Millers move up to fourth with win over Oxford...
ROTHERHAM UNITED earned their fifth win on the bounce, at the expense of Oxford United following an enthralling encounter, under the lights, at the AESSEAL New York Stadium.
The Millers were quick out of the blocks and Anthony Forde’s thunderous strike and Richie Towell’s composed finish put Paul Warne’s men in control until James Henry halved the deficit for the visitors, just shy of the interval.
Michael Smith’s third goal in Rotherham colours following superb work by Forde eased home nerves, in the second half, as the home side stretched their unbeaten run to 12 games.
Following their eye-catching victory over play-off rivals Scunthorpe United last time out, Millers chief Warne kept faith with his starting line-up for the visit of Oxford, who had former Rotherham loanee Wes Thomas and ex-‘keeper Scott Shearer amongst their ranks.
The Millers had the first sight of goal when Oxford failed to clear Will Vaulks’ long throw decisively and Towell tried his luck with a volley, from just outside the box, which was deflected behind.
From the resultant corner by Joe Newell, Smith rose highest at the far post and with David Ball unable to turn the ball goalwards, Semi Ajayi, in almost a carbon-copy of his Glanford Park winner, arched his neck to head towards goal but fortunately for the visitors, Thomas was on-hand to hack clear from near his own line.
In a fast Rotherham opening, Simon Eastwood was forced to punch clear and Vaulks fired a snap shot which was blocked en-route to goal by Isaac Buckley-Richards before Ajayi was denied, with another brave header, in the next phase of play.
However, the Millers were rewarded for their early superiority by breaking the deadlock on seven minutes when a switch of play paved the way for Ball to find Forde in space on the right flank and the Irishman weighed up his options before firing a thunderous effort from just outside the box, which beat the despairing dive of Eastwood to find the top-corner of the net, in spectacular style.
In Oxford’s first attack of note, Eastwood’s long punt upfield saw neither Ajayi or Richard Wood clear the danger and Thomas almost capitalised on the hesitancy before being snuffed out, as Ajayi redeemed himself by blocking James Henry’s follow up effort.
The Millers came within a coat of paint of doubling their advantage when Forde worked a yard of space on his marker to fire a tantalising centre which was inch-perfect for Smith, who ghosted in between two defenders, to power a point-blank header goalwards, but Eastwood pulled off a superb, top draw save, as the ball squirmed against the foot of the post before falling to safety.
Moments later, Ashley Smith-Brown was on-hand to snuff out Mattock’s delicious centre before Newell attempted to weave his way into a shooting position in the box but he was crowded out by a number of visiting defenders.
There was almost a calamity for the Millers when Forde’s suicidal backpass saw Marek Rodak and Ajayi almost collide, as they looked to clear the danger, but the Millers got a stroke of fortune, as the ball dribbled clear before Newell showed fleet of foot to waltz into the box, but with his weaker right-foot, he could only blaze an effort into the visiting faithful behind the goal.
Just before the half-hour mark, Rotherham took a firm grip on the game when Mattock’s pass paved the way for Newell to tease and torment his marker before firing a left-footed effort which forced Eastwood into a reflex save to keep the ball out but Richie Towell was on-hand to stroke the rebound into the unguarded net.
Moments later, the Millers had Rodak to thank for preserving their advantage when Oxford turned defence into attack in the blink of an eye and Joe Rothwell’s clip over the top saw Buckley-Ricketts show the Rotherham rearguard a clean pair of heels to bare down on goal but the Slovakian ‘keeper stood up tall to divert his arrowed effort, wide of the target – with an outstretched leg.
The home side were forced into a defensive reshuffle with Mattock forced off after taking a knock and Michael Ihiekwe was asked to deputise in the left-back berth. With the Millers finding their feet following the change, Oxford halved the deficit when a fine flowing move from deep put the home side on the backfoot and Rothwell’s inside pass was taken in his stride by Henry, who showed no mercy, as he blasted an arrowed effort from a tight angle which whistled into the top corner of the goal, giving Rodak no chance.
However, the Millers came within a whisker of restoring their two-goal advantage almost immediately when Newell appeared to be heading into a cul-de-sac but he dug out a cross which was latched upon by Ball, who looked a certain scorer with a tap-in, as Eastwood was caught off balance but John Mousinho stuck out a timely leg, which prevented the home striker from making it three – with the referee waving away Rotherham’s vehement appeals for a spot kick.
Half-time- Rotherham United 2 Oxford United 1
Following the break, Oxford started in a positive vein and Josh Ruffels’ marauding run from halfway ended with a low drive which was smothered by a sprawling Rodak before Vaulks was on-hand to divert Buckley-Ricketts cross-cum-shot to safety, in the visitors’ next attack.
Despite the early second half pressure, Rotherham gave themselves some much needed breathing space when Forde went through the gears to inject pace into a home move, leaving Smith-Brown in his wake and the ex-Walsall midfielder showed great composure to take Eastwood out of the game in picking out the unmarked Smith, who made no mistake to tap home from close range.
The Millers were going for the jugular and Newell’s purposeful run and shot almost saw Mousinho divert the goal into his own goal before Ajayi showed great anticipation to deny the dangerous Henry, at the other end.
Just before the hour mark, Ball was almost the grateful recipient of another superb Forde delivery but he was unable to make a telling connection, despite being just yards out, before Newell latched onto Forde’s low cross from the flank but his right-footed effort lacked fizz, as Eastwood snuffed out the danger.
Minutes later, sub Caolan Lavery almost made an immediate impression when a superb one-two with Smith saw the Sheffield United striker just inches away from making it four following a darting run and pass before the dangerous Henry made home hearts’ flutter with a rasping drive from the edge of box which whistled narrowly over the bar.
With time running out for Derek Fazackerley’s men, Ryan Ledson almost made something out of nothing with a speculative effort from distance which brought the best out of Rodak, who pulled off a superb, backtracking save.
Full-time- Rotherham United 3 Oxford United 1
Teams:- Rotherham- Rodak, Emmanuel, Mattock (Ihiekwe 38), Vaulks, Ajayi, Wood, Forde, Ball (Lavery 72), Towell, Newell (Taylor 80), Smith. Unused- Price, Palmer, Yates, Williams.
Oxford- Eastwood, Ledson, Thomas (Mehmeti 60), Ruffels, Dickie, Henry, Rothwell (Ricardinho 74), Kane, Smith-Brown, Mousinho, Buckley-Ricketts (Napa 64). Unused- Shearer, Martin, Mowatt, Carroll.
Referee- E Ilderton
Attendance- 7707 (360)