Millers earn vital win.....
ROTHERHAM United earned a precious three points in their battle for Championship survival following a battling victory over play-off chasing Nottingham Forest.
In a red-hot AESSEAL New York Stadium atmosphere, Michael Smith put the Millers ahead with a well-taken strike before former Rotherham striker Lewis Grabban levelled matters for the visitors, soon after.
However, Rotherham edged a tight affair to grab their eighth win of the campaign as Michael Ihiekwe netted the decisive winner on the hour mark – with a looping header.
Following last week’s defeat at Derby County, Millers chief Paul Warne was boosted by the return of duo Joe Mattock and Will Vaulks, following suspension while Smith led the Rotherham line, after shrugging off illness.
Richie Towell was also handed a recall to the Millers engine room while Clark Robertson took his place on the bench following a hamstring strain.
The Millers had the first shot in anger when Joe Newell won possession and following a neat flick from Towell, Vaulks tried his luck from distance but the Welsh international could not control his shot as it flew into the visiting faithful behind the goal.
Moments later, Forest failed to deal with an exocet long-throw from Vaulks and the ball fell kindly for Towell, who struck a sweet volley, which struck Ben Watson en-route to goal- but the referee waved away strong home protests that the Forest skipper had illegally used his arm to divert the ball to safety.
In Forest’s first foray of note, Rotherham had a let-off when Watson planted an innocuous ball across the box but with no Rotherham defender able to clear the danger, Yohan Benalouane – with his back to goal - showed great opportunism to back flick the ball towards goal, but fortunately, for the Millers, the ball smashed against the upright before rolling tantalising across the goalmouth.
At the other end, Saidy Janko was fortunate to escape sanction for a late clip on Towell and Newell curled the resultant free-kick to the far post where Smith had ghosted away from his marker, but the home frontman was unable to make a telling connection.
However, Smith was not to be outdone as he broke the deadlock – with his sixth goal of the season - in the Millers’ next attack.
Following a Rotherham break, Vaulks launched another long throw in the danger area and Michael Ihiekwe timed his run to perfection to nod the ball into the path of Smith, who cleverly got the ball from under his feet, to calmly stroke the ball into the far corner of the net giving Costel Pantilimon no chance.
Moments later, another Vaulks throw caused havoc in the Forest box and in the aftermath of the move, Smith turned provider with an inviting delivery, but Ihiekwe, who had stayed forward following an early move, failed to trouble the Forest goal with an off-balance header.
Minutes later, Billy Jones put his body on the line to bravely block Watson’s low drive, at close quarters, before Forest came within a coat of paint of the equaliser when Matty Cash launched a Vaulks-esqe throw into the six-yard box and with no Rotherham defender taking charge, Grabban bundled the ball towards goal, and the ball hit the upright before Rotherham managed to scramble the ball to safety.
Moments later, a long punt upfield was flicked on by Smith into the path of Taylor, who volleyed instinctively, but the ball whistled narrowly over the bar before Forest levelled matters when Daryl Murphy’s neat flick saw Grabban beat the home offside trap with Mattock lying deep and despite the attentions of Marek Rodak, who managed to keep out his initial effort, and the Rotherham full-back, the ex-Rotherham striker kept his nerve to tap home into the unguarded net, at the second attempt.
With half-time approaching, Joe Lolley stung the palms of Rodak with a low effort from distance before Janko became the first to see yellow by hauling down Newell, in an inviting position on the edge of the box.
From the resultant free-kick, Vaulks smashed his effort against the Forest wall before Towell dinked a cross back into the danger area which evaded Semi Ajayi, but forced Pantilimon into a smart gather, at the far post before Ihiekwe headed wide from another Vaulks long-throw in the last action of the half.
Half-time:- Rotherham United 1 Nottingham Forest 1
The Millers were the quickest out of the blocks at the start of the second half and Vaulks had a shot blocked before Smith was inches away from meeting a sweet Newell delivery – with the goal at his mercy.
Minutes later, the home side were indebted to Rodak for preserving parity when Lolley injected pace into a Forest move and Cash drilled a low centre which was inviting for Grabban, who looked set to slide the ball home from close range but the Slovakian stopper pulled off a top draw save, low to his left, to superbly keep the ball out.
Minutes later, Vaulks powered a long-throw into the body of Newell, who played the ball back to Vaulks, who clipped a cross which was met by the head of Ajayi, who glanced a point-blank effort which flashed past the upright with Pantilimon rooted to the spot.
However, Rotherham continued to press and they regained the lead on the hour mark when they forced a corner and Newell swung a tantalising centre to the far post, and Smith, who had ghosted away from the ruck of bodies in the box, headed back into the danger area and Ihiekwe was the quickest to react, by heading into the far corner of the net from close range – with the ball narrowly evading the attentions of a Forest defender, stationed on the post.
The Millers were causing problems from set-pieces and another Newell free-kick had the visitors’ at sixes and sevens and Ajayi looked to bundle home from close range, but Pantilimon was well-stationed on his line to pluck the ball out of the air before a lightning counter from the Millers led by Vaulks saw Taylor got the better of Benalouane to fire a stinging drive which was palmed by Pantilimon, almost into the path of Smith, who would have had a tap-in, before the ball was hacked clear by a retreating defender.
The Millers came close to making it three when the ball pinballed around the Forest box and Newell forced a reactive save from Pantilimon before Smith tucked home the rebound, but the assistant referee had long raised the flag before Lolley cut inside with menace to drill a low effort which was deflected narrowly wide at the other end.
After Towell had curled an effort over, the Millers had a late scare when Cash drilled a fierce effort which was inches away from the outstretched leg of sub Arvin Appiah – with the goal at his mercy, as the AESSEAL New York Stadium collectively drew breath before saluting a fine win for the hosts.
Full-time- Rotherham United 2 Nottingham Forest 1
Rotherham United 2
Nottingham Forest 1
Teams:- Rotherham- Rodak, Mattock (Robertson 46) , Vaulks, Ajayi, Wood, Taylor (Williams 80), Towell, Ihiekwe, Newell, Smith, Jones (Wiles 70). Unused- Price, Forde, Crooks, Vassell.
Forest- Pantilimon, Colback, Grabban, Watson (Pele 69), Murphy, Osborn (Carvalho 76), Wague, Cash, Janko (Appiah 76), Lolley, Benalouane. Unused- Steele, Robinson, Yacob, Ansarifard.
Referee- S Martin
Attendance- 11012 (2616)