Millers earn crucial win....
SEMI Ajayi was the Rotherham United hero as his third goal in two games was the catalyst for his side’s 3-2 victory over Blackburn Rovers.
The home side went ahead early on thanks to Ajayi’s smart header but Rotherham were pegged back when Amari’I Bell levelled matters, in the second half.
However, Warne’s side were not to be outdone and sub Ryan Williams’ first goal of the season and Ajayi’s second of the game earned them a vital victory in their fight for Championship survival, despite Charlie Mulgrew’s late spot kick.
Following their hard-fought point at relegation rivals Reading last weekend, Warne kept his faith with his starting line-up for the second successive match for the visit of the Lancastrians.
There was a familiar face in the Rovers line-up with Wembley hero Richie Smallwood lining up against his former club.
The Millers were quick out of the blocks and they stunned the visitors by breaking the deadlock with their first foray into enemy territory.
After forcing an early throw in an inviting position, Will Vaulks wiped the ball down with a towel before launching an exocet throw into the box and Ajayi emerged from the ruck of bodies to tower above Danny Graham and direct a downward header, which dribbled into the far corner of the net giving David Raya no chance.
Warne’s side were lifted by the breakthrough and Clark Robertson nodded goalwards before Vaulks latched onto a weak Rovers clearance to fire a snap shot from just inside the box which whistled past the far post.
Rovers’ early frustration was summed up when Smallwood was yellow-carded for a late challenge on Vaulks before a long sweeping ball from the back saw Bell get the better of Jon Taylor to dart into the area before playing a tantalising ball which beat the outstretched hand of Marek Rodak, but Billy Jones was on-hand to hack the ball clear.
Moments later, Rotherham failed to deal with a Mulgrew free-kick into the box and Jack Rodwell attempted an acrobatic overhead kick which, fortunately for the Millers, was straight down the throat of Rodak, who was well-stationed on his own line.
At the other end, Anthony Forde was hauled back by Ryan Nyambe and from the resultant free-kick, the Irish winger delivered an inviting centre which saw Vaulks ghost away from his marker to glance a header which blazed over the Rovers bar.
Just before the half-hour mark, Robertson was the next to see yellow for tugging back Bradley Dack’s shirt – although he was booked retrospectively – with the referee giving Rovers the initial advantage, although the visitors failed to make it count.
With half-time approaching, Bell rampaged into the Rotherham area but he was crowded out by a number of retreating defenders before Richie Towell hoicked an effort harmlessly wide of the target, in the last noteworthy action of the half.
Half-time- Rotherham United 1 Blackburn Rovers 0
The home fans had their hearts in their mouths at the start of the second half when Mulgrew delivered an inswinging corner into the box and with Rodak losing his footing under the challenge of a Rovers attacker, the ball smashed against the inside of the post, before rolling to safety.
Moments later, Mattock was deservedly cautioned for hauling back Nyambe and Rovers punished the Millers to the full from the resultant free-kick when Mulgrew planted another delicious centre into the danger area and Michael Ihiekwe could only balloon a header into the air and with Rodak failing to take charge of the high ball, Bell capitalised on the hesitation to volley into the roof of the Rotherham net from close range.
The Millers responded positively to the setback and Smith tried his luck with a peashooter from distance but Raya got his body behind his shot before Rodak was well positioned to deny Dack, at the other end.
Just before the hour mark, Rotherham regained the lead when sub Ben Wiles injected pace into a home move to leave Lewis Travis in his wake to present Vaulks with the chance to clip a cross which Smith attempted to turn goalwards but the ball dropped invitingly for Williams, who showed great anticipation, to nip in front of Raya, to fire home from close range.
The Millers’ slender advantage was put to the test, almost immediately, when firstly Bennett got around the back to float an inviting centre which was met by the head of Graham, but the former Middlesbrough striker could not direct his header goalwards before Bennett’s threaded pass saw Dack evade the attentions of Wiles to fire an effort which fizzed narrowly wide of the target.
Minutes later, the home side were indebted to Ihiekwe for a timely clearance before Adam Armstrong raced at the Millers defence to present Dack with an opportunity to strike, but his low effort smashed into the side netting.
The visitors were upping the tempo and after Robertson was penalised for hauling down Bennett, Mulgrew, on this occasion, went for goal but Rodak was his equal with a routine save before Rothwell raced from the heart of midfield to drill a low effort which had the Slovakian stopper scrambling across goal, as it flew narrowly wide of the target.
With the AESSEAL New York Stadium in full voice, Rotherham sealed the deal with six minutes remaining when Blackburn failed to handle another Vaulks long-throw and in the aftermath, Wiles played a slide-rule ball back to the ex-Falkirk midfielder, who delivered a tantalising centre into the danger area and Ajayi arched his neck, to direct a superb header into the top corner of the net.
Moments later, the lively Wiles fired over into the home faithful from a promising position before Blackburn were handed a late lifeline when Dack’s dribbled shot cannoned against the post before rolling out in the goalmouth where Graham, in attempting to tap home, was felled by Ihiekwe and the referee pointed to the spot.
Mulgrew kept his nerve from the resultant penalty to wrong foot Rodak, by firing into the roof of the net – but the goal was purely a consolation, as the referee brought the game to a conclusion, soon after.
Full-time- Rotherham United 3 Blackburn Rovers 2
Rotherham United 3
Blackburn Rovers 2
Teams:- Rotherham, Rodak, Mattock, Vaulks, Ajayi, Forde (Williams 46), Taylor (Crooks 79), Towell (Wiles 53) Robertson, Ihiekwe, Smith, Jones. Unused- Price, Wood, Yates, Newell.
Blackburn- Raya, Nyambe, Rodwell, Smallwood (Rothwell 46), Armstrong (Nuttall 79), Graham, Mulgrew, Bell, Dack, Travis, Bennett (Reed 90) Unused- Leutwiler, Brereton, Evans, Conway
Referee- J Brooks
Attendance- 9663 (1400)