Five-star Millers run riot....
ROTHERHAM United gained their third victory on the spin following a rampant first-half display against Walsall, which saw the Millers grab four goals in 18 minutes to put the West Midlanders to the sword.
Skipper Lee Frecklington led from the front to give Paul Warne’s men the lead with a thundering volley before Jon Taylor doubled their advantage with a near-post header from Ryan Williams’ centre.
The flying winger soon grabbed his second of the evening with a close-range effort before Frecklington rubbed salt into Saddlers wounds with a well-taken fourth.
Amadou Bakayoko reduced the arrears early in the second half but it was scant consolation for the visitors as Frecklington notched his hat-trick goal with a late fifth, as the Millers eased to their second home victory in four days.
Following their hard-fought victory over Bury at the weekend, Millers chief Warne made two changes to his starting line-up for the visit of the Saddlers.
Will Vaulks was asked to deputise in the right-back slot from his favoured central-midfield role with both Shaun Cummings (hamstring) and Josh Emmanuel (toe) ruled out while Joe Mattock returned on the opposite flank at the expense of Ben Purrington, who had to settle for a substitutes berth.
Bury match winner Richie Towell was rewarded for his starring cameo at the weekend with his first start in Millers colours while former Saddlers Richard O’Donnell and Anthony Forde were named amongst the home replacements.
Following a slow start by both teams, Rotherham had the first sight of goal when Williams was felled by Jon Guthrie and Taylor floated the resultant free-kick into the danger area whereby Mark Gillespie was forced to punch clear under pressure from home runners.
At the other end, Michael Ihiekwe’s under hit pass was pounced upon by Joe Edwards, who tumbled under the challenge of Vaulks and in the ensuing free-kick, Tyler Roberts curled an effort which was blocked en-route to goal by the Rotherham wall before the ball was scrambled clear.
However, Rotherham broke the deadlock in spectacular style thanks to a moment of magic from skipper Frecklington.
There looked little danger as Marek Rodak arrowed a long ball forward and with Kieffer Moore flicking the ball on, a backtracking Walsall defender could only half-clear the danger into the path of Frecklington, who unleashed a fabulous dipping volley from over 30 yards, which flew over Gillespie, who was only a couple of yards off his line, before dipping underneath the crossbar to nestle into the heart of the visitors goal.
Moments later, Williams’ header was straight down the throat of Gillespie before Walsall threatened the home goal when Erhun Oztumer planted the ball back into the danger area paving the way for Bakayoko to head goalwards, but Frecklington showed his defensive instincts to hack clear from near his own line.
In the next phase of play, Rotherham took a firm grip on the game when a switch of play saw Williams get a yard on his marker to deliver a tantalising centre which saw Taylor nip in front of his marker to steer a header, from in and around the six-yard box, which beat the outstretched hand of Gillespie to find the bottom corner of the visitors goal.
The home side were running riot and they soon added a third goal on 24 minutes when Vaulks launched a long throw which caused havoc in the Saddlers box, with Moore in attendance and Taylor stabbed an effort goalwards which forced a superb reactive save from Gillespie but the ex-Peterborough winger was on hand to force the rebound over the line from close range despite the attentions of Gillespie and Nicky Devlin, who may have got the final touch, in attempting to clear.
The visitors were visibly rattled by the early proceedings and just before the half-hour mark, Rotherham added a fourth goal when Vaulks’ throw was relayed back to the ex-Falkirk midfielder, who delivered an inviting centre into the danger area and Frecklington emerged from the ruck of bodies in the box to plant a header which looped over the attentions of Gillespie.
Moments later, the Saddlers, in an attempt to stem the home tide, made a tactical substitution with Florent Cuvelier entering the fray and the visitors’ frustration boiled over when Bakayoko saw yellow for an altercation on halfway.
The Millers continued to force the pace and Towell’s slide-rule ball split open the visitors defence and Williams raced clear before shooting goalwards but Gillespie saved with his legs at his near post before the Australian latched onto the rebound to work another opportunity, but he dragged his second effort harmlessly wide of the upright.
The ex-Barnsley midfielder was having a personal duel with the Walsall stopper, just prior to half-time, as Taylor’s floated ball into the box was initially aimed at Moore but it was Williams, who pounced with the goal at his mercy but Gillespie superbly saved his volleyed effort from point-blank range.
Half-time:- Rotherham United 4 Walsall 0
With the words of their boss, Jon Whitney ringing in their ears, Walsall reduced the arrears, just minutes into the second half, when Edwards floated a corner into the Rotherham box and with the home side unable to clear the danger, the ball ricocheted into the path of Bakayoko, who acrobatically hooked the ball home from close range.
The visitors were looking a transformed outfit after the break and after Devlin’s marauding run into the box was halted by Mattock, Edwards fired a dangerous cross-cum-shot across the face of goal before Towell put his body on the line to block Adam Chambers’ stinging effort, in the next phase of play.
The Millers gradually found their second-half rhythm and Taylor’s pass gave Moore a glimpse of goal and the in-form striker fired a fierce effort from distance which had Gillespie scrambling across his line, as it shaved the visitors upright- in the Ipswich loanee’s last action of the evening.
Sub Dan Agyei almost made an immediate impression from the bench when he flashed a long-range shot narrowly wide of the Millers goal before Darren Potter poked an effort over, at the other end, as he reacted quickest to Mattock’s drilled centre.
In the dying minutes, Rotherham put the icing on the cake on a polished performance when sub Joe Newell drove hard from the centre of midfield before playing a pass into the path of fellow sub Forde, who showed great awareness to pick out the unmarked Frecklington and the Rotherham skipper kept his nerve to claim the matchball as he calmly stroked the ball home, despite Gillespie getting a hand to his rising effort.
Full-time:- Rotherham United 5 Walsall 1
Rotherham United 5
Teams:- Rotherham- Rodak, Mattock, Vaulks, Wood, Frecklington, Taylor (Forde 72), Potter, Towell (Newell 82), Ihiekwe, Williams, Moore (David Ball 62). Unused- O’Donnell, Ajayi, Purrington, Yates.
Walsall- Gillespie, Edwards, Leahy, Guthrie, Devlin, Chambers, Oztumer (Morris 46), Wilson, Roberts, Bakayoko (Agyei 71), Donnellan (Cuvelier 32). Unused- L Roberts, Jackson, Ismail, K Roberts.
Referee- M Coy
Attendance- 7330 (280)