Saints coast to victory.....
Rotherham United failed to upset the Sky Bet Championship formbook as promotion-chasing Southampton ran out comfortable victors at the AESSEAL New York Stadium.
Russell Martin’s side came to South Yorkshire on the back of a long-running unbeaten run, and it was rarely threatened as first-half goals from Jan Bednarek and Adam Armstrong sealed the deal for the high-flying South Coast outfit.
Following their last outing at Middlesbrough a fortnight ago, Millers Head Coach Leam Richardson made one change to his starting line-up.
Full-back Peter Kioso was rewarded for his impressive substitute cameo at the Riverside Stadium by making his first full Championship start of the campaign.
Deadline day signings Andy Rinomhota, Charlie Wyke and Femi Seriki were named on the home bench.
Richardson was also given a pre-match boost with the eagerly awaited return of Cameron Humphreys, who was fit enough to be among the home replacements following a long-term hamstring injury.
The Saints had a few early sighters when Viktor Johansson was called into action to deny Che Adams with his feet in the first few seconds although an offside flag had long been raised before Will Smallbone drilled a cross which was blocked by Hakeem Odoffin in the box but any handball appeals were quickly waved away.
However, Rotherham failed to heed the warning when Southampton broke the deadlock in the fourth minute.
A corner was conceded by home skipper Sean Morrison and Stuart Armstrong delivered a tantalising centre which caused havoc in the Millers defence, and the home side squandered an opportunity or two to clear the ball away from goal, and they were made to pay when Bednarek pounced on the loose ball to guide a header into the far corner of the goal.
The visitors were oozing with confidence and Lee Peltier had to show all his experience with a couple of timely clearances, soon after.
The Millers – attacking the North Stand – were looking for a foothold in the game and they almost got it when Kioso whipped in a cross and Jordan Hugill got a timely nick on the ball in front of his marker but he was unable to keep his effort down, and it whistled over the Saints bar.
The game appeared to be following a similar pattern to that at St Mary’s Stadium earlier in the season with the visitors’ commanding the lion’s share of possession and territory and they came within a coat of paint of taking a firm grip on the game when Rotherham failed to snuff out the danger and Ryan Fraser took aim with a long-range effort which smashed against the upright, before fortuitously falling to safety.
The Millers were having the odd moments of joy with Kioso down the right flank, and Cafu met one of his centres, but the Portuguese playmaker failed to trouble Gavin Bazunu with a tame header.
There was a stoppage in play when Johansson needed treatment as he fell awkwardly following a towering claim from a Saints corner, but, thankfully, the Swedish stopper was able to continue between the sticks.
Johansson has proved time and time again to be a vital last line of defence for the Millers and it was no more in evidence when Adams’ slide-rule pass presented Stuart Armstrong with a sight of goal but the home stopper was quick off his line to bravely block his goalbound effort at close quarters.
However, Rotherham and Johansson’s resistance was broken again when the Saints doubled their lead seven minutes before the break.
The Millers failed to deal with a long ball over the top which caught the home side square and with no offside flag coming to their rescue, Fraser was in a footrace with Odoffin and the Scottish winger showed great awareness to back heel a ball into the path of the on-rushing Adam Armstrong, who picked his spot with a left-footed effort which found the corner of the Rotherham’s net, despite Johansson getting a hand to it.
The Saints were in danger of running away with the game and the home side were indebted to Johansson for keeping them in the game when Adam Armstrong turned provider with a lovely ball into the path of Smallbone, who fired goalwards, but the Rotherham ‘keeper produced a top drawer save, against all the odds, to push the ball around his own post.
The moment could have proved crucial, near the break, when the referee played a great advantage and Seb Revan got the better of a personal duel with Kyle Walker-Peters to dig out a shot with his favoured left-foot but Bazunu was his equal with a fine save before the loose ball was hacked clear.
First-half: Rotherham United 0 Southampton 2
The Millers had a massive test of character for the second half, and to their credit, they rallied to an extent but to all intent and purposes, Southampton were managing the game with a minimum of fuss.
Firstly, Sam Clucas volleyed harmlessly wide of the target while Cafu failed to make the most of two glimpses of goal when he firstly volleyed over before having a shot blocked on the edge of the box. Moments later, Revan’s cross was deflected into the side netting.
With their numerical advantage, Southampton had rare blots on the copybook when Flynn Downes became the first to see yellow for dissent before Stuart Armstrong soon joined him in the book for a foul on Jamie Lindsay.
Richardson made a double change just after the hour mark but it was Southampton, who threatened next when Adam Armstrong latched onto a lovely ball over the top of the home rearguard but again, Johansson came to Rotherham’s aid, with a smothered save.
Johansson was in the thick of the action and he firstly denied sub Sekou Mara with a low stop before pulling off a tremendous save at the feet of Adam Armstrong – who looked certain to make it three from just yards out – although any goal would have been chalked off because of an assistant referee’s flag.
Sub David Brooks almost rubbed salt into home wounds with a third goal, near the end, but his curling effort whistled narrowly over the home bar.
In Rotherham's last chance of note, sub Ollie Rathbone stung the palms of Bazunu with a snap shot.
Full-time: Rotherham United 0 Southampton 2
Rotherham United 0
Teams: Rotherham- Johansson, Cafu (Eaves 88), Clucas, Hugill (Nombe 62), Lindsay (Rathbone 62), Peltier, Odoffin, Morrison, Tiehi, Revan (Seriki 84), Kioso (Appiah 84). Unused- Phillips, Rinomhota, Wyke, Humphreys.
Southampton- Bazunu, Walker-Peters, Manning, Downes (Rothwell 74), A Armstrong, Adams (Mara 81), Smallbone, S Armstrong (Charles 89), Harwood-Bellis, Fraser (Brooks 74), Bednarek. Unused- Lumley, Stephens, Edozie, Meghoma, Dibling.
Referee- S Gill
Attendance- 11179 (2413)