Ball nets Millers winner..
ROTHERHAM United earned their third win on the spin at the expense of Walsall, thanks to David Ball’s second-half winner.
The Millers made the perfect start when Semi Ajayi tapped home from close range within the first minute but Joe Edwards soon levelled matters for the West Midlanders with a smart header.
With honours even at the break, sub Kieffer Moore arguably tipped the game in Rotherham’s favour with an influential second-half display and his clever knockdown presented Ball with the opportunity to bundle home the decisive winner- in front of the vocal Millers travelling contingent.
Following their comfortable Boxing Day victory over Bury, Millers chief Paul Warne kept faith with his starting line-up for the third successive game.
Warne resisted the temptation to recall top-scorer Moore, by retaining Ball and Jerry Yates in the forward berths while Will Vaulks maintained his place at the heart of the Millers rearguard, alongside Ajayi.
The Millers were quick out of the blocks and after the home side failed to deal with Anthony Forde’s free-kick decisively, Ball aimed to drill the ball through the ruck of bodies in the box but Edwards blocked his effort en-route to goal.
However, Rotherham continued to press and a superb threaded reverse pass in the channel by Ryan Williams was latched upon by Ball, who wriggled into the area, before playing an inviting centre across the face of goal which took home ‘keeper Mark Gillespie and the Walsall defence out of the equation and Ajayi had the simple task of tapping home into the unguarded net.
The Millers were buoyed by the strike and Forde turned on the gas before delivering a tantalising cross which saw Williams rise highest, at the far post, but the Australian’s header lacked power, as Gillespie raced off his line to snuff out the danger.
However, Walsall levelled matters on 12 minutes, in their first real attack of note, when Nicky Devlin’s long diagonal pass saw Luke Leahy cut inside Forde to clip an inviting centre which was inch-perfect for Edwards, who impressively steered his point-blank header into the far corner of the goal giving Marek Rodak no chance.
In the next phase of play, Leahy and Edwards combined again, as the latter took aim from distance but Rodak got his body behind his fierce drive behind Forde terrorised his former club, with another darting run and cross, at the other end, which narrowly sailed over the towering Ajayi before Walsall scrambled the ball clear from danger.
In a fine-flowing Millers move involving Williams, Yates and Ball near the touchline, Forde had a glimpse of goal but Gillespie narrowed down the Irishman’s options from an acute angle, to smother his goalbound effort.
Just past the half hour mark, Walsall failed to clear decisively and Richie Towell had the opportunity to strike from long range- but bizarrely, his effort found the second tier of the home stand behind the goal.
Moments later, Forde stung the palms of Gillespie with a fiercely driven free-kick from a tight angle before Ismail and Devlin combined smartly, which saw the former ghost inside Joe Mattock to curl an effort, from the edge of the box, which whistled past the visitors upright.
With half time approaching, Daniel Agyei’s slide-rule pass put Erhun Oztumer in the clear and the Turkish midfielder cut inside Towell to bare down on goal, but with Rodak wrongfooted, he dragged his low effort wide of the target, when he should have done better.
In a flurry of activity late in the half, Lee Frecklington played a one-two before volleying over the bar, via a deflection, before Mattock’s cross-cum-shot was blocked en-route to goal by Devlin.
Half-time- Walsall 1 Rotherham United 1
Warne introduced Moore at the break and the Ipswich loanee was in the thick of the action when he firstly flicked on Vaulks’ long-throw into the danger area but a retreating defender ushered the ball into touch before the duo combined again when Moore rose highest from Vaulks’ hanging cross but he could not control his header as it looped over the home bar.
At the other end, Ismail skipped to the byline to deliver a centre which caused havoc in the Rotherham rearguard and Edwards picked up the pieces to drill a low effort which was arrowing into the bottom corner of the goal but Moore stuck out a timely leg to divert the ball to safety.
Moore was proving a thorn in the Saddlers side and Ball’s pass presented Williams with the chance to float a centre which saw Moore tower above his marker, at the far post, but his point-blank header smashed into the side netting.
Just before the hour mark, Rotherham made their pressure pay when a defence splitting pass gave Emmanuel the opportunity to skip to the byline to deliver a delicious centre which was headed down by Moore and Ball showed his predatory instincts to nip infront of his marker to bundle the ball home from close range.
The Millers were lifted by the strike and Moore embarked on a solo run before cutting inside to unleash a fierce effort which took a wicked deflection, as it evaded the attentions of Towell, at the far stick before the Millers frontman made a nuisance of himself again, as he looked to meet Vaulks’ cross but Gillespie managed to bundle the ball to safety, by luck rather than judgement.
With the game in the balance, the Millers had a scare when Ismail got the better of Mattock to float a centre which was mis-judged by Emmanuel and sub Simeon Jackson, who had only entered the fray seconds earlier, attempted to hook the ball goalwards but Rodak showed quick feet and good handling on his own goalline to keep the ball out, despite the vehement appeals from the home faithful that the ball had crossed the whitewash.
Normal service was resumed when Moore headed over from Towell’s corner before sub Richard Wood incurred the wrath of the referee for illegally halting Oztumer’s run near the touchline before preventing a quick free-kick being taken. The Turkish playmaker almost made the Millers pay from the resultant free-kick but his smashed effort was blocked by the masse of bodies in the six-yard box.
Adam Chambers became the latest to see yellow for a clumsy foul on Ball before Mattock joined him in the book for upending the lively Ismail.
In the latter stages of the game, Williams cut inside to fire a fierce effort which Gillespie parried to safety before Williams squandered an opportunity to seal the deal when Gillespie was caught in no-man’s land, under pressure from Moore, but the Aussie’s dinked effort flew wide of the unguarded home goal.
Despite the miss, Warne’s men successfully ran down the clock to earn their fourth victory in five games and boost their play-off ambitions in the process.
Full-time- Walsall 1 Rotherham United 2
Rotherham United 2
Teams:- Walsall- Gillespie, Edwards, Leahy (Candlin 85), Guthrie, Devlin, Chambers, Oztumer, Morris (Kouhyar 61), Ismail, K Roberts, Agyei (Jackson 69). Unused- L Roberts, Wilson, Kinsella, Flanagan.
Rotherham- Rodak, Emmanuel, Mattock, Vaulks, Ajayi, Forde, Frecklington (Wood 63), Ball (Newell 90), Towell, Yates (Moore 46), Williams. Unused- O’Donnell, Clarke-Harris, Ihiekwe, Cummings.
Referee- G Salisbury
Attendance- 4685 (765)