Millers end season with defeat......
ROTHERHAM United’s Championship campaign ended on a losing note as Middlesbrough ran out narrow victors at the AESSEAL New York Stadium.
Despite a bright opening from the home side, Tony Pulis’ side took charge of the affair when Britt Assombalonga netted from the spot before John Obi Mikel doubled their lead, soon after.
The Millers competed strongly in the second half and Michael Smith gave them hope of claiming a share of the spoils with a well-taken penalty but Middlesbrough held firm near the end – although any joy at the final whistle was curtailed, as Derby’s home win over West Brom ended their hopes of prolonging their season, in the end-of-season play-offs.
The Millers made two changes to their starting line-up for the hosting of the north east outfit. Slovakian stopper Marek Rodak was absent between the sticks, due to illness with Lewis Price making his first league start of the campaign.
Joe Mattock was asked to take the skipper’s armband, in the absence of Will Vaulks, who picked up an injury at The Hawthorns last weekend – with youngster Ben Wiles taking his place in the home engine room.
The Millers had the first sight of goal when Joe Newell showed fleet of foot to weave his way past the attentions of Lewis Wing and Jonny Howson to burst into the box but the former Peterborough man lost his footing, at the crucial time, and his cross lacked power as Darren Randolph comfortably snuffed out the danger.
Moments later, Newell was in the thick of the action again with a defensive splitting pass which gave Smith the opportunity to show his marker a clean pair of heels, as he struck a first-time effort across goal which Randolph was forced to parry to safety before Mattock swung over a tantalising centre which narrowly evaded the attentions of Smith and Anthony Forde, at the back post.
In ‘Boro’s first foray of note, Lewis Wing caught the Millers napping with a near post corner but George Saville, under pressure from home defenders, could only scuff an effort harmlessly wide of the target before Wiles latched onto the pieces to float an inviting centre, at the other end, which saw Semi Ajayi climb above Ryan Shotton to head over the visitors’ bar.
Just past the quarter hour, Assombalonga missed a gilt-edged chance to open the scoring when he latched onto a superb pass which bisected the Rotherham rearguard to race towards goal, but he dragged his shot narrowly wide of the target despite having just Price to beat.
Minutes later, Smith showed clever footwork on halfway to release Forde, who attacked his marker with menace, but Shotton’s timely block denied him before Ashley Fletcher became the next to threaten the home goal, when he worked a yard of space on Clark Robertson to drill a low effort past the far post.
The visitors had stepped up the pace and Shotton ghosted away from his ruck of bodies in the box to meet Wing’s free-kick but he headed over with the goal at his mercy before Matt Crooks showed great feet in the box to present Smith the chance to strike goalwards, but the Rotherham striker failed to make a clear connection, despite being just yards out.
However, Middlesbrough were handed an opportunity to open the scoring, just before the half-hour mark, when Fletcher’s neat reverse pass saw Assombalonga in a footrace with Robertson, with the former tumbling under the Scotsman’s challenge in the box, and the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
Assombalonga dusted himself down to take the resultant spot-kick and he kept his nerve from 12 yards to fire into the bottom corner of the Rotherham goal, giving Price, who guessed correctly with his dive, no chance.
The visitors were lifted by the breakthrough and Fletcher and Assombalonga combined superbly, moments later- with the £15 million striker looking well set to make it two, but he dragged his shot across the face of goal – with his wayward effort striking the corner flag to the amusement of the home faithful.
However, Middlesbrough were not to be denied a second goal and they took a firm grip on the game, eight minutes before the break, when Rotherham failed to clear a visitors’ corner decisively and Mikel was the quickest to react to pounce on the loose ball and rifle a rasping effort which flew past the masse of bodies in the six-yard box before beating the outstretched hand of Price to nestle in the roof of the home net.
The Millers responded superbly to the double setback and Newell exchanged passes with Mattock before trying his luck from distance but his effort flew into the visitors’ fans behind the goal before Randolph was forced to parry Newell’s free-kick to safety, in the last action of the half.
Half-time- Rotherham United 0 Middlesbrough 2
The Millers started the second half in a positive vein and good work from Ajayi and Smith in the build-up paved the way for Wiles, to clip a cross which was inches away from Rotherham runners before Howson’s up-and-under, at the other end, swirled in the wind forcing Price, to tip over his own crossbar.
Minutes later, Crooks and sub Ryan Williams combined to great effect and Smith’s lay-off saw Ajayi strike from distance but his rising effort failed to trouble the visitors’ goal before Newell put on the jet-burners to race to the by-line, but his cross was blocked by a retreating defender.
Just before the hour mark, Williams had a snap shot from the edge of the box deflected wide before Mo Besic capitalised on Ajayi’s weak pass out from the back to rampage towards the Rotherham goal but the Bosnian international blazed his effort over, from a promising position.
Despite the nature of the score line, the Millers fans rose to their feet to acclaim the late season contribution of Crooks, who left the proceedings, while recognising the return of Darren Potter to first-team action following a long-term injury absence.
The substitution seemed to inspire the home side when Newell embarked on a one-two with Williams but his low effort was blocked by Saville, as he looked on course to halve the deficit, before Potter blasted over from the edge of the box.
The Millers were refusing to throw in the towel and Ajayi rose highest from Newell’s corner to power a downward header from close range which was arrowing towards the bottom corner of the net but a combination of Randolph and the woodwork kept the ball out.
The home side were denied a spot kick when Williams’ cross appear to strike the arm of Saville in the box but the referee waved away home protests before sub Kyle Vassell almost made an immediate impact from the bench with a mazy run which ended with a toe-poked effort which was stabbed away from Randolph.
Vassell was causing havoc to the Middlesbrough defence and after leaving Paddy McNair in his wake, he fired a fierce left-footed effort which smashed against the upright but with Middlesbrough failing to clear their lines, Vassell looked to get another shot away but he was tripped by Mikel, just inside the box, and the referee awarded the Millers a spot-kick.
With Smith taking over the penalty duties, the Millers’ Player of the Year celebrated his award in fitting style by stroking home the resultant penalty, in the bottom corner of the net.
Despite late Rotherham efforts to salvage a point, Middlesbrough successfully ran down the clock to earn victory.
Full-time- Rotherham United 1 Middlesbrough 2
Rotherham United 1
Teams:- Rotherham- Price, Mattock, Ajayi, Forde (Williams 46), Robertson, Crooks (Potter 66), Ihiekwe, Newell (Vassell 75), Smith, Wiles, Jones. Unused- Vyner, Wood, Palmer, Towell.
Middlesbrough- Randolph, Mikel, Shotton, Assombalonga, Howson, McNair, Fletcher (Downing 76), Saville, Flint, Wing (Tavernier 85), Besic (Clayton 82). Unused- Konstantopoulos, Hugill, Gestede, Spence.
Referee- A Madley
Attendance- 11051 (2608)