Rotherham United’s Sky Bet League One promotion charge took a bump in the road, as Fleetwood Town earned a league double over the Millers, by grabbing a dramatic late winner at the Highbury Stadium.
Sub Anthony Pilkington was Fleetwood’s hero with the decisive goal, deep in second half stoppage time, after the Millers looked set to claim at least a share of the spoils from the Fylde coast.
The Millers returned to league action following mixed fortunes in the cup competitions, in recent weeks.
Boss Paul Warne made two changes from their last FA Cup outing in the capital.
Josh Vickers retained his place between the sticks. Ben Wiles and Chiedozie Ogbene gave the Millers midfield a fresh look. Experienced hot shot Will Grigg was named to partner top-scorer Michael Smith up front.
Fleetwood, who enjoyed a handsome victory at the AESSEAL New York Stadium earlier in the season, were quick out of the traps and Alex Cairns, a former Millers ‘keeper, launched a long punt up field and deft touches from Ellis Harrison and Cian Hayes paved the way for Callum Camps, to strike goalwards, but Vickers saved smartly with his feet, to divert the ball away from goal.
The Cod Army unveiled a corner routine, from the resultant play, when Danny Andrew pulled the ball back for Camps, who volleyed harmlessly wide of the target.
Minutes later, Callum Johnson became the first to see yellow for a wild challenge on Shane Ferguson.
Both teams traded chances when Dan Barlaser’s lovely ball over the top presented Smith with the chance to get the ball under his spell before playing a slide-rule ball which was intercepted by Tom Clarke, with Grigg lurking, before Camps stung the palms of Vickers with a shot from distance at the other end.
Warne’s side were off the pace, in the early exchanges, but they gradually asserted their grip, on the game, without due reward, for the remainder of the half.
Grigg was in the thick of the action, and after taking Michael Ihiekwe’s pass in his stride, he turned on a sixpence before firing an effort which was deflected behind by Clarke.
The Sunderland loanee was sniffing for a goal, and it almost came when Barlaser’s quick free-kick caught Fleetwood napping, and Ogbene was the grateful recipient to plant a first-time cross into the path of Grigg, who got on the wrong side of his marker, but with the ball at awkward height, he could only chest it wide from close range.
It was looking a matter of when Rotherham and Grigg would make their mark, but the woodwork came to Fleetwood’s rescue, just past the half-hour.
Barlaser, who was looking masterful in the middle of the park with a superb array of passing, was again the architect with a far post cross which Smith cleverly headed into the danger area and Grigg nodded against the underside of the bar, before the home side scrambled the ball to safety.
Despite having the better of the proceedings, the Millers had a scare when Andrew’s cross was only half-parried to safety by Vickers, and Camps headed the ball into the six-yard box and Harrison rose highest to flick the ball over the bar, although Vickers was deemed to have got a touch.
In the last act of the half, Ferguson skipped down the by-line to deliver a delicious cross and Ogbene, not famed for his heading ability, managed to hit the target but Cairns did well to tip his effort over the bar.
Half-time: Fleetwood Town 0 Rotherham United 0
Warne made a change at the break, and Josh Kayode, who impressed at both Crewe and QPR in recent weeks, was given an opportunity to shine with Grigg withdrawn.
The Republic of Ireland Under-21 international made an immediate impression – with just his second touch – when he headed over from Barlaser’s corner.
The Millers, who were attacking their sold-out travelling contingent, were upping the tempo but they failed to threaten the Fleetwood goal until Kayode got a long ball under control before charging towards goal and unleashing a low drive which was smothered by Cairns.
The home side were more than a match for their high-flying visitors, and Clarke was cautioned for hauling down Kayode on the edge of the box before the Cod Army skipper almost went from villain to hero, when he met Andrew’s corner, but he could only head over, under pressure from several Rotherham defenders.
There was a moment of controversy when Ogbene tumbled under the challenge of Zak Jules in the box, but the referee waved away vociferous appeals for a spot kick from Rotherham players and fans alike.
There were chances at either ends when Paddy Lane flashed wide for the hosts before Ogbene had a shot blocked while Smith got the better of an aerial duel with Jules to head over.
The game looked to be meandering to a goalless draw when Barlaser put in a lung-busting run to prevent Lane from finding Pilkington unmarked, but the game had one final decisive, and heart-breaking twist for the Millers.
Pilkington, who had shown glimpses of his experienced know-how, following his introduction with 23 minutes to go, put a dagger through Millers hearts, when Andrew punted a long free-kick forward and fellow sub Toto Nsiala headed into his path.
The former Huddersfield Town winger, got on the wrong side of the Millers defence, and he kept his nerve to prod home from close range, giving Vickers no chance, in the visitors goal.
Full-time: Fleetwood Town 1 Rotherham United 0
Fleetwood- Cairns, Andrew, Jules, Clarke, Harrison, Camps (Matete 84), Batty, Johnson, Lane, Johnston (Nsiala 46), Hayes (Pilkington 67). Unused- Crellin, Morris, Boyle, McMillan.
Rotherham- Vickers, Barlaser, Wood, Wiles, Grigg (Kayode 46), Ogbene, Ferguson, Rathbone, Ihiekwe, Edmonds-Green, Smith. Unused- Johansson, Harding, Mattock, Odoffin, Lindsay, Ladapo.
Referee- R Lewis