ROTHERHAM United warmed up for the League One play-offs in fine style by beating in-form Blackpool in the regular season finale at a sweltering AESSEAL New York Stadium.
Will Vaulks’ seventh goal of the season proved the difference between the sides as Paul Warne’s side confirmed a fourth-placed finish, to book a play-off semi-final with Scunthorpe United, next week.
For the visit of the Tangerines, Warne made three changes to his starting line-up.
Left-back Joe Mattock was given an opportunity to get minutes under his belt ahead of the Millers play-off campaign, following injury, while Matt Palmer was handed a recall in the home engine room.
Jon Taylor joined him in the home midfield while Warne retained the services of Michael Smith and David Ball in the forward berths.
The Millers had the first sight of goal when Marek Rodak’s long put upfield was flicked on by Smith into the path of Ball but Curtis Tilt snuffed out the danger before the home playmaker could get his shot away.
Moments later, Marek Rodak showed fleet of foot to cut out the danger as Sean Longstaff came within a whisker of latching onto Jimmy Ryan’s defence splitting pass before Smith had Rotherham’s first shot in anger, as he took advantage of Ryan Williams’ run and pass to fizz an effort across the face of the Blackpool goal.
At the other end, Longstaff blasted over from distance before the Millers threatened the visitors goal when Williams miscued his shot but the ball fell kindly for the on-rushing Josh Emmanuel, but under pressure from Jay Spearing, he could only scuff an effort harmlessly wide of the target.
Just past the quarter hour, Rotherham executed a training ground move as Will Vaulks floated a centre to the far post but Joe Mattock, who temporarily evaded his marker, could only head over from a promising position.
Mattock was in the thick of the action and Matt Palmer’s superb pass paved the way for the Rotherham full-back to rampage into the visitors box but he could not direct an effort goalwards before David Ball was denied the opportunity to strike, in the next phase of play.
Moments later, Nathan Delfouneso injected pace into a Blackpool move to race away from skipper Richard Wood before being upended on the edge of the box by the sliding challenge of Michael Ihiekwe, who earned a yellow-card in the process. Longstaff failed to punish the Millers from the resultant free-kick, as his curling effort was straight down the throat of Rodak.
The Millers squandered a couple of opportunities to open the scoring when firstly Mattock’s clip over the top gave Williams, a glimpse of goal, but the Australian fluffed his lines when his cross-cum-shot curled away for a throw-in before Blackpool were caught short of numbers and Mattock found Ball, in acres of space and the diminutive striker weighted up his options to fizz a near-post cross but Wood could only stab wide from close range.
Moments later, Smith fired a snap shot which was bravely blocked by Tilt en-route to goal before the in-form striker blasted into the visiting faithful behind the goal from just outside the box.
In the next home attack, Smith won a tussle with Clark Robertson and Taylor picked up the pieces to shrug off the challenge of Ollie Turton to fire a tantalising centre across the face of goal but Ball was inches away from tapping home – with the goal at his mercy.
Minutes later, fine work by Williams and Smith gave Vaulks the opportunity to strike from range but the effort screwed off his boot, as it failed to trouble Christoffer Mafoumbi before Viv Solomon-Otabor had a shot deflected over, in a rare visitors foray.
With half time approaching, Palmer was the quickest to react a loose ball to shoot goalwards but Tilt bravely blocked his effort before the visiting defender denied Ball, moments later.
Half-time- Rotherham United 0 Blackpool 0
Following the break, Blackpool started in a positive vein and Colin Daniel skipped to the by-line to float a dangerous centre which Mattock was forced to turn behind, at the back post before Turton got around the back on two occasions, but his crosses failed to beat the first man.
At the other end, Smith, who was on the verge of being substituted, rose highest to meet Taylor’s hanging corner but Mafoumbi was well-stationed on his line to gather with ease before Rotherham broke the deadlock, just before the hour mark, thanks to player-of-the-season Vaulks.
There looked little danger until Ball dug out a cross from the right flank, under pressure from a number of visiting defenders, and Williams showed great awareness to knock the ball down into the path of Vaulks, who shimmed onto his weaker left-foot, before firing into the bottom left-hand corner of the goal giving Mafoumbi no chance.
Gary Bowyer’s men responded superbly to the setback and Daniel stung the palms of Rodak with a low drive before sub Callum Cooke worked a shooting position to fire a dipping effort which narrowly cleared the home crossbar. Moments later, Mellor was inches away of meeting Daniel’s vicious centre – with the goal at his mercy.
Following a double substitution by the Lancastrians, Mellor strode with purpose before firing a long range effort which sailed just over the home bar before Ball was almost the grateful recipient of Taylor’s centre, but off-balance, he was unable to make a telling connection, despite being just yards out.
Minutes later, Spearing’s crunching tackle on halfway paved the way for Daniel to fizz a wicked centre which forced an acrobatic Rodak to parry the ball to safety before Delfouneso missed a gilt-edged chance to level matters when Robertson nodded a long punt forward into the path of the ex-Aston Villa striker, who looked a certain scorer with Rodak in no-man’s land but he lobbed the ball wide.
With the game in the balance, Taylor cut inside to strike but his effort was deflected into the air by Turton and in the aftermath of the move, Vaulks volleyed goalwards forcing Mafoumbi into a smart full-length save.
The Millers were indebted to Rodak for preserving their slender lead when Spearing floated a corner which saw Mellor climb over his marker to power a header which was arrowing into the top corner until the Slovakian’s superb late intervention – before the home ‘keeper was on his toes to deny Delfouneso on the follow-up.
The Millers’ were living on the edge and sub Dan Agyei ran hard at the home backline to strike a rasping effort which had Rodak scurrying across goal, as it shaved the home upright before Cooke’s clip forward was deftly flicked by Delfouneso into the path of sub Mark Cullen, who blazed over – although any goal would have been chalked off for offside.
In the dying minutes, Cullen dug out a cross which saw Agyei cut inside on his left-foot to curl a superb effort which flew inches wide of the target – with Rodak a helpless bystander before Agyei turned provider to leave Palmer in his wake to present Turton with the chance to level matters – with effectively the last kick of the game, but the Blackpool player screwed wide, despite being just yards out.
Full-time- Rotherham United 1 Blackpool 0
Teams:- Rotherham- Rodak, Emmanuel, Mattock, Vaulks, Wood, Palmer, Ball (Towell 76), Taylor, Ihiekwe, Williams (Forde 71), Smith (Lavery 56). Unused- Price, Ajayi, Purrington, Yates.
Blackpool- Mafoumbi, Mellor, Robertson, Ryan (Cooke 46), Longstaff (Cullen 67), Tilt, Solomon-Otabor (Agyei 67), Turton, Daniel, Delfouneso, Spearing. Unused- Williams, Clayton, Anderton, Menga.
Referee- R Joyce
Attendance- 9512 (682)