Rotherham United climbed out of the Sky Bet Championship relegation zone, by earning a narrow Roses victory over Preston North End, and record their fourth win in six games.
On a cold, soggy afternoon in Lancashire, Paul Warne’s side were quick out of the blocks and they went ahead inside the first minute when Joe Rafferty put through his own goal.
The hosts threatened on numerous occasions either side of the interval, but a combination of lady luck and Viktor Johansson being in fine form, kept them at bay.
Against the run of play, Ben Wiles doubled the Millers lead, and despite Ched Evans halving the deficit for the home side, Rotherham ran down the clock to do the double over Preston, just days after Derby suffered the same fate.
For the trip over the Pennines, Warne reshuffled his pack, by making five changes to his starting line-up.
Centre-half Angus MacDonald returned to the Millers rearguard while Ryan Giles and Lewis Wing were rewarded for their impressive substitute cameos against the Rams, by being handed their first Rotherham starts. Warne also freshened up his attacking options with Freddie Ladapo and George Hirst leading the visiting line.
Following the club’s hectic Sky Bet Championship schedule, club captain Richard Wood, Matt Olosunde, Wiles and men of the moment, Matt Crooks and Michael Smith, were all taken out of the firing line, by being given a well-earned rest, but the quintet were all named among the substitutes.
There was also a welcome sight, prior to kick-off, with long-term injury absentee Kieran Sadlier being put through his paces in the Millers warm-up, although the Irishman was not part of the matchday squad.
Despite the number of changes, Rotherham continued in a similar vein to how they finished the Derby affair, by making a dream start, as they opened the scoring - with just around 17 seconds on the clock, in bizarre circumstances.
The visitors were incisive from the kick-off and following a number of passes involving Wes Harding and Jamie Lindsay, which saw an advantage played after Harding was felled, Wing took up the baton to give Ladapo, a chance to strike, and he didn’t need a second invitation to dig out a shot which was deflected into the path of Rafferty, who was marshalling a Millers attacker, but in an attempt to clear the danger, he instinctively headed towards his own goal, and former Rotherham ‘keeper Daniel Iversen, was helpless, as it found the corner of the home net.
The Millers were naturally in confident mood, and Clark Robertson took aim with his favoured left-foot, but Liam Lindsay bravely blocked his effort on the edge of the box before the Stoke loanee had Preston’s first sight of goal when he latched onto Anthony Gordon’s free-kick, but he took a heavy touch and the chance was lost.
Rotherham’s early momentum was dealt a blow when Lindsay, who has been in excellent form, was unable to shrug off a muscle strain sustained following an innocuous challenge near the touchline and he was replaced by Wiles.
The Millers were still trying to get their heads around the change when Gordon fashioned an opening and Jayson Molumby got the better of Dan Barlaser, before trying his luck from distance, but Johansson could watch his effort sail harmlessly by.
The home side were growing into the game and the Millers had a moment of concern when Barlaser was penalised for hauling down Gordon on the edge of the box, and the Everton youngster dusted himself down, to take the resultant free-kick, but he curled his effort wide.
Gordon was proving to be a thorn in the Millers side, and Michael Ihiekwe showed his defensive mettle, by blocking his route to goal, with a fine tackle, following a dangerous run before Gordon planted the following corner, under Johansson’s nose and just below the crossbar, but the Swedish stopper did enough to hold off the attentions of Tom Barkhuizen, and swipe the ball to safety.
Minutes later, Barlaser was the first to see yellow for bringing down Andrew Hughes in full flow before Harding denied Gordon at close quarters.
In a rare Rotherham foray, Ladapo drilled a low cross-cum-shot which Iversen spilled initially, but gathered at the second attempt before Gordon threatened the Rotherham goal, with another teasing run and shot, which flew narrowly wide.
Alex Neil’s men were turning up the tempo and Rafferty almost atoned for his earlier error, by swinging over a centre which was met by the head of Evans, but Johansson produced a fine, diving save to keep the ball out before the Millers ‘keeper was called into action, once again, when Ryan Ledson clipped a cross, which caught the Rotherham defence square, and Barkhuizen looked a certain scorer, as he looked to steer the ball goalwards, but Johansson was proving a difficult obstacle to overcome, as he produced another fine reflex stop, to deny him and Evans on the follow-up.
The former Blades striker was cautioned for the over-zealous nature of his challenge, which saw Johansson require lengthy treatment, before being go-ahead to resume.
The Millers’ goal was leading a charmed life and none more so, than just before the break, when Robertson was penalised for a foul, just outside the box, and Ben Whiteman almost punished the visitors to the full, when he curled a delicious effort, which smashed against the upright, before hitting the flying Johansson, and the ball dribbled fortuitously across the goal-line, by narrowly evading a number of home runners, who would have had a tap-in.
Half-time- Preston North End 0 Rotherham United 1
Following the break, Rotherham had another let-off when Preston launched the ball into the box and Whiteman latched onto the pieces, to drill a low effort which evaded the full-stretched dive of Johansson, but flew narrowly past the upright.
Warne’s side were struggling to stem the flow of the game, but, after Ladapo headed into the side netting following a pinpoint Giles delivery, the visitors gave themselves some much-needed breathing space, by doubling their lead on 55 minutes.
There looked little danger for the hosts until Giles injected pace into a Millers move before Ladapo found Wing, in the box. The Middlesbrough loanee kept his nerve, to weigh up his options, among a number of Preston bodies, before playing a perfectly-weighted pass across the box, and Wiles was the grateful recipient, as he used the onrushing home defender, as a shield, to calmly stroke the ball into the home net giving Iversen no chance.
Just past the hour mark, Barkhuizen cut inside Robertson with menace, before stinging the palms of Johansson with a low effort before Hirst had a glimpse of goal, at the other end, but Iversen smothered his tame shot.
The Millers were going for the jugular and Wing’s defensive-splitting pass looked to be out of the reach of Wiles, but Iversen hesitated from his line, and the Rawmarsh-born youngster, sensed an opportunity before clipping the ball over the Danish ‘keeper, who got a slight touch, and the ball whistled just wide.
However, Preston were handed a lifeline with 25 minutes to go when Rotherham were caught napping from a short corner and Ledson swung a high centre which saw Evans in an aerial duel with Johansson, and despite the home frontman appearing to go up aggressively, the ball squirmed away from Johansson’s grasp, and Evans reacted quickest to slide the ball into the unguarded net.
The goal prompted a flurry of changes by both sides and sub Smith, just seconds after being introduced, forced Iversen into a near post save before Barkhuizen had a snap shot blocked by Robertson en-route to goal.
The game was on a knife-edge, and Wing got the ball from under his feet to curl an inviting centre which was inch-perfect for the perfectly timed run of Wiles, and with Iversen once again hesitant, Wiles had the chance to loop his header over him, but he disappointingly failed to hit the target.
With time running out for the hosts, the Millers were indebted to an offside award by the assistant referee, in preserving their slender advantage.
Harding failed to clear the danger on the edge of the box and sub Daniel Johnson showed fleet of foot, to slide the ball into the path of Scott Sinclair, who calmly stroked the ball past Johansson to find the heart of the Millers goal – but to the visitors’ relief, the goal was chalked off – with TV replays showing the decision to be a tight one.
In the remaining minutes, Smith had a chance to ease Rotherham nerves with a stinging drive which Iversen parried before Crooks ballooned the rebound over the bar.
In a nerve-jangling end to the game, Johnson’s weak effort was straight down the throat of Johansson while Ihiekwe and Crooks were booked, late on.
However, the Millers successfully weathered four minutes of stoppage time, to earn a vital victory and give their Sky Bet Championship survival hopes, another shot in the arm.
Full-time- Preston North End 1 Rotherham United 2
Preston North End 1
Rotherham United 2
Teams: Preston- Iversen, L Lindsay, Rafferty (Maguire 81), Hughes, Whiteman, Ledson (Johnson 66), Molumby (Potts 66), Huntington (Van Den Berg 73), Evans, Barkhuizen, Gordon (Sinclair 66). Unused- Ripley, Cunningham, Gallagher, Riis
Rotherham- Johansson, Wing, Hirst (Crooks 67), Ladapo (Smith 67), Robertson, J Lindsay (Wiles 14), Harding, Ihiekwe, A MacDonald, Barlaser (Wood 90), Giles (Olosunde 66). Unused- Vickers, Clarke, S MacDonald, Jozefzoon.
Referee- G Ward