ROTHERHAM UNITED made it a trio of home wins as they earned a hard-fought victory over in-form AFC Wimbledon thanks to goals, either side of the interval, from Michael Smith and David Ball.
The ex-Bury striker grabbed his second goal in as many games to put the Millers’ ahead before Ball eased home nerves late on to put pay to the Londoners challenge and stretch the Millers unbeaten run to ten games.
Following their back-to-back home victories over Portsmouth and Bradford City respectively, Millers chief Paul Warne made just one change to his starting line-up with the AESSEAL New York Stadium faithful getting their first glimpse of Matty Palmer following his recent signing from Burton Albion, as Richie Towell was unavailable because of injury.
Warne named fellow new recruit Caolan Lavery on the Millers bench with Smith and Ball maintaining their little and large partnership in the home forward berths.
The Millers had the first sight of goal when Semi Ajayi’s arrowed pass presented Anthony Forde with the chance to cross and although his centre was half-cleared by a retreating visitors’ defender, Will Vaulks picked up the pieces to fire a rasping effort from distance which whistled narrowly over the Dons bar.
Moments later, Vaulks’ clipped pass saw Joe Newell and Smith cleverly exchange passes but the former was unable to get the ball under his spell, despite beating the offside trap, before Joe Mattock got the better of George Francomb to drill a dangerous centre which fizzed across the visitors’ box.
Moments later, AFC Wimbledon failed to clear the danger and Ball worked something out of nothing to drill a cross-cum-shot which Liam Trotter managed to scramble clear, near his own goal line - with Ajayi and Vaulks lurking to turn the ball home for a tap-in.
However, the Millers were rewarded for their early pressure by breaking the deadlock on 14 minutes when Newell showed fleet of foot before attempting to slide the ball through and although his initial attempt was cut out, the Millers midfielder was not to be deterred, as he clipped a superbly weighted pass over the Dons backline and Smith, who ghosted away from his marker, kept his nerve to stroke the ball home, on the volley – with his effort dribbling past the attentions of an off-balance George Long.
In the Dons first foray of note, Deji Oshilaja dug out a cross to the front post which Francomb attempted to deftly flick towards goal, but his effort failed to trouble Marek Rodak, in the home goal.
Just before the half-hour mark, Newell put on the jet-burners to dart past Trotter and Tom Soares – with the latter hauling him back illegally to earn the first caution of the afternoon. Moments later, Soares incurred the wrath of the referee, once again, by felling Smith, with a stray boot, but he escaped further sanction – although Smith was forced to return to the dressing room to receive stiches.
With the Millers temporarily down to ten men, Ajayi’s majestic backheel draw gasps of appreciation from the home faithful but the breaking Palmer was snuffed out by a well-stationed defender.
In the aftermath of the home side returning to their full complement, Trotter looked to bulldoze his way through before Taylor latched onto the loose ball to fire goalwards, but Josh Emmanuel diverted the ball to safety, at the back post.
In the last noteworthy action of the half, Palmer’s threaded pass paved the way for Newell to try his luck from distance but his pile driver whistled inches over the visitors’ bar before Vaulks’ cheeky turn and pass presented Ball – with the opportunity to advance to the edge of the box before curling an effort which had Long, at full stretch, as it shaved the far post.
Half-time- Rotherham United 1 AFC Wimbledon 0
At the start of the second half, Trotter’s weak back pass gave Smith, a sniff of an interception but Long, showed fleet of foot and good skill to snuff out the danger before Newell’s cleverly disguised free-kick was inch-perfect for Vaulks, at the far post, and the ex-Falkirk midfielder executed a controlled volley, which was arrowing into the corner of the goal until a last-gasp intervention by Long.
Moments later, the Millers squandered an opportunity to double their advantage when Newell’s driven cross was misjudged by Darius Charles, who could only swipe the ball into the path of Palmer, who looked a certain scorer, but he fluffed his lines when he dragged his shot wide despite having the goal at his mercy.
Just before the hour mark, Emmanuel kept his nerve, as last man, to deny Cody McDonald with a superb sliding challenge before Trotter’s neat flick enabled Francomb to draw Rodak from goal, but sub Joe Pigott was unable to turn the ball home, under pressure from a host of home defenders.
Lavery and Jon Taylor were introduced into the fray, from the bench, to give the Millers some much-needed impetus and it almost paid dividends when Ball was unable to get his shot away and Taylor fired an innocuous effort from distance, which seemed to catch Long flat-footed initially, but the on-loan Blades ‘keeper had enough time to smother his shot.
Some kamikaze defending from the Millers almost cost them dear before Francomb smashed an effort into the home fans behind the goal before the Millers came within a whisker of sealing the deal when Taylor’s dribbled cross to the near post saw Newell get on the wrong side of his marker but he was unable to turn the ball goalwards, despite being just yards out.
With the game in the balance, the Millers were denied a second goal by the offside flag when Taylor’s centre was controlled smartly by Ball, who fired across goal, enabling Richard Wood, to stick out a timely leg to turn the ball home but the Millers’ skipper’s joy proved short-lived – with the goal ruled out by the assistant referee.
Moments later, smart work by Lavery presented Newell with the chance to strike goalwards but his well-struck effort from distance was deflected behind by Deji Oshilaja before Vaulks’ low hit effort, from the resultant corner, was inches away from the outstretched leg of Ajayi – with the goal in his sights.
In a late rally from the visitors, Wood’s miscued clearance fell kindly for sub Harry Forrester but his volley lacked power as Rodak plucked the ball out of the sky.
In second half stoppage time, the Millers finally ended the challenge of Neal Ardley’s men when Lavery’s inside pass gave fellow sub Ryan Williams, the chance to fire a low effort which was saved by Long, but Ball was quick on his feet, on the rebound, to head home into the unguarded net.
In the dying seconds, Vaulks and Taylor came close to adding a third with Long denying the duo with acrobatic saves.
Full-time- Rotherham United 2 AFC Wimbledon 0
Rotherham United 2
AFC Wimbledon 0
Teams:- Rotherham- Rodak, Emmanuel, Mattock, Vaulks, Ajayi, Wood, Forde (J Taylor 68), Palmer, Ball, Newell (Williams 85), Smith (Lavery 67). Unused- Price, Ihiekwe, Yates, Cummings.
Wimbledon- Long, Oshilaja, Robinson (Meades 74), Francomb, Abdou, McDonald (Pigott 63), Trotter, Barcham, Soares (Forrester 63), Charles, L Taylor. Unused- McDonnell, Kaja, Kennedy, Hartigan.
Referee- M Salisbury
Attendance- 8330 (415)