Millers fightback earns vital point...
A STIRRING second-half comeback from the Millers earned them a vital point in their fight for Championship survival, at the expense of Stoke City.
Paul Warne’s side looked to be staring down the barrel of defeat at the interval as goals from Sam Vokes and Sam Clucas put the Potters in charge.
However, Rotherham showed their never-say-die spirit with a heroic comeback against all odds thanks to Michael Smith's fine header and Matt Crooks’ first goal for the club.
The Millers were pushing for victory near the end and Crooks was denied a brace by firstly Ryan Shawcross’ goalline clearance and some superb goalkeeping from England stopper Jack Butland.
Following their narrow defeat at the hands of Aston Villa in midweek, Millers boss Warne made a solitary change to his starting line-up for the visit to Staffordshire.
Irish winger Anthony Forde was recalled to the Rotherham engine room, at the expense of Joe Newell, who had to settle for a place among the substitutes.
Following a slow start by both teams, the Millers had the first foray of note when Forde’s lay-off saw skipper Will Vaulks fire a clever pass with his instep which presented Joe Mattock with the chance to skip away before playing a tantalising ball across the face of goal before Forde showed good composure to work his way into the Stoke box before working a yard of space on Ashley Williams to drag a low, left-footed effort which flew narrowly wide of the target.
Moments later, Clark Robertson’s slide-rule pass gave Jon Taylor the opportunity to dart past Danny Batth in a one-on-one situation before playing an inviting centre into the box but the ball narrowly evaded the attentions of Michael Smith while Forde’s mishit centre forced Butland to tip over his own bar, in the visitors’ next attack.
The Millers were looking the most likely and after Robertson nodded down Vaulks’ long-throw, Taylor fired an instinctive half-volley from the edge of the box which fizzed just inches wide before Smith looped a header over from Forde’s corner.
However, Stoke opened the scoring, against the run of play, when Williams swung a delicious centre into the danger area and Vokes, evaded the attentions of Michael Ihiekwe, to meet his cross and plant a downward header into the bottom corner of the net giving Marek Rodak no chance.
The goal seemed to spark the hosts to life and they doubled their advantage, just two minutes later, when Bojan injected pace into a home move and James McClean worked a yard of space on his marker to deliver a ball into the box which deflected into the path of the on-rushing Clucas, who kept his nerve to fire into the roof of the net on his favoured left-foot.
The Millers responded positively to the double setback and Taylor’s low effort forced a smothered save from Butland before Smith dragged an effort harmlessly wide of the home goal.
Minutes later, the Millers were indebted to Robertson for preventing Clucas from firing goalwards, in an inviting position, following McClean’s centre before Clucas turned provider as Vokes took aim from the edge of the box but Rodak was his equal with a smart, parried save to his left.
Half-time- Stoke City 2 Rotherham United 0
Following the break, Rotherham were caught napping from a short corner when Clucas and Bojan combined smartly, as the former floated a cross which saw Ryan Shawcross clamber over Joe Mattock to head downwards, but his effort failed to trouble the target.
The Millers almost got a foothold in the clash when Forde showed fleet of foot near the by-line to clip a centre which was met by the head of Robertson, who powered a header towards the bottom corner of the net but Butland showed his class by putting out a strong hand to divert the ball to safety.
Moments later, Stoke failed to deal with a long punt forward and Taylor got on the wrong side of Bruno Martins Indi to race into the box but Danny Batth stuck out a timely leg to prevent him shooting goalwards.
However, Stoke’s respite was only temporary as the Millers halved the deficit, just before the hour mark, when Forde swung an outswinging corner into the danger area and Smith emerged from the mass of bodies in the box to glance a smart header into the far corner of the net.
The Millers looked a transformed outfit following the goal and Warne introduced Ryan Williams and Newell into the fray, soon after.
It was Newell, who almost made an immediate impact, when he took advantage of a two-on-one corner situation involving Vaulks to waltz around Allen on the edge of the box before firing a left-footed effort, which appeared to take a slight deflection, forcing Butland into a superb fingertip save over his own bar.
The Millers were sensing a comeback was on the cards and they got themselves back on level terms with quarter an hour to go when Vaulks launched an exocet throw into the box and Ajayi knocked the ball down into the path of Crooks, who was in acres of space, and the former Northampton Town midfielder kept his composure to slide the ball into the bottom corner of the net.
Warne’s side were pushing for an unlikely victory and Vaulks’ tame cross fell kindly for Crooks, who was twice denied, by a well-stationed defender, on the edge of the box before the Rotherham midfielder latched onto a weak Stoke clearance to dribble another effort which was bobbling towards goal but Shawcross was on-hand, from his own goalline, to hack the ball clear.
The Millers fans were in full voice and Ajayi tried his luck from distance with an effort which whistled harmlessly wide of the target before Newell latched onto Ihiekwe’s flick-on to hang a centre which saw Crooks tower above his marker to power a header which narrowly cleared the Stoke crossbar.
Crooks was in the thick of the action and Williams skipped to the by-line before pulling the ball back to the tall midfielder, who fired a rising effort from the edge of the box which was arrowing towards the top corner until Butland pulled off a world class save before the inspired midfielder embarked on a Messi-esque run into the box before a timely block denied him shooting towards goal, in a late Millers rally.
Full-time- Stoke City 2 Rotherham United 2
Stoke City 2
Rotherham United 2
Teams:- Stoke- Butland, Allen, Williams, Etebo, Vokes (Adam 86), McClean, Batth, Martins Indi (Verlinden 86), Shawcross, Clucas, Bojan (Afobe 62). Unused- Federici, Bauer, Diouf, Woods.
Rotherham- Rodak, Vyner, Mattock, Vaulks, Ajayi, Forde (Newell 68), Taylor (Williams 68), Towell (Crooks 58), Robertson, Ihiekwe, Smith. Unused- Price, Wood, Vassell, Wiles.
Referee- A Woolmer
Attendance- 24250 (821)