A winning start for the Millers...
Rotherham United came out on the top in the battle of the newly-promoted sides as Michael Ihiekwe’s last-gasp header ensured that they got their Championship campaign off to a flyer, at the expense of Wycombe Wanderers.
Despite a keenly contested affair at Adams Park, chances were few and far between and the game looked to be petering out in a draw until Ihiekwe popped up from Joe Mattock’s corner to give them an opening day victory.
For the lunchtime kick-off in Buckinghamshire, Millers boss Paul Warne handed three league debuts in his starting line-up, in the shape of ‘keeper Jamal Blackman, right-back Wes Harding and former Doncaster winger, Kieran Sadlier.
Scottish defender Clark Robertson partnered Ihiekwe at the heart of the Rotherham rearguard with club skipper Richard Wood not named in the squad while last year’s leading marksman, Freddie Ladapo was asked to ply a lone furrow in the Millers attack, as fellow strikers, Michael Smith and Kyle Vassell had to settle for substitute berths.
Warne’s side had an early scare, in the early minutes, when the lively Scott Kashket got a long punt forward under his spell, before holding off the challenge of Harding, to slide a low cross into the path of Daryl Horgan, but fortunately for the Millers, the Republic of Ireland international could only fire over, as he was on the stretch at the back post.
Moments later, Joe Jacobson drilled an opportunistic free-kick from near the halfway line which had Blackman backtracking nervously towards his own goal, as it flew harmlessly over the Millers bar.
Rotherham were gradually getting a foothold in the clash and Sadlier, despite not making a clean connection, fired a low free-kick which Ryan Allsop was forced to turn behind before Robertson headed over from Mattock’s resultant corner.
With little to separate the sides, Matt Broomfield became the first to see yellow for a high tackle on Shaun MacDonald – although it could be argued, the Chairboys skipper was fortunate to escape further sanction.
In the Millers’ best spell of the half, Jamie Lindsay almost sneaked in behind the home defence before Mattock’s volleyed switch of play paved the way for Chiedozie Ogbene to jink his way past Jacobson before firing a low effort which was blocked en-route to the home goal.
However, Wycombe came within a coat of paint of making the breakthrough, just past the half-hour, when Jacobson’s free-kick caused havoc in the Millers box and Darius Charles scuffed a header, which fell invitingly back into his path, just yards out, but he smashed a point-blank effort against the crossbar when it looked easier to score.
In the next phase of play, Alex Pattison stung the palms of Blackman with a low effort before Rotherham had the last noteworthy action of the half when Mattock delivered a delicious centre into the Wycombe box and Ihiekwe emerged from the ruck of bodies in the box to nod narrowly wide of the target – with fellow centre-half Robertson, also, in attendance.
Half-time- Wycombe Wanderers 0 Rotherham United 0
Following a scrappy start to the half, Warne had soon seen enough as he reverted from a 4-5-1 to a 4-4-2 formation with Smith introduced.
Smith’s presence was immediately felt and his knockdown gave Ogbene the opportunity to give the on-rushing Lindsay, a glimpse of goal, but Bloomfield tracked back smartly to deny the Scotsman with a timely tackle.
Around the hour mark, Bloomfield dragged a right-footed effort well wide of the target before Allsop kept his nerve to pluck Sadlier’s dangerous cross out of the sky, at the other end.
Minutes later, Harding was yellow-carded for chopping down Fred Onyedinma in full flow before Wycombe came close to breaking the deadlock with 12 minutes to go when Allsop’s long free-kick was flicked on by David Wheeler and Kashket, who was in the clear, decided to lob the on-rushing Blackman, but Harding had anticipated the danger and he hacked clear from near his own line.
The game was on a knife-edge and after Blackman had made a hash of Wheeler’s cross before the ball was bundled clear, Rotherham struck the winner in the most dramatic of circumstances.
Despite the Millers creating little of note in an attacking sense, the decisive moment came in the second of four stoppage time minutes when they forced a corner and Mattock floated a delicate centre into the danger area and Ihiekwe, timed his run to perfection to beat the outstretched jump of Charles, to direct a downward header over the attentions of sub Josh Parker and with Allsop rooted to the spot, the ball found the far corner of the net.
There was also time for Vassell, to almost make it two, when he brushed off the challenge of Jack Grimmer, to blaze an effort over, with almost the last kick of the game.
The final whistle brought huge acclaim from the Rotherham players’ and coaching staff, as they headed north with maximum points, and left Gareth Ainsworth’s side empty-handed in their first ever Championship encounter.
Full-time- Wycombe Wanderers 0 Rotherham United 1
Wycombe Wanderers 0
Rotherham United 1
Teams: Wycombe- Allsop, Grimmer, Jacobson, Stewart, Wheeler, Pattison (McCarthy 82), Bloomfield (Freeman 71), Kashket (Parker 87), Horgan, Charles, Onyedinma. Unused- Stockdale, Tafazolli, Phillips, Samuel.
Rotherham- Blackman, Harding, Ihiekwe, Robertson, Mattock, Ogbene, S MacDonald, Lindsay, Sadlier (Wiles 66), Crooks (Smith 52), Ladapo (Vassell 83). Unused- Johansson, A MacDonald, Jones, Miller.
Referee: J Linington