Moore earns Millers first draw
KIEFFER Moore’s 11th goal of the season earned Rotherham United a hard-fought point following a six-goal thriller at the Kassam Stadium.
In a see-saw first half, Joe Newell's second goal in a week put Paul Warne’s men ahead but Jack Payne and Josh Ruffels turned the tide of the affair before Marek Rodak saved Ryan Ledson’s spot-kick.
Curtis Nelson added Oxford’s third but Ryan Williams gave Rotherham hope, just shy of the interval, before Moore struck late on to earn the Millers a deserved share of the spoils.
Following their midweek defeat at the hands of AFC Wimbledon in midweek, Millers chief Warne reshuffled his defensive pack for the visit to the Oxfordshire.
Slovakian stopper Rodak returned between the Millers sticks while Josh Emmanuel and Semi Ajayi were given an opportunity to impress in the visitors’ backline at the expense of Richard Wood and Shaun Cummings.
Newell was rewarded for his stunning strike at Kingsmeadow with a starting berth while former Millers Wes Thomas and Scott Shearer were named in the home squad.
The hosts were the quickest of the blocks and James Henry’s swinging free-kick was headed over his own bar by Michael Ihiekwe before the ex-Wolves midfielder threatened the home goal, in the next phase of play, with a tame effort from the edge of the box which was straight down the throat of Rodak.
In Rotherham’s first foray of note, Will Vaulks shrugged off the attentions of Ruffels to try his luck from distance but he dragged his effort harmlessly wide of the target before Anthony Forde worked a yard of space on Nelson to swing a centre which took a wicked deflection off a retreating defender to loop into the grateful hands of home ‘keeper Simon Eastwood.
Forde was in the thick of the action and he cut inside to deliver a tantalising cross which was met by the head of Richie Towell but the Brighton loanee could not control his header as it ballooned over the bar before the Millers were indebted to Ihiekwe for a timely sliding tackle, at the other end, as it halted the menacing run of Henry, who looked poised to strike on goal.
However, the Millers stunned the home faithful by breaking the deadlock on 20 minutes when Vaulks’ floated ball to the channel saw Emmanuel win a battle of wills near the touchline to swing a left-footed centre which was only half-cleared by an Oxford defender into the path of Newell, on the edge of the box, and the ex-Peterborough midfielder kept his nerve to control a volley which beat the outstretched hand of Eastwood to nestle in the home net.
However, Rotherham’s joy proved short lived as Oxford equalised, just a minute later, when the visitors failed to clear their lines and Payne controlled smartly to advance menacingly to the edge of the box before stroking a fine left-footed effort which arrowed into the bottom corner of the Millers net evading the attentions of Rodak.
The home side were sprung into action and Thomas fired a rasping effort which blazed over the Millers bar before Ricardinho got the better of Williams to plant a delicious cross which flew across the visitors’ six-yard box.
The Millers failed to heed the warning as Oxford took the initiative when Ryan Ledson’s punt upfield held in the wind and Henry won a tussle with Mattock to play the ball into the path of Ruffels, who fired what seemed a tame effort towards the heart of the visitors goal but Rodak was deceived, possibly by a small deflection, as it flew into the Millers net.
The Millers keeper went from villain to hero, in a matter of minutes, as Ricardinho sneaked around the back, before looking to float the ball into the danger area and Vaulks, in attempting to charge down his centre, raised his arm and the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. However, from the resultant penalty, Rodak correctly guessed Ledson’s intentions, to dive smartly to his left to smother the danger.
The visitors had a penalty appeal of their own when Williams’ snap shot seemed to strike the hand of a retreating home defender, but it fell on deaf ears before Payne capitalised on a Millers error to sting the palms of Rodak with an effort from the edge of the box.
However, Oxford took a firm grip on the game, with half time approaching, when Payne, aided by the wind, curled a vicious corner which led to a goalmouth scramble in the Millers box and with no visiting defender taking charge, home skipper Nelson capitalised on the hesitation to poke home from close range.
However, Rotherham reduced the arrears on the stroke of half time when Vaulks’ long throw was flicked on into the path of Williams, who got the ball from under his feet, before calmly stroking home. In the aftermath of the goal, Canice Carroll saw yellow for preventing the Millers retrieving the ball for a quick restart.
Half-time- Oxford United 3 Rotherham United 2
The Millers had the first sight of goal in the second half when Emmanuel got on the wrong side of his marker to release Williams, who showed great poise to pull the ball back to the edge of the box into the path of Mattock, who weighed up his options to strike a rising effort which forced Eastwood into a superb, acrobatic save to preserve his side’s slender lead.
Moments later, Moore put a tricky ball under his spell to present Towell with a shooting opportunity but the Irishman could not keep his shot down as it ended up in the car park behind the goal.
In a rare Oxford attack, Payne exchanged passes with Alex Mowatt to fire an instinctive effort towards goal but Rodak was well-placed to snuff out the danger before Henry’s volley from the edge of the box was bravely blocked by Newell, moments later.
Just past the hour mark, Ledson became the latest to see yellow for hauling down Williams before Henry took advantage of good work by Thomas to strike goalwards but Rodak got his body behind his shot.
The Millers came within a coat of paint of an equaliser when a long punt forward was misjudged by John Mousinho in the swirling wind and with Eastwood in no man’s land, Moore lobbed the ball over the home ‘keeper but to Rotherham’s anguish, the ball struck the crossbar before going over the home goal.
Minutes later, Moore and Williams were both denied in the box before Newell’s piledriver was blocked en-route to goal. At the other end, Carroll headed Payne’s corner back across goal with no-one able to make the decisive touch before the duo combined, in a carbon copy move, as another Carroll header fizzed narrowly wide of target.
With 12 minutes remaining, Rotherham deservedly got back on level terms when Newell’s arrowed pass split open the Oxford defence and Williams kept his nerve to play a slide-rule pass across the box which was inch-perfect for the run of Moore, who showed great composure to slot the ball past the advancing Eastwood.
The Millers almost turned the game on its head, moments later, when a free-kick was planted in the box and Ihiekwe headed on into the path of Moore, who nodded home from close range but any joy was curtailed with the ex-Tranmere defender adjudged to have illegally climbed over his marker in the build-up.
In the dying minutes, sub Joe Rothwell ghosted through a non-existent Millers defence to fire a rasping effort which brought the best out of Rodak before Mattock incurred the wrath of the referee by kicking the ball away, in the last noteworthy action of a pulsating encounter.
Full-time- Oxford United 3 Rotherham United 3
Oxford United 3
Rotherham United 3
Teams:- Oxford- Eastwood, Nelson, Ledson, Thomas (Obika 79), Payne, Ruffels, Henry, Ricardinho, Mowatt (Rothwell 63), Mousinho, Carroll. Unused- Shearer, Tiendalli, Williamson, Martin, Fernandez.
Rotherham- Rodak, Emmanuel, Mattock, Vaulks, Ajayi, Forde, Towell (Taylor 68), Ihiekwe, Newell, Williams, Moore. Unused- O’Donnell, David Ball, Clarke-Harris, Yates, Cummings, Wood.
Referee- S Stockbridge
Attendance- 7471 (608)