Rotherham United’s survival hopes received a dent after Birmingham City came from behind to record a 3-1 victory at the AESSEAL New York Stadium.
The Millers dominated the first-half and deservedly had the lead through a Matt Crooks strike – his third in as many games – but Birmingham revived themselves at the break, going on to win the game with second-half strikes from Jacques Maghoma, Jota and Kerim Mrabti.
The defeat leaves the Millers still in the bottom three, with just two games remaining, whlist Birmingham’s victory ensures their survival.
Boss Paul Warne made five changes to the side that were narrowly beaten by Swansea on Good Friday. Billy Jones replaced the injured Zak Vyner at right-back, whilst Michael Ihiekwe and Clark Robertson both made way, with Richard Wood returning and Semi Ajayi slipping back into central-defence. Ajayi’s place in midfield went to Richie Towell, whilst Ryan Williams came in for Jon Taylor and Joe Newell replaced Anthony Forde in the wide positions.
In the Bank Holiday sunshine, both sides were heartily backed by their respective fans, but it was the hosts who began on the front foot. Will Vaulks’ shot was blocked resulting in a corner and from Newell’s delivery, Joe Mattock ended up on the deck but his appeals for a spot kick were waved away.
Birmingham went straight up the other end and forced a corner of their own after Wood had made a telling block, but Jacques Maghoma’s delivery was headed over by skipper Michael Morrison.
The visitors came narrowly close to earning spot kick on five minutes when Che Adams broke clear down the right. The striker was felled just outside the area by Ajayi, who was booked, and Jota’s free-kick was cleverly rolled to Adams, who hit a low drive which was held by Marek Rodak.
Vaulks’ first long throw of the game had ex-Miller Lee Camp scampering but the experienced stopped grabbed the ball comfortably at the second attempt.
Another Vaulks effort brought about a bigger shout for a penalty as Wood went down. The referee was again unmoved as Crooks headed back into the mix, but Camp was there to gather for Blues.
On 11 minutes Towell won a free-kick with a break down the right. Newell sent the ball into a dangerous area but Camp was there again to take the ball under pressure from the onrushing Wood.
After a blistering start, the game entered a period of calm but with 20 minutes played the home side again started to crank up the pressure. Vaulks was again causing the Birmingham defence to work with a series of long throws, but Garry Monk’s side were equal to the early bombardment.
The pressure paid off on 21 minutes as the Millers took a deserved lead. Vaulks dinked a well waited pass towards Williams, which the ex-Barnsley winger took in his stride. After he broke clear of the full-back his deflected low centre popped up kindly for Crooks, who coolly chested the ball down before rolling his shot beyond Camp.
Shortly afterwards a glancing Wood header was watched wide of the far post as Warne’s side kept up the pressure.
Just before the half-hour mark Wood threw himself at another cross as Newell turned in a corner from the left, this time the skipper arrowed his header over the bar under pressure from a ruck of blue shirts.
The tireless work of Michael Smith almost brought another opening as he attempted to thread a ball through to the onrushing Crooks, but the ex-Northampton ace couldn’t quite take the pass in his stride on the angle of the penalty area.
On 35 minutes Newell’s deep centre was turned behind by Kristian Pedersen. The resulting corner produced a presentable opportunity when Newell superbly picked out Ajayi who saw his header blocked, and Vaulks turned the rebound over the bar from eight yards.
In half of few chances for Birmingham, Lukas Jutkiewicz sent an effort comfortably wide of Rodak’s near post from wide of the penalty area.
Wood continued to throw his body on the line in the opposing penalty area, just failing to make a telling connection to a dangerous cross from Vaulks to the back post.
At the other end Towell made a great block to prevent a cross, and after the Millers successfully defended the first corner, the second one was headed well wide by Gary Gardner.
Rotherham United 1 v 0 Birmingham City
Birmingham were sent out early for the start of the second-half and signalled some intent when Jutkiewicz spun his man on the edge of the box, but a weak effort bobbled into the hands of Rodak.
The Millers received their second yellow card of the afternoon when Wood fouled Jutkiewicz on half-way, but the free-kick came to nothing.
Warne’s side were back on the front foot when Vaulks sent an accurate ball towards Mattock on the left. The full-back collected on his chest, beat his man, before sending in a teasing ball from the by-line which was just too deep for anyone in red allowing Camp to collect.
On 56 minutes Birmingham equalised. After the Millers initially cleared an attack down the right, the ball was fed in-field to Maghoma. The winger travelled forward with a weaving run towards the edge of the area, picking his spot in the top right corner with a well-placed effort which beat the diving Rodak.
The away side now had their tails up, and after winning a free-kick 25 yards from goal, slightly left of centre, Maghoma’s effort clipped the top of the wall before going behind for a corner, which was glanced clear by Towell.
Boss Warne responded by withdrawing Newell and replacing him with Jon Taylor. Initially it did little to stem the tide, as Rodak was called into action to make a smart save low down to deny Jutkiewicz who hit a low shot from the angle.
Birmingham were now on top and they made their spell of dominance count with a second goal. Adams made the break down the right, pulling a ball back which agonisingly split the Rotherham defenders inside the penalty area. The ball made a way through the bodies to find Jota, who steadied himself before steering the ball beyond Rodak.
Warne made another attacking change as defender Wood was replaced by winger Forde, with the Millers switching to a back three. The Millers then enjoyed a spell inside the Birmingham half but a Forde corner and a Vaulks throw were both seen off by the visitors.
Inside the final 20 minutes and Vaulks was into the book after scything down Jota who began a mazy run over half-way.
At the other end, Towell saw an effort blocked from 20 yards, whilst Blues captain Morrison was booked for deliberate handball. From the free-kick, Forde’s centre was dangerous but no-one could find the killer touch.
Warne made his final change, bringing on some extra firepower in the shape of Kyle Vassell, with Williams making way.
The home side began to find their forward momentum again but Birmingham scrambled clear a series of Forde centres.
Birmingham came close to sealing it with five minutes remaining but Maghoma’s free-kick hit the outside of the post.
The Millers huffed and puffed during the closing stages but failed to find the clear opportunity that they craved.
Despite five minutes being added on at the end of the 90, it was the visitors sealed the win when sub Mrabti added a third.
Rotherham United 1 v 3 Birmingham City
Rotherham: Rodak; Jones, Ajayi, Wood (Forde 68), Mattock; Vaulks; Williams (Vassell 77), Towell Crooks, Newell (Taylor 61); Smith.
Subs not used: Price, Ihiekwe, Robertson, Wiles.
Birmingham: Camp; Colin, Dean, Morrison, Pedersen; Jota (Mrabti 77), G. Gardner, Davis, Maghoma; Adams (Roberts 86), Jutkiewicz (Vassell 81).
Subs not used: Trueman, C. Gardner, Lakin, Harding.
Referee: A. Davies
Attendance: 10,703 (2,573)