The Millers put on a great show with real graft, grit and quality but had to settle for a point against a Stoke City side littered with top-flight and international experience.
The Potters fought back from two down and it took a goal just five minutes from normal time to deny Warne’s men maximum points. A second spot-kick from Ryan Manning in back-to-back home games and Towell’s close-range finish sent the Millers close to three points and, in truth, none of the 9,706 crowd would have complained had that been the case.
After two battling back-to-back performances on the road that failed to yield any points, the Millers returned to the AESSEAL New York Stadium for the visit of Stoke City – fresh from their ten-year stint in the Premier League – looking to extend their three-match winning run on home soil.
Paul Warne made two changes to the side that lost late on at Nottingham Forest, as Joe Newell and Michael Smith returned to the starting line-up at the expense of injured duo Kyle Vassell and Jamie Proctor. With the Millers short on attacking options, youngster Tyrone Braithwaite took up a spot on the bench in the senior squad for the first time.
It was a relatively cagey start to the match but the first chance was a golden one for Stoke City’s Benik Afobe. After getting the wrong side of Ajayi, his effort was a tame one when through on goal and Rodak managed to smother with less than five minutes played.
On 11 minutes the Millers played out a great move down the right involving Williams and Smith that forced a corner. From Newell’s delivery, the clearance dropped for Towell whose volley on the edge of the area had power but was deflected wide for another corner.
Again Rotherham came at the visitors on 15 minutes with Smith getting a header on target after a wonderful delivery from out on the left by Mattock. Moments later at the other end, Rodak made a decent stop to deny Berahino and Ajayi was on hand to clear away the danger as Afobe lurked in the six-yard box.
The visitors ramped up the pressure and began to enjoy much more of the ball but found little more in the way of chances by the 25th minute. Although Allen did have a clear sight of goal on 27 minutes as he volleyed straight at Rodak from just outside the area.
Warne’s men almost took the lead in rather bizarre fashion when Jack Butland released the ball to his defender whilst well out of goal on the right. When the ball fell for Manning, he curled his shot in from a very acute angle into the side-netting. The visitors did see a couple of long-range efforts blocked as Allen and Ince took aim but the Millers were throwing their bodies on the line.
The Potters came close to breaking the deadlock on 35 minutes when Afobe’s header clipped the crossbar. Pieters picked him out with the cross from the left and the striker’s effort ricocheted off the bar and onto the line before being cleared.
As the clock ticked towards half-time, Stoke came at the Millers once again through Afobe who would only send his header straight into the gloves of Rodak.
The second-half exploded into action as the Millers were awarded a penalty less than one minute after the restart. Williams showed great control on the left before turning well and bursting into the box before being bundled over by his namesake Ashley. Ryan Manning stepped up – having won the match from the spot in the last home game against Derby – and smashed it beyond Butland into the same spot as before.
It was 2-0 three minutes later as a typical Rotherham United set-piece had all the quality in the world. Wood came steaming in to head at goal from Newell’s corner and Towell was on the line to hook it home. It was a remarkable start to the second-half that got the New York Stadium rocking.
Naturally the visitors came right back at Rotherham but Afobe couldn’t get a through-ball under control when it looked like he had lined up a one-on-one with Rodak.
The Millers were forced into a change on 55 minutes as skipper Richard Wood picked up an injury and had to be replaced by Zak Vyner. The Bristol City loanee went straight in at centre-half alongside Semi Ajayi.
City did force another good save from Rodak as Berahino took aim from 25 yards but his low, drilled effort was well saved by the Slovakian low to his right and Afobe was offside as he looked to pick up the rebound.
Gary Rowett’s men clawed their way back into it on 59 minutes through Tom Ince. Pieters pulled a good ball back which the wide-man swept home beyond Rodak from 12 yards. Three minutes later it could have been 2-2 but Joe Allen smashed onto the bar and over when a lucky deflection fell his way only eight yards out.
The game swung the other way and the Millers almost extended their lead six minutes after the hour mark. Smith delivered across the face of goal for Williams who just missed out on an easy tap-in. The Australian managed to keep the ball in and exchanged a one-two with Mattock before returning the favour for Smith at the far post but the big striker planted his header just beyond the post and a stranded Jack Butland.
After a great effort from Joe Newell out wide on his return from injury, he was replaced to a standing ovation by Jon Taylor on 69 minutes.
Every single player was grafting for the cause, and substitute Taylor was no exception. The winger battled away down the left and looked a threat when taking on any of the opposition. At the back Ajayi was proving immense and got in a vital flick from Ince’s pinpoint cross which took the ball off the head of a waiting Afobe with 77 gone.
The visitors got level on 85 minutes through substitute Bojan. The forward got ahead of his man and flicked Afobe’s teasing delivery beyond Rodak’s grasp and into the roof of the net. Warne and his staff felt aggrieved as the move started from a throw for the visitors when it seemed the ball never left the field of play from Taylor’s control.
Still Rotherham went at City and Mattock was still marauding down the left by the 90th minute. The full-back delivered a lovely, floated cross but Smith was well marshalled and could only head wide.
Millers: Rodak, Mattock, Vaulks, Ajayi, Wood (Vyner 55), Towell, Manning, Newell (Taylor 69), Williams, Smith, Jones.
Subs: Price, Forde, Palmer, Wiles, Lewthwaite.
Stoke City: Butland, Pieters, Allen (Adam 82), Williams, Ince, Etebo (Bojan 66), Afobe, Martins Indi, Berahino (Crouch 82), Martina, Woods ©.
Subs: Federici, Shawcross, Fletcher, Edwards.
Attendance: 9,706 (1,811 away)