Millers earn vital win....
Rotherham United gave their Sky Bet Championship survival hopes a timely boost following an eye-catching victory over play-off chasing West Bromwich Albion in the Good Friday lunchtime kick-off.
At a sun-baked AESSEAL New York Stadium, one-time Miller, John Swift put the Baggies ahead from the spot after Jordan Hugill had brought down Conor Townsend in the box but Hugill made amends superbly, by notching his third and fourth goals in Millers’ colours – with superb headers, either side of the break.
Tariqe Fosu prevented a nervy finish with a third goal – with a quarter of an hour to go – in his first strike for the club.
The victory was the Millers’ first since early March – and was the perfect fillip ahead of the 3pm kick offs whereby their other relegation rivals were in action.
The home side made two changes to their starting line-up following their goalless draw at Hull City last time out.
Boss Matt Taylor had to make an enforced change at the back with Lee Peltier suffering a back injury in East Yorkshire. Wes Harding was drafted in as a replacement.
Norwegian full-back Leo Hjelde was also recalled at the expense of Cohen Bramall, who had to settle for a substitutes berth.
Taylor was given a pre-match boost with talismanic midfielder Ollie Rathbone fit enough to take a place on the bench as he manages a groin injury. Playmaker Domingos Quina was unavailable because of his sending-off against the Tigers.
There were a couple of familiar faces in the Baggies line-up. Former fans favourite Semi Ajayi and Swift returned to their own stomping ground.
West Brom had the first sight of goal in the early minutes when Taylor Gardner-Hickman’s lovely clip over the top was in the stride of Daryl Dike, who tried his luck with a first time strike but Viktor Johansson was his equal with a fine save.
In a lively start, Rotherham missed a gilt-edged chance to open the scoring when Hjelde was slipped in following a break forward but his initial shot was blocked. Chiedozie Ogbene was able to put the ball back into the danger area, and with Hjelde again in the thick of the action and the visitors at sixes and sevens, Hugill looked on course to slot the ball home from close range, but the Millers frontman dinked the ball wide when it arguably looked easier to score.
The Millers had a scare when Jed Wallace worked a yard of space on Hjelde to fizz a dangerous centre into the box but it narrowly evaded the attentions of Dike just yards out.
There was a moment of controversy when Hugill – a former WBA loanee – was seemingly felled by Erik Pieters, but the referee decided to wave away Rotherham protests.
Following an impeccable minute’s applause by both sets of fans in the 16th minute, Rotherham squandered another opportunity to make the breakthrough when Shane Ferguson’s lay-off presented Hjelde with the chance to unleash a ferocious drive from distance which England Under-21 ‘keeper Josh Griffiths managed to get his body behind, but he could only divert the ball into the path of Fosu, who could only spoon an effort over despite having the goal at his mercy.
The Millers’ hopes of victory were dealt a blow when Australian international Bailey Wright was forced off due to injury and Blackett, who himself was returning following a spell out, was introduced at centre-half.
The home side were creating opportunities without making it count and after Ferguson squeezed the ball forward, Ajayi made a hash of an attempted clearance and Jamie Lindsay superbly anticipated the error and he latched onto the loose ball to strike a fierce effort which Griffiths did well to turn around his near post.
The Millers were made to pay for their wastefulness in front of goal when West Brom took the lead, just after the half hour mark, from the penalty spot.
There looked little danger for the hosts until Townsend made light work of Lindsay near the touchline to dart into the box, and Hugill, in an attempt to halt his progress, bundled the full-back over, and the referee pointed immediately to the spot.
Swift – who had a loan spell in South Yorkshire under previous Millers boss Steve Evans – took on the responsibility from 12 yards, and despite Johansson going the right way, his penalty strike had enough power to find the home net.
The Millers responded superbly to the setback and Hugill headed over from Harding’s cross before Ferguson was denied by the legs of Griffiths.
Nevertheless, Rotherham continued to probe the Albion backline, and their perseverance was rewarded when Hugill – atoned for his earlier error – by levelling matters just before half-time.
The hosts forced a corner and Conor Coventry delivered a lovely centre into the danger area and Hugill emerged from the masse of bodies in the box to met his cross and power a point-blank header into the heart of the Baggies goal.
Hugill – who was being taunted by the Albion fans for much of the first half – took great delight in scoring against his former club.
The Millers fans were now in full voice, and with AESSEAL New York Stadium at fever pitch, Ogbene forced Griffiths into a smart save to his left..
Coventry was proving a menace with his in swinging delivery from corners, and the West Ham loanee was at it again, and with Albion unable to clear the danger, once again, following pinball around the box and a hint of suspicion of handball in the process, Hugill nodded goalwards, but unbelievably, a combination of post and bar kept the ball out.
There was a moment of indecision as all those at the AESSEAL New York Stadium focused their attention on the referee to see if there was an alert on his watch, to highlight the ball going over the line, but nothing was given and play was restarted.
Half-time: Rotherham United 1 West Bromwich Albion 1
With both teams now attacking their fans, Coventry became the first to see yellow for pulling back Swift in full flow.
Once Rotherham had defended the free-kick, Taylor’s side swept up field to take the lead on 50 minutes following a free-kick award.
Ferguson – with his trustee left-foot – planted a lovely ball into the box, and Hugill showed his aerial prowess, once again, by rising highest and planting a downward header goalwards which beat the outstretched hand of Griffiths to find the bottom corner of the net.
Rotherham and Hugill were now at the top of the game – and after Johansson had denied Brandon Thomas-Asante at the other end - the former West Ham striker latched onto a long punt up field, and with his hat-trick in sight, Griffiths stood up tall to block his effort at close quarters, and deny him the match ball.
Carlos Corberan made a triple change for the Baggies – with one of the departed, Ajayi receiving generous applause from the Millers fans.
Just past the hour mark, Hugill used his aerial ability to clear the danger defensively before Pieters blasted harmlessly wide from distance.
In anticipation of a nervy finish, Taylor bolstered his midfield ranks when Rathbone was introduced into the fray.
Home hearts’ were in their mouths when Dike tumbled in the box under Cameron Humphreys’ clumsy challenge but the referee waved play on before Pieters and then sub Kyle Bartley were yellow-carded for fouls on Hugill, who was proving a thorn in the visitors’ side. Townsend soon joined them in the book for a foul on Harding.
With fifteen minutes to go, Rotherham gave themselves some much-needed breathing space with a third goal.
In a whirlwind sixty seconds, Rotherham switched play superbly and Ogbene showed fleet of foot to work a shooting position on the edge of the box and he duly obliged by striking a fierce effort which smashed against the upright.
However, Albion’s relief was only temporary when Rotherham kept the ball alive, and Rathbone’s slide-rule pass was inviting for Fosu, who got in front of his marker, to advance towards goal and he blasted home from close range.
The Millers were good value for the score line, and Rathbone saw yellow before Harding tested Griffiths with a stinging drive.
The gloss was almost put on a polished performance late on when Albion failed to clear the danger and Ogbene – with his back to goal – turned superbly to smash a second effort against the woodwork from close range.
It mattered little as Rotherham’s players left the pitch to a standing ovation from the ‘Red and White Army’ as they earned a vital victory in their hopes of preserving their standing in England’s second tier.
Full-time: Rotherham United 3 West Bromwich Albion 1
Rotherham United 3
West Bromwich Albion 1
Teams: Rotherham- Johansson, Harding, Coventry, Fosu, Hugill, Ogbene, Lindsay (Odoffin 87), Ferguson (Rathbone 65), Humphreys, Wright, Hjelde. Unused- Vickers, Bramall, Eaves, Kelly, Blackett.
West Brom- Griffiths, Furlong (Rogic 58), Townsend, Ajayi (Bartley 58), Dike, Pieters, Wallace, Swift (Albrighton 58), Thomas-Asante (Grant 74), Chalobah, Gardner-Hickman. Unused- Palmer, Malcolm, Andrews.
Referee- T Robinson
Attendance- 11098 (2191)