Millers slip to defeat....
ROTHERHAM United were not duly rewarded for a fine first-half performance, as play-off chasing Aston Villa overturned a half-time deficit to record a narrow victory at the AESSEAL New York Stadium.
After Marek Rodak’s penalty save denied Tammy Abraham, Rotherham stunned the high-flying side by taking an interval lead when skipper Will Vaulks fired home from the spot after Tyrone Mings handled in the box – with the Villa centre-half sent-off for two bookable offences.
However, Dean Smith’s side shrugged off their numerical disadvantage by turning the game on its head, decisively, when sub Jonathan Kodjia levelled from the spot before Jack Grealish netted the winner, just minutes later.
Following their hard-fought victory over Nottingham Forest, boss Paul Warne made two changes to the Millers backline for the visit of in-form Aston Villa.
Zak Vyner was recalled to the right-back berth with Billy Jones ruled out because of a hamstring strain while Clark Robertson was rewarded for his impressive second-half cameo at the weekend, by returning at the heart of the Rotherham rearguard alongside match winner Michael Ihiekwe, as Richard Wood had to settle for a place among the substitutes.
The Millers had the first sight of goal as early as the second minute when Neil Taylor dwelt in possession, near the by-line, and his namesake, Jon, stripped him of the ball and raced into the box before dragging a shot across the face of the visitors’ goal.
Moments later, Villa failed to clear a Vaulks’ throw decisively and in the aftermath of the move, Semi Ajayi cleverly evaded the attentions of Axel Tuanzebe on the edge of the box before drilling a low, left-footed effort which was smartly smothered by Jed Steer.
In Villa’s first foray of note, Albert Adomah fired a shot which was blocked by a combination of Rodak and Ihiekwe before Conor Hourihane latched on the rebound to lash an effort which was arrowing to the bottom corner until Ihiekwe stuck out a timely leg to divert the ball to safety.
In a lively opening to the AESSEAL New York Stadium clash, Jon Taylor showed fleet of foot on the edge of the box to work a shooting position forcing Steer into another smart save before Joe Newell was felled in a central position and Vaulks fired a stinging free-kick from distance which failed to trouble the Villa goal.
However, Villa were granted the ideal opportunity to break the deadlock when skipper Grealish injected pace into a visitors move to dart into the home box and Robertson, in attempting to snuff out the danger, felled the Villa skipper in full flow and the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
However, the Millers were indebted to Rodak for preserving parity when the Slovakian stopper won the battle of wills with England Under-21 striker Abraham from the resultant penalty, as he correctly guessed his intentions, by diving smartly to his left to keep out his low effort.
From the following corner, Ahmed Elmohamady headed over the Millers bar before Abraham almost pounced on a Vyner error, moments later, but the offside flag came to the home side’s rescue.
Just past the quarter hour, Mings became the first to see yellow following a clash with Vaulks before Smith tried his luck from long range but his tame effort was straight down the throat of Steer.
Moments later, Taylor and Smith combined smartly to pave the way for Newell, to volley goalwards, but the Tamworth-born midfielder fired harmlessly wide of the visitors goal before the same player latched onto Ihiekwe’s flick-on from Vaulks’ throw, in the next Millers’ attack, but he could not control his effort which flew into the Villa faithful behind the goal.
However, the game took a decisive twist, minutes later, when Joe Mattock’s brave header saw Richie Towell play a ball into the path of Newell, who clipped a cross, which appeared to strike the arm of Mings in the box, and the referee awarded a penalty, before sending the Villa centre-half for an early bath, following his second yellow card.
Millers skipper Vaulks led from the front – with the resultant spot kick as the Welsh international kept his nerve to fire into the heart of the visitors’ goal from 12 yards, as the ball evaded the despairing dive of Steer.
The game reached boiling point when firstly Grealish was felled by Ajayi, which led to a melee involving both sets of players, as Rotherham cleared Hourihane’s free-kick before Newell was almost the beneficiary of a headed clearance, despite looking decidedly offside, but Steer and a retreating Villa defender managed to scramble the ball clear.
With half-time approaching following a pulsating first period, Newell’s corner narrowly evaded Ajayi but Robertson sneaked in behind to head goalwards but a backtracing Steer managed to tip the ball over the bar.
Half-time:- Rotherham United 1 Aston Villa 0
Villa were quick out of the blocks at the start of the second half and Grealish stung the palms of Rodak with a fierce drive before Villa were handed the chance to level matters, just three minutes into the half.
Following a switch of play, Elmohamady dug out a cross and Ajayi raised an arm, in an attempt to block his centre and the referee awarded the visitors a second spot kick of the evening – with the Nigerian international receiving a yellow card in the process.
Sub Kodjia took over penalty duties and it paid dividends, as he fired into the roof of the Millers net giving Rodak no chance.
The game was turned on its head, minutes later, when Villa dramatically took the lead as Grealish showed his class by leaving a number of Millers in his wake, before playing a slide-rule ball into the path of Elmohamady, who showed good awareness to play the ball back into the path of the Villa playmaker, who coolly picked his spot, by caressing the ball into the corner of the home net.
The Millers responded positively to the double setback and Vaulks drove hard from midfield to drag a left-footed effort harmlessly wide before Newell had a snap shot blocked before Mattock gave him another shooting chance and this time, he fired a rising effort which forced a superb, reflex save from Steer.
The home side were ramping up the pressure and Vaulks had an instinctive effort from the edge of the box deflected over before John McGinn cut inside with menace, at the other end, before blazing an effort wide.
Moments later, Mattock became the next to see yellow for cynically hauling back McGinn before Hourihane blasted a volley harmlessly over while Kodjia made something out of nothing to usher the ball towards goal but Rodak snuffed out the danger.
The home fans were almost on their feet when Newell’s curling free-kick had Steer nervously scurrying across goal, as it shaved the far post before Villa failed to clear Vaulks’ long-throw and Taylor fired a snap effort from the edge of the box, which took a wicked deflection off sub Mile Jedinak, as it looped narrowly over the Villa crossbar.
Home frustration boiled over when Vaulks saw yellow for hauling back McGinn before a sweeping move involving sub Ben Wiles and Newell ended when Ajayi had a shot deflected over while Smith looped a header onto the top of the Villa goal.
With the game in the balance, Rodak kept Villa at bay with a fine, reflex save to deny Hourihane following good work by Grealish before Kodjia fired over from a promising position.
Full-time- Rotherham United 1 Aston Villa 2
Rotherham United 1
Aston Villa 2
Teams:- Rotherham- Rodak, Vyner, Mattock, Vaulks, Ajayi, J Taylor (Williams 84), Towell (Wiles 68), Robertson, Ihiekwe (Vassell 77), Newell, Smith. Unused- Price, Wood, Forde, Crooks.
Aston Villa- Steer, N Taylor, Tuanzebe, McGinn, Grealish (Whelan 90), Hourihane, Abraham, El Ghazi (Kodjia 46), Elmohamady, Adomah (Jedinak 37), Mings. Unused- Sarkic, Lansbury, Davis, Green.
Referee- A Madley
Attendance- 10668 (2588)