Rotherham United continued their red hot run in Sky Bet League One as they sank the Pirates with a 3-0 home triumph at AESSEAL New York Stadium to make it five consecutive league wins and maintain their place at the head of the third tier pack.
Kyle Vassell matched his team’s successful form with an equally prosperous record in front of goal, notching his fifth in as many games to break the deadlock, before Michael Smith put clear daylight between the Millers and their opponents just a minute later. Neither chance would have been possible without the creativity of winger Chiedozie Ogbene, who proved the architect with near-identical crosses to supply both forwards with the ammunition.
It was fitting therefore that the last name on the scoresheet was that of Ogbene, who nipped in two minutes from time to tap home following an effort from substitute Freddie Ladapo, adding gloss to the scoreline whilst enhancing his side’s goal difference.
Millers boss Paul Warne entrusted the same XI that saw off the challenge of high-flying Oxford United a week previously, to establish their pole position in League One, with Ben Wiles once again deployed in the full back position.
Recently crowned Sky Bet League One Goal of the Month winner and scorer of a brace in Oxford, Vassell, was once again the man to partner the evergreen Smith in attack, while there was a long-awaited return to the substitutes’ bench for experienced midfielder Shaun MacDonald.
There was just a minute on the clock when Matt Crooks fired the first strike at goal to signal the Millers’ early intent, but out of character from their clinical nature in front of goal in recent weeks, the towering midfielder’s effort was skewed high and wide and no problem for Jordi van Stappershoef in the Pirates’ goal.
Danger was to follow at the other end soon after in what was also the visitors’ first foray forward of the afternoon, although this chance much more significant. There looked to be little danger when Alex Rodman exchanged passes with a teammate at a throw in, but his subsequent pinpoint delivery found former Miller Jonson Clarke-Harris just yards out, only for the forward to stab an effort wide of the near post.
Vassell has been a revelation in the Millers’ attack in recent weeks with stunning strikes against Peterborough United and Hull City to his name, but he almost turned provider on seven minutes. A hopeful ball over the top saw the former Blackpool man show a good turn of pace and equally impressive strength to drive for the edge of the area on the right, where he clipped in a dangerous ball to the back post which forced Rollin Menayese to hastily turn the ball behind for a corner with Smith looking to pounce.
Wiles had begun the game at Oxford in the right back position, but such was his confidence out of position, Warne opted to utilise him on the opposite side later in the game. The Rawmarsh operator once again displayed his adaptability as the Millers broke down that side, picking out Smith on the edge of the area with a lovely left-footed cross from deep which the striker looped narrowly over the crossbar.
A Matt Olosunde break up the right flank almost paved the way for a golden opportunity for home debutant Hakeeb Adelakun as the Millers continued to assert their dominance on the game. The American’s deflected delivery from the right fell just nicely for the Bristol City loanee but a fantastic last ditch challenge from Pirates’ captain Tony Craig saw it pinched from his toe as he was about to pull the trigger 20 yards from goal.
The consistency of Dan Barlaser’s set piece delivery has come in for much-deserved praise in recent weeks and he once again proved worthy of those comments in the opening half at AESSEAL New York Stadium. A perfectly-weighted corner landed at the back post with Michael Ihiekwe, who headed back into the danger area, only for the visitors to scramble away the danger with plenty of red shirts loaded into the area.
The Millers had restricted their Bristol counterparts to very few opportunities and that was reflected in Josh Barrett taking aim from distance following a corner. With that said, the Pirates’ midfielder caught his effort sweetly and Dan Iversen was forced to watch on as his effort whistled wide of the far post.
An untimely slip from Smith then cost him what could have been the Millers’ best opportunity of the half after Vassell and Crooks had combined neatly in the final third. Having taken the ball into feet from the latter, Smith opened up his body with room to shoot or find Chiedozie Ogbene in space inside the box, but tripped on the ball as he looked to make his decision, allowing the visiting defence to regroup and deal with Ogbene’s eventual delivery.
Matt Crooks earned himself the first booking of the game as Rovers broke up the other end for a scything tackle 35 yards from goal which paved the way for Clarke-Harris to try and break the deadlock from the resultant free kick. The former Millers striker thundered a low drive at goal from the dead ball, which forced Iversen to get down smartly and parry around the post.
Wiles’ craft was not wasted in the full back position and in fact, gave the Millers additional impetus down that left flank. It was he, who combined with Barlaser and Adelakun in a wonderfully-constructed passing move which the hosts were unfortunate to see halted as Adelakun sprung the offside trap to have a cross into the six yard box blocked by a defender.
Half-time: Rotherham United 0 v 0 Bristol Rovers
Neither team opted to reshuffle their packs at the interval and the second stanza subsequently began with a similar theme to the first. It was once again the Millers looking most likely to open the scoring following the restart with their first chance neglecting some of the excellent passing football they had played in the first half
Warne’s side’s persistence finally told seven minutes into the half though and it was some wing wizardry from Ogbene that proved to be the key to unlock the Pirates’ door. A sumptuous ball in from the right wing from the former Brentford flyer picked out the man in form in front of goal, Vassell, who glanced the ball beyond a helpless van Stappershoef with a deft header.
Just as the home faithful were taking to their seats following the celebrations, they were back out of them and it was the work of the same winger that would have them back on their feet. A second cross in as many minutes yielded the same outcome from Ogbene, this time picking out Smith on the edge of the six yard box, with his header directed back across the face of goal and into the bottom corner to make it 2-0 and send AESSEAL New York Stadium into delirium once more.
With the Pirates’ defence at sea following the quickfire double, the Millers continued to improve and home attacks followed with the likes of Adelakun and Matt Crooks threatening further punishment before the hour mark.
Clarke-Harris looked as though he was out to prove a point to his former employers with a lively showing in the final third for his side, but skewed a decent chance to do just that after he miscued his volley following Rodman’s cross from the right.
It is almost with bated-breath that the home fans now anticipate a Barlaser ball in from a set piece situation and his cross around 70 minutes was met with a similar feeling. This time his inswinger whizzed across the face of goal, taking a nick off a defender before going behind with red shirts again in close proximity.
Having been sighted in Main Reception at AESSEAL New York Stadium pre-match joking with Vassell about scoring a goal to outdo the recent Goal of the Month winner, Crooks almost recreated a carbon copy. With his back to goal and the ball sat nicely in the air, the former Northampton Town man acrobatically turned an overhead kick at the target which didn’t meet the high standards of his teammate and ended up in the stand with the home fans, although Vassell was on hand to congratulate him for the effort nonetheless.
With the game moving towards the last 10 minutes, Rovers’ substitute Ollie Clarke found room in the box to fire a volley at goal but Wiles was well-positioned to get in a block and avert the danger.
The visitors stuck to the task of trying to get back into the game and came close to halving the deficit as Clarke-Harris headed over, although he was greeted with the offside flag as his effort landed on the roof of the largely untroubled Iversen’s goal.
Freddie Ladapo, never one to miss out on the action in front of goal, was unlucky not to etch his name onto the scoresheet late on but it was his piledriver that paved the way for Ogbene to claim a goal of his own minutes from the end. Cutting in from the right, Ladapo powered a strike at the far post, which van Stappershoef could only parry out to the winger, who gladly obliged with a tap in to make it 3-0.
Full-time: Rotherham United 3 v 0 Bristol Rovers
Millers: Iversen; Wiles, Ihiekwe, Wood, Olosunde; Ogbene, Barlaser, Crooks (Lindsay 79), Adelakun (Lamy 83); Vassell (Ladapo 73), Smith.
Unused: Bilboe, MacDonald, Clarke, Hastie.
Bristol Rovers: van Stappershoef; Menayese, Craig, Kilgour (Davies 74), Leahy; Rodman, Upson, Sercombe (Clarke 59), Barrett (Ginnelly 70); Reilly; Clarke-Harris.
Unused: Andre, Holmes-Dennis, Nichols, Mitchell-Lawson.
Attendance: 8,287 (338)