Rotherham United maintained their lead at the top of the Sky Bet League One table courtesy of a hard-fought victory at Cambridge United.
Dan Barlaser’s precise strike in the 65th minute was enough to hand Paul Warne’s side their third straight win in all competitions and make it 21 games unbeaten in all competitions.
The Millers were made to work for their victory by a determined U’s outfit but stood firm to earn a crucial win.
The Millers had the first opening in the eighth minute, when Wiles made headway down the right side and looked for the run of Ladapo in the area with a low ball. Digby got across well to get a foot in to concede a corner, which was swung in Ferguson and headed just over by the midfielder.
The U’s created an opening seven minutes later, when Brophy and Dunk combined down their left before the latter looked for the run of S.Smith at the far post, but Ferguson had taken up a good position and nipped in to clear.
With the game at the midway point Barlaser and Ferguson worked a corner short after Rathbone’s pass towards Ladapo was intercepted by Okedina. The Northern Ireland international opened up his body for the strike, which was beaten away by Mitov.
Three minutes before the half hour, Rathbone recycled possession well after the hosts cleared a corner, finding Barlaser. The midfielder with time and space to line up the shot opted to go for goal, but couldn’t keep his effort down.
On 31 minutes, Ladapo took down a searching pass from Rathbone before cutting inside of Williams and firing straight down the throat of Mitov from wide left, as the Millers searched for a breakthrough.
The hosts went close two minutes before the break, when Weir manoeuvred through the middle of the park and slipped in May who advanced to the edge of the box before driving straight at Johansson.
HALF TIME | Cambridge 0 v 0 Rotherham
The home side started the second half brightly and went close when Weir drove forward through the heart of midfield before slipping Ironside in from a wide angle. The striker found himself on goal but could only fire wide of the far post.
The Millers had a glorious opportunity to take the lead on 50 minutes, when Wiles won back possession and fed Ogbene who surged forward and cut the ball back across for Ladapo, who was denied from point-blank range by a sharp Mitov save.
The breakthrough came 15 minutes into the second half, when Ogbene collected possession in his own half and went on a mazy run through the middle before teeing up Barlaser, who stroke the ball home from 18 yards, leaving Mitov planted on his goalline.
The Millers had the chance to extend the lead on 70 minutes when Lindsay found Harding in space on the right side. The defender planted his delivery onto the head of Wiles, who say his header well-held by Mitov.
Cambridge still carried a threat and went close with 16 minutes remaining. Okeinda delivered a dangerous cross towards Ironside but Harding did well to clear as far as May, who blazed over the bar from 20 yards.
Weir then threatened moments later, collecting the ball from deep before driving over the bar.
The Millers had the chance to wrap up the early Christmas present in the final minute, when Ladapo held the ball up well before slipping in Wiles, who fired straight at Mitov after going through on goal.
Paul Warne’s side had to dig deep in the six minutes of injury time that followed, but stood firm to claim a crucial three points, ensuring that they will top the tree come Christmas Day.
FULL TIME | Cambridge 0 v 1 Rotherham
Cambridge United 0
Rotherham United 1
Cambridge |Mitov, Williams, Okedina, Iredale, Dunk, Weir, Digby, Smith (Knibbs 82), May, Brophy (Lankester 82’), Ironside
Rotherham | Johansson, Edmonds-Green (Harding 69’), Wood, Ihiekwe, Ogbene, Barlaser, Rathbone (Lindsay 62’), Wiles, Ferguson, Smith, Ladapo (Grigg 90+4)
Referee- T Kettle
Attendance- 5,323 (1,142 away)