Rotherham United slipped to their second away defeat in the space of seven days, as James McClean’s first-half strike saw them lose out to Stoke City, by the odd goal.
Despite there being very little between the two sides for much of the bet365 Stadium affair, Millers boss Paul Warne will have been disappointed by the nature of the winning goal as his side failed to deal with a route one situation which saw the Republic of Ireland international pounce on the defensive indecision to notch the matchwinner.
Following their handsome derby day victory over arch-rivals Sheffield Wednesday in midweek, Warne made two changes to his starting line-up for the trip to Staffordshire.
Angus MacDonald was recalled to the heart of the Millers defence following his three-match ban while his namesake, Shaun, was named in the central midfield area, as Ben Wiles and Richard Wood, had to settle for substitute berths.
With a swirling wind encircling the bet365 Stadium, Rotherham had the first sniff of goal when midweek hero Jamie Lindsay was crunched by Jordan Thompson and Dan Barlaser appeared to catch the home side napping from the resultant free-kick with a clever pass into the path of Florian Jozefzoon, who broke clear, and the Dutch winger picked out Michael Ihiekwe, who had the simple task of tapping home into the unguarded net, but the assistant referee had adjudged the Derby loanee to have been offside.
The home side were finding their stride and Tyrese Campbell blasted wide following good build up play before Steven Fletcher clipped a ball over the top and Campbell unselfishly nodded the ball into the path of the onrushing McClean, who poked wide, under pressure from a retreating Rotherham defender.
Campbell was proving an early threat to the Millers, and he teased and tormented Joe Mattock with another mazy run before firing over with his weaker right-foot.
Moments later, Stoke switched the play to great effect and McClean had acres of space to run into, before his cross-cum-shot forced Jamal Blackman to tip the ball around the post before the Chelsea stopper was called into action, once again, to deny Nick Powell with a smart save – although the flag had already raised.
There was a moment of controversy when Blackman plucked a hanging cross out of the sky – with Fletcher, in close attendance, and the ex-Owls striker appeared to have a sly kick out at the Rotherham ‘keeper, but no further action was taken by the referee.
Just before the half-hour mark, Stoke broke the deadlock in a whirlwind sixty seconds, which began with a Rotherham foray into home territory.
Freddie Ladapo got Mattock’s throw under his spell before embarking on a run, which saw him evade the challenge of three Stoke defenders, before rounding Morgan Fox, as last man, but the Millers marksman lost his footing, as he looked to shoot and the chance was lost.
From the resultant goal kick, Angus Gunn, on his home debut, launched a ball upfield and with Fletcher and Shaun MacDonald preparing for an aerial duel, the ball evaded both players and appeared to catch the gusty wind, as it skipped over the top of a flat-footed Rotherham defence and McClean had the chance to lob the ball over the advancing Blackman and find the empty net.
The goal seemed to unnerve the Millers momentarily and Stoke came close to a second, just seconds later, when Powell had a glimpse of goal, but a combination of Ihiekwe and Blackman denied him – with the former putting in a timely challenge to divert the ball to safety.
Warne’s side gradually regained their composure and Mickel Miller won a footrace with Harry Souttar, before clipping, what appeared to be a cross, and his effort caught the wind, as it flew over Gunn, but skimmed the top of the home crossbar.
Minutes later, Angus MacDonald became the first to see yellow for tripping Powell following a quick counter-attack from the hosts before Rotherham finished the half the stronger when the same player played an inch-perfect diagonal ball which paved the way for Miller to burst into the home box, but his fizzed centre was in front of the on-rushing Ladapo.
Half-time- Stoke City 1 Rotherham United 0
The Millers started the second half in a positive vein and Lindsay fought hard to win possession before playing a slide-rule pass into the run of Ladapo, but Gunn snuffed out the danger, as he raced from goal to hack clear before Lindsay bravely blocked John Obi Mikel’s low shot, at the other end.
Minutes later, Rotherham countered with purpose and the move ended when Miller tried his luck from distance but his effort inadvertently struck Lindsay en-route to goal before Shaun MacDonald required lengthy treatment, after following awkwardly during an innocuous challenge with Danny Batth.
With MacDonald unable to continue, Warne introduced Matt Crooks and Michael Smith into the fray, around the hour mark – with both players, incidentally, on the scoresheet during the Millers’ last visit to the bet365 Stadium two seasons ago.
The double move almost paid immediate dividends when Crooks rose highest to meet Barlaser’s corner, but he could not keep his header down, as it flew harmlessly over the home bar before Smith cushioned Wes Harding’s ball into the path of Jozefzoon, who screwed his right-footed effort well wide of the target.
In a last throw of the dice, George Hirst was introduced, at the expense of Ladapo, but it was Stoke, who threatened next, when Batth forced Blackman into an acrobatic save following a diving header from a free-kick, moments after Smith was booked for cynically hauling down Campbell in full flow.
With time running out for the Millers, Hirst worked hard to win a free-kick in a promising position after Batth was penalised, but Barlaser failed to make it count when his disappointing effort flew into the empty stand behind the goal.
In a rare Stoke attack, Powell’s clever cross saw Fletcher guide an effort towards goal on the stretch, but Blackman was his equal with a fine save – although any goal would have been chalked off for offside.
With the Millers in search of a late equaliser, Fox was cautioned for hauling down Crooks, but with Stoke handling any late Rotherham pressure with ease, the game almost finished on a calamitous note for Warne’s side, deep in stoppage time, when MacDonald heavily hit a back pass which left Blackman stranded, but fortunately, it flew wide of the target.
Full-time- Stoke City 1 Rotherham United 0
Stoke City 1
Rotherham United 0
Teams: Stoke- Gunn, Souttar, Batth, Fox, T Smith, Mikel, Thompson (Cousins 78), Powell (Oakley-Boothe 89), McClean, Fletcher, Campbell (Brown 77). Unused- Nna Noukeu, L Lindsay, Ince, Vokes.
Rotherham- Blackman, Harding, Ihiekwe, A MacDonald, Mattock, Jozefzoon, S MacDonald (Crooks 59), Barlaser, J Lindsay (M Smith 59), Miller, Ladapo (Hirst 70). Unused- Johansson, Wood, Wiles, Sadlier.
Referee- D Bond