well out of the reach of Iversen to make it 1-0.
The scoreline at this stage didn’t reflect the balance of play and parity was rightfully restored just three minutes later when Warne’s men replied by busting the net themselves. Despite his giant stature, midfielder Matt Crooks somehow escaped the attentions of the Brewers’ defence to break into the area where he cut the ball back to Smith, who set himself with a first touch at the penalty spot before blasting the ball through the retreating yellow shirts and home to make it 1-1.
Those that predicted that Burton would arrive in South Yorkshire looking for a point were given another reason to rethink as Nigel Clough’s men threatened to edge themselves ahead once more just a minute later. Quinn was again the man found charging for the Millers’ goal, this time running through one-on-one, where he forced a smart save from Iversen in the area to ensure it remained level.
The big Danish stopper’s involvement was far from over though as yellow shirts piled forwards again soon after. Murphy, who had put the visitors ahead in such clinical fashion, almost had a second to his name with less than quarter of an hour on the clock. His goal had been the sweetest of strikes on his right foot, but mixed it up on this occasion, darting left in the area before driving an effort at the near post, which Iversen got something on before it clipped the post and went behind for a corner.
It had been a really interesting opening phase for the neutral and it continued to prove that way as the Millers had their turn at attacking as the pendulum swung once more. The rapid Chiedozie Ogbene is often credited for his work in possession, but it was his delivery this time that caught the eye. A clever jinking run took him up the right flank before a near-perfect early cross followed, which was inches away from being turned in by Kyle Vassell, whose outstretched leg in the penalty area wasn’t quite long enough to make contact.
An interesting battle had ensued between Quinn and Iversen and we would see another bout as the diminutive midfielder crashed a volley at goal. A handy first touch from the experienced operator on the angle of the Millers’ area allowed him time to strike at goal, but a save for the cameras from Iversen once again thwarted him, at the expense of a corner.
A superb combination on the edge of the area between Crooks and Vassell almost unlocked the Brewers’ defence with the former being the eventual beneficiary from some slick play. The midfielder exchanged a lovely one-two with the former Blackpool man, and was unlucky to see his low drive crash into the legs of a brave Burton defender.
The Millers turned up the intensity in attack once more and perhaps should have taken the lead with half an hour on the clock. Ogbene’s pace handed him with the opportunity to fire at goal in the area following a through ball and brought out an excellent stop from O’Hara, who could only parry his rasping drive clear. Remaining alive to the attack, Ogbene picked the ball back up on the right and whipped in a pinpoint cross to pick out Crooks, who rose to head narrowly over the crossbar at the back post.
The game settled down on the goalmouth action front until and unusual occurrence prompted a decision from the officials. Ryan Edwards’ backpass to his goalkeeper under pressure from Vassell was more like a shot on target and in the end, forced a catch from O’Hara at his near post to stop the ball going in. With Millers players claiming for a backpass and an indirect free kick, the referee looked to have agreed, before communication with his assistant on the touchline saw him rethink his decision and instead, award a corner which the ‘keeper plucked out of the air.
With a minute of the 45 remaining, a slice of fortune did come for the Millers, specifically Chieo Ogbene. A kind bounce of the ball allowed him room for a volley from 20 yards, but his effort was miscued and wide of the target.
The last act of the half would see Barlaser again try and create something from a dead ball but his inswinging cross was headed behind to safety by a retreating yellow shirt, before Richard Wood headed wide from the resultant corner.
Half-time | Rotherham United 1 v 1 Burton Albion
Whatever had been said in the Millers dressing clearly had an effect on Ogbene as he launched an attack to win a corner with just 10 seconds played after the restart, with Jake Buxton sending his cross over his own bar.
It wasn’t just Ogbene effected either, a point proven as the hosts edged themselves back in front from the following corner. Barlaser was again the man supplying the ammunition from the dead ball, with Smith rising amidst a crowded area to power home a header and his second goal of the afternoon to send AESSEAL New York Stadium into raptures.
As had been the case throughout the afternoon, the game continued to swing end to end and it was the following attack just seconds after the kick off that made it 2-2. Sarkic’s burst up the right allowed him to run into the Millers’ area, where he put everything behind a rocket of a drive that proved too powerful for Iversen to keep out at the near post. All of the above with just 47 minutes on the clock.
After Crooks was fouled at the other end 20 yards from goal, Barlaser and Vassell lined themselves up over the free kick. It was the latter who struck it, although his drive was repelled by the Burton wall, however, Crooks was involved again keeping the move alive to control before volleying just wide in the area.
Warne has heaped praise on the contribution of his wingers in recent weeks and that was vindicated again in the second half against Burton as Hakeeb Adelakun and Ogbene looked to make inroads down the flanks. Their contributions yielded half chances from wide areas, but the Millers were unable to find a way through despite the aerial bombardment.
Clough’s men should have been ahead without question on 62 minutes and the Brewers’ boss would have been wondering how they weren’t when John Brayford’s marauding run to the byline saw him pick out Lucas Akins in space, with just Iversen to beat, but somehow the experienced forward scuffed his side-footer, missing the target and a huge opportunity to make it 3-2.
The introduction of Freddie Ladapo almost had an instant effect as the forward brought Crooks into play with a neat lay-off to the edge of the area, but Crooks’ low drive came under pressure and whistled wide with the midfielder taking a clattering in the process.
Quinn almost conjured some magic from a Burton free kick whipped into the proverbial ‘corridor of uncertainty’ from the left and the Millers would have been relieved to see Conor Shaugnessy turn the ball just wide as he got something on the end of it in the area.
Such has been the Millers’ success in attack, Ladapo who is the club’s top scorer had been sat on the bench in recent fixtures. However, keen to send his manager a clear reminder of his talents, it was he who put the hosts back on top. Ogbene’s drive up the right was followed by a cross into the box where Ben Wiles showed presence of mind well in advance of his tender years to tee up Ladapo with a deft touch, and the ex-Plymouth man’s subsequent strike was event better, rocketed beyond O’Hara and into the bottom corner.
The hosts were unlucky not to extend their advantage soon after and it was Wiles again looked to be the architect. With Barlaser withdrawn, it was left to the Rawmarsh-based midfielder to deliver a corner and he did so to perfection, picking out Crooks at the far post, whose header into the ground was somehow kept out before Smith followed up to turn it just wide.
Like many teams before them, Burton had no answer to Ogbene’s electric charges up the wing and he proved too much again with 10 minutes left. Breaking to the byline, the former Brentford man stood up a ball to the back post, where Matt Olosunde was unlucky to be denied with a header.
Scorer of two Smith looked to turn provider with less than five minutes remaining, breaking to the byline himself before cutting it back for Olosunde, who was unable to steer a curling effort beyond O’Hara who held on to keep it at 3-2.
Olosunde threatened again late on as he tried to find Ladapo with some clever footwork on the edge of the area, but Burton repelled the attack, although the Millers won’t have been too disappointed as they saw out the game to claim all three points.
Full-time | Rotherham United 3 v 2 Burton Albion
Millers | Iversen; Thompson, Ihiekwe, Wood ©, Mattock; Ogbene, Barlaser (Olosunde 75), Crooks, Adelakun (Wiles 61); Vassell (Ladapo 66), Smith.
Unused | Bilboe, Clarke, MacDonald, Lindsay.
Burton Albion | O’Hara; Brayford, Buxton ©, O’Toole, Daniel (Hutchinson 88); Sarkic (Fraser 77), Shaughnessy, Quinn, Edwards (Powell 83); Murphy, Akins.
Unused | Garratt, Wallace, Sbarra, Nartey.
Attendance | 8,563 (540)