Rotherham United’s Sky Bet Championship status is hanging by a thread as Neil Warnock’s Middlesbrough condemned them to their eighth loss in nine games.
The Millers, who were looking to close the gap on nearest challengers Derby, failed to make the most of Angus MacDonald’s early opener, when Matt Crooks saw red for dangerous play.
George Saville got the North-East outfit back on level terms before the break before Chupa Akpom notched the decisive winner with 55 minutes on the clock.
The Millers were given a pre-match boost when experienced operator Joe Mattock was deemed fit to play, in his first outing since December. With boss Paul Warne keeping faith with the 3-5-2 formation, Kieran Sadlier was given a rare outing in one of the wing-back roles, opposite Mattock.
Michael Ihiekwe was named skipper for the evening, as club captain Richard Wood had to settle for a substitutes berth while Shaun MacDonald and Clark Robertson were absent from the home squad, due to injury. Lewis Wing was ineligible to play against his parent club.
The Millers made the perfect start as they opened the scoring, in the early minutes.
Following a Wes Harding long throw which was turned behind for a corner, Mattock delivered an inviting centre into the box and MacDonald got the better of the aerial tussle with Marc Bola, to nod goalwards, from just inside the six-yard box and the ball found the heart of the visitors’ goal via a slight deflection off the ‘Boro defender.
However, Rotherham joy almost proved short-lived as Middlesbrough had a goal ruled out, just minutes later, in a moment of controversy.
In a foot race with Duncan Watmore, MacDonald looked to usher the ball back to Viktor Johansson, and the Swedish stopper looked to momentarily get two hands on the ball, before Watmore took the ball out of his grasp, before tapping home into the unguarded net, but to Rotherham’s relief, and perhaps harshly, the referee penalised the visiting player for a foul.
Home hearts were fluttering again when firstly Yannick Bolaise cleverly worked a crossing position and Akpom beat the challenge of MacDonald, to power a close-range header, which shaved the upright before Michael Smith got himself in a muddle, defensively, and Akpom almost made them pay when he jinked into the home box, before sliding the ball past Johansson, but MacDonald had smelt the danger, and he hacked clear from his own goal line.
In an open start to the game, Freddie Ladapo ghosted in from the flank before firing a low effort from the edge of the box which Jordan Archer saved at the second attempt before Ihiekwe headed narrowly wide from Harding’s cross.
However, Rotherham’s hopes of a much-needed victory took a turn for the worst, when they were reduced to ten men, with over 70 minutes of the game remaining.
A long punt forward to the halfway line saw Crooks and Grant Hall go for an aerial clash and the Millers man, who appeared to have only eyes on the ball, caught the ‘Boro man flush in the face, and the referee adjudged that Crooks was out of control as he led with his arm, and he brandished a straight red-card.
The incident left Hall needing lengthy treatment on the pitch and the Middlesbrough centre-half was unable to continue.
With the numerical disadvantage, Rotherham were given a warning when Bolaise blazed a shot over, but they failed to heed it, as Middlesbrough equalised, just past the half-hour mark.
Neeskens Kebano took a short corner, before ghosting past the challenge of Ben Wiles to dart with menace into the box, and the ‘Boro winger showed composure to pick out the run of George Saville, who rifled an effort into the roof of the Millers net giving Johansson no chance.
The Millers were now facing a Herculean task of getting something from the game, and the home goal led a charmed life when Middlesbrough struck the crossbar twice, in a matter of seconds.
Kebano was again the creator when he presented Jonny Howson, with the chance to strike from the edge of the box, and the former Leeds midfielder curled an effort onto the bar with Johansson beaten, and with Millers heads still at sixes and sevens, Bolaise looked set to head the rebound home, but his looping effort clipped the top of the woodwork.
With Rotherham desperately needing to hear the half-time whistle for a regroup, sub Connor Malley stung the palms of Johansson with a stinging drive before Harding was forced to turn Bolaise’s dangerous cross to safety, at the far post.
Half-time- Rotherham United 1 Middlesbrough 1
Warne made a double change at the interval but Middlesbrough naturally commanded the lion’s share of possession and territory, at the start of the second half and after Bolaise fired over, Warnock’s men took the lead, soon after.
Following the concession of another needless free-kick, which has been an Achilles heel, for the Millers, in recent weeks, Marvin Johnson swung over a centre which Johansson, uncharacteristically, made a hash of, and ‘Boro made them pay when Paddy McNair put the ball back into the danger area, and Akpom was the quickest to react, by smashing home from close range.
The Millers initially responded positively to the blow but they breathed a huge sigh of relief when Kebano, a constant danger, ghosted past Sadlier with ease before providing the assist for Howson, who thundered a header against the frame of the goal.
Middlesbrough were seemingly in full control of the game but after Jamie Lindsay was cautioned for a foul on Akpom, Rotherham were left to a rue a miss, following a rare foray forward.
Harding pumped a diagonal ball into the box and Ihiekwe flicked the ball on into the path of Ladapo, who had got on the wrong side of the ‘Boro defence, but the Millers striker, who had previously notched four goals in eight games, failed to add to his tally when his team needed it most, when he tamely prodded wide of the target.
Both sides traded yellow cards with Saville and Smith cautioned before the Rotherham defence made a few last-ditch tackles while Johansson kept the Millers in the game by producing a fine save to deny Kebano.
The moment almost proved crucial when sub George Hirst and MacDonald kept the ball alive, at the other end, but Ladapo hooked over from a promising position.
Rotherham threw caution to the wind, in the latter stages, but they failed to get the rub of the green and following their third home loss in the space of six days, Warne’s side now face an uphill task to guarantee Championship survival.
Full-time: Rotherham United 1 Middlesbrough 2
Teams: Rotherham- Johansson, Sadlier (Ogbene 71), Harding (Giles 75), Ihiekwe, A MacDonald, Mattock (Olosunde 46), Barlaser (Lindsay 46), Crooks, Wiles, Smith (Hirst 82), Ladapo. Unused- Blackman, Wood, Clarke, Jozefzoon.
Middlesbrough- Archer, McNair, Hall (Malley 23), Bola, Johnson, Saville, Howson, Kebano, Bolasie (Coburn 87), Watmore, Akpom. Unused- Bettinelli, Kokolo, Robinson, Hackney.
Referee- D Bond