Millers record midweek victory at Priestfield Stadium...
Rotherham United fuelled their push for promotion via the Sky Bet League One Play-offs with a vital three points as they prevailed as 1-0 victors at Gillingham’s Priestfield Stadium.
Will Vaulks’ 20th minute strike ensured that his side went home jumping for joy as it proved to be the difference in a tightly-contested encounter in Kent in midweek.
Ryan Williams and Michael Smith both had superb chances to ensure the points by adding a second following the restart.
Boss Paul Warne opted to show faith in the starting 11 that earned his side a vital point for their Play-off push at the weekend against high-flying Wigan, with Michael Smith leading the attack as the Millers deployed a five man midfield.
Meanwhile, at the back Michael Ihiekwe’s Man of the Match showing at the DW Stadium saw him paired with skipper Richard Wood, whilst Joe Newell returned to the bench following a thigh injury.
Gillingham had only scored one in their last three league outings but didn’t start the game at Priestfield Stadium looking like a team devoid of goals.
Early set piece opportunities came for the Gills with the first seeing Ihiekwe forced to hastily head clear a wicked delivery from a Luke O’Neill free kick. Home captain Gabriel Zakuani then threatened on two occasions from dead ball situations with his second the better of the chances, but he was only able to direct his header into the side netting of Marek Rodak’s net.
Ryan Williams and Jon Taylor were selected as the wide men in Kent following impressive displays at the weekend and the former of the two also started brightly against the Gills. Having already come close after rounding goalkeeper Thomas Holy only to see his effort hit the side netting, Williams threatened again as he stepped inside and unleashed a ferocious right-footed strike which flashed wide of the far post.
The Millers grew into the game following a positive start from the hosts and they made the breakthrough on 20 minutes. Some excellent work down the right flank from Josh Emmanuel saw him deliver a low cross to Smith, who held up the ball with his back to goal, before teeing up the advancing Vaulks to lash a powerful effort into the bottom corner and give his side the lead.
However, the hosts thought that they had levelled just four minutes later when Josh Parker had the beating of Marek Rodak with a header in the six yard box. It came following an excellent delivery from Mark Byrne on the Gills’ right which was met with a clean connection from the forward, who was greeted by the offside flag as he wheeled away to celebrate.
Warne’s side’s next opportunity came in a breakaway move initiated on the edge of the Millers area. Goalscorer Vaulks picked up possession deep inside his own half and drove for opposition territory before clipping a ball over the top to Smith, who looked to be in behind until the assistant’s flag was raised on the far side.
Taylor’s early involvement in the opening half had seen him commit to his usually tireless running but often out of possession. That changed as the half passed as he made a series of runs down the Millers’ right to deliver a number of dangerous crosses which were agonisingly cleared away from target Smith in the area by some resolute Gills defending.
Half-time | Gillingham 0 v 1 Rotherham
There was almost a collectors’ item for the travelling supporters in attendance at Priestfield Stadium 10 minutes after the restart. Regular followers of the Millers will have become accustomed to skipper Wood scoring with any part of the body that the ball would go in off, but he almost added a second for his side in spectacular fashion.
The centre back seized upon a loose ball 35 yards from goal and proceeded to drive forward before unleashing a thunderous effort which required a full-stretch fingertip save from Holy to ensure it ended up the wrong side of the post.
The defender came close to scoring in a more conventional manner seconds later from the resultant corner, as he outleapt his marker to head at goal, where he was once again denied by the Gills’ stopper.
Warne’s men could and probably should have been out of sight shortly after the hour-mark when Williams got everything right but the finish after a clever ball from Vaulks. The Australian maintained a fantastically cool aura as he tamed a high ball with a lovely first touch which took him free of his marker, but he skewed he effort inches wide of the far post as he faced the goalkeeper one-on-one.
Williams came agonisingly close to atoning for that miss soon after in a near-devastating counter-attack from the visitors. Smith’s fancy footwork in the centre of the pitch allowed him to open up the home defence before he picked out Taylor on the right. The winger proceeded to whip in an inch-perfect cross which found the Australian unmarked, but his header was off-target as he connected in front of goal.
The Millers had another glorious opportunity to put the game out of sight and it came from another Taylor cross from the right. The lively wide man once again steadied his run to whip in an absolute peach of a cross which found Smith totally free on the edge of the six yard box, but his cushioned volley missed the target when he should have rippled the net.
A late Gills onslaught followed which included a near-miss from an O’Neill free kick and some heroics from Rodak which prevented Jake Hessenthaler a stoppage time equaliser but Warne’s men held on to record a vital three points on the road.
Full-time | Gillingham 0 v 1 Rotherham
Attendance | 4,029 (162 Away)
Millers | Rodak; Emmanuel, Ihiekwe, Wood, Purrington; Taylor (Forde 66), Vaulks, Palmer, Towell (Ajayi 65), Williams; Smith (Lavery 80).
Unused | Price, Cummings, Newell, Ball.
Gillingham | Holy, O’Neill, Ehmer, Zakuani (Nugent 24), Wagstaff, Hessenthaler, Wilkinson, Oglivie (Eaves 51), Parker, Reilly, Byrne.
Unused | Hadler, Stevenson, List, Nash, Nasseri.