Millers earn fine home win.....
Rotherham United breathed new life into their Sky Bet Championship survival effort following a eye-catching victory over play-off chasing Sunderland.
Goals either side of the interval from skipper Ollie Rathbone and Shane Ferguson put the Millers in charge of the AESSEAL New York Stadium affair but Joe Gelhardt soon reduced the arrears to give the Wearsiders hope.
Despite suffering a number of key injuries during the highly-charged encounter, the Millers, and a makeshift backline, withstood a late challenge from Tony Mowbray’s side, to record their first victory in six games.
Following the weekend loss to Coventry City, Millers boss Matt Taylor made two changes to his starting line-up for the visit of the Black Cats.
Leeds loanee Leo Hjelde was recalled in the left-back slot while Tariqe Fosu was asked to provide some much needed X-factor in the attacking parts of the pitch. Weekend starters Cohen Bramall and Hakeem Odoffin had to settle for substitute berths.
Australian defender Bailey Wright was not part of the Millers squad as he was ineligible to face his parent club.
The Millers had the first whiff of goal when Dennis Cirkin’s wayward throw fell kindly for Jordan Hugill, but the home frontman failed to make the most of the opportunity with an errant pass of his own.
In Sunderland’s first foray of note, Alex Pritchard injected pace into a visitors move before sliding in Amad Diallo, who looked to pick out Gelhardt in the box, but a retreating Millers defender snuffed out the danger.
Despite a low-key opening by both sides, the game sprang to life when Rotherham broke the deadlock on 19 minutes in spectacular style thanks to skipper Rathbone.
The Millers turned defence into attack when Hjelde showed good awareness to intercept possession before starting a move which paved the way for Fosu to advance into the Sunderland half to find Rathbone, who took on the baton, to dart forward and despite being on his weaker left-foot, the Rotherham skipper unleashed a low drive from distance which fizzed across the AESSEAL New York Stadium turf, and beat the outstretched dive of Anthony Patterson to find the bottom corner of the net.
However, Rotherham’s joy almost proved short-lived as Sunderland came close to levelling matters almost immediately.
A switch of play enabled Pritchard to cut inside before firing a dipping effort from just outside the box which was arrowing towards the top corner of the Rotherham goal but Viktor Johansson pulled off one of the saves of the season, by diving acrobatically to tip the ball over his own bar against all the odds.
The home fans could only breathe a momentary sigh of relief as Pritchard planted the resultant corner into the danger area and Daniel Ballard towered highest to head goalwards, but his effort shaved the outside of the post.
The Millers looked to have weathered the storm when Rathbone and Ogbene combined superbly, and Rotherham’s man of the moment clipped a centre which Hugill looked to get on the end of but he tumbled under the challenge of a Sunderland defender in the six-yard box. Nevertheless, the referee waved away home appeals for a spot kick.
Salt was rubbed into Hugill’s wounds when the Rotherham forward was cautioned, just seconds later, following a clash with Ballard and Cirkin soon joined him in the book after he upended Ogbene in full flow.
Minutes later, Fosu brought the home crowd to its feet with some dazzling footwork and a lovely back flick which broke the Sunderland lines, but the move came to nothing.
The Millers’ hopes of victory was dealt a blow, just shy of the break, when the impressive Grant Hall, was forced to leave the play – with what appeared to be a muscle injury. Taylor reshuffled his defensive pack with Peltier drafted into one of the centre-half berths and Wes Harding introduced in the right-back slot.
Half-time: Rotherham United 1 Sunderland 0
The Millers – were now attacking the KCM Waste Management Stand – and Rathbone, buoyed by his first-half effort, was in the thick of the action again with another low, left-footed effort which Patterson was forced to smother.
At the other end, Jack Clarke – often a tormentor of the Millers in the past – was at it again when he ghosted past Ogbene to race into the home box before fizzing a centre which narrowly evaded all Sunderland runners.
The Millers had a scare when Sunderland switched play to great effect and Dan Neil fired a lovely centre which Gelhardt volleyed home from close range, but the assistant referee curbed any visiting celebrations when he raised his flag, as the Leeds loanee was adjudged to have been on the wrong side of his nearest marker, Peltier.
The moment proved crucial when Rotherham swept forward to double their advantage in their next attack on 56 minutes.
Fosu got the better of a tussle with Neil on halfway before bursting away and the Brentford loanee spotted Ferguson in space, and he timed his pass to perfection, and the Northern Irish international took one touch to get the ball under his spell, and his second touch was the decisive one with a pinpoint, arrowed left-footed effort which whistled past the attentions of Patterson and the home fans were in jubilant mood, as the ball nestled in the Sunderland net.
The visitors responded positively to the setback and Clarke tested Johansson with a fierce effort which the Swedish stopper was forced to acrobatically turn to safety.
Taylor’s side failed to heed the warning though as Sunderland halved the arrears with just shy of half an hour to go.
Luke O’Nien got the ball from his feet to deliver a delicious centre which bisected the Rotherham rearguard, and Gelhardt showed his predatory instincts by nodding home.
The Sunderland faithful were now in full voice, and Peltier put his body on the line by blocking Clarke’s piledriver at close quarters before Harding made up lost ground to put in a goal saving block on sub Aji Alese, after fellow sub Patrick Roberts had put him in the clear with a ball over the top.
Peltier demonstrated his footballing intelligence by sticking out a timely leg to prevent Diallo from baring down on the Rotherham goal before denying Gelhardt, in the Wearsiders next attack, with another superb intervention.
Taylor was forced into a couple of substitutions, late on, when Peltier had to be replaced following a muscle injury with Odoffin the latest to be drafted into the Rotherham backline while Rathbone was also replaced, as the Millers continue to manage his long-standing groin complaint.
Coventry incurred the wrath of the referee for taking too long over a corner, and he was cautioned.
The Millers came close to sealing the deal with a decisive third goal with six minutes to go when they turned defence into attack in the blink of an eye, and sub Conor Washington, almost made an immediate impression from the bench, when he lulled in a couple of retreating Sunderland defenders, before squeezing out a low shot, but the ball agonisingly hit the base of the upright before ricocheting to safety.
The Millers fans were on the edge of their seats with Roberts orchestrating affairs for the visitors, and Gelhardt almost broke home hearts when he got on the wrong side of a makeshift defence, to latch onto a dangerous cross but his tame header was snaffled by a grateful Johansson.
Not for the first time this season, Rotherham were indebted to the ‘Viking’, in the dying seconds, when Gelhardt latched onto a goalmouth scramble to fire goalwards, but Johansson was his equal with a fine save before Abdoullah Ba was denied on the follow-up.
Full-time: Rotherham United 2 Sunderland 1
Rotherham United 2
Teams: Rotherham- Johansson, Coventry, Fosu, Hugill (Kelly 80), Ogbene, Ferguson (Lindsay 64), Rathbone (Washington 78), Hall, Peltier (Odoffin 79), Humphreys, Hjelde. Unused- Vickers, Bramall.
Sunderland- Patterson, Cirkin (Alese 62), Ballard, Batth (Hume 62), O’Nien, Diallo, Clarke (Bennette 85), Pritchard (Ba 85), Neil, Michut (Roberts 62), Gelhardt. Unused- Bass, Ekwah.
Referee- C Kavanagh
Attendance- 10522 (2190)