Millers come out on top......
Rotherham United maintained the pace at the top of the Sky Bet League One table following a 3-1 victory over Burton Albion, thanks to Freddie Ladapo’s tenth and eleventh goals of the season, in all competitions, and Dan Barlaser’s third goal in a week, although they were pushed all the way by the visitors.
The Millers had to settle for parity at the interval despite having the better of the first 45 as Kane Hemmings cancelled out Ladapo’s opener.
The home frontman netted again, before Burton were unlucky not to level matters for a second time, before Barlaser eased home nerves with a fine strike.
Following their handsome victory over Gillingham last time out, Millers boss Paul Warne made three changes to his starting line-up for the visit of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s side.
Club skipper Richard Wood was able to take his place at the heart of the Rotherham defence, after a groin injury kept him out of The Gills rout. Northern Ireland international Shane Ferguson was recalled, on the left-hand side of a midfield five while Kieran Sadlier was named on the opposite flank.
There was a late change to the Millers bench as Mickel Miller was initially named on the team sheet but he had to pull out due to a groin strain with Tolaji Bola replacing him at the 11th hour.
Prior to kick-off, Wood got a standing ovation from the AESSEAL New York Stadium faithful, for lining up in his 200th appearance in Millers colours, and Rotherham almost got off to the perfect start, by opening the scoring, in the early minutes.
Ollie Rathbone, in typical no-nonsense fashion, fought hard to win possession on halfway and after exchanging passes with Sadlier, the box-to-box midfielder clipped a delicate cross to the far post. Michael Smith showed his aerial superiority, by looping a header towards goal and although Ben Garratt was beaten, Ryan Leak was well-stationed to head clear from just underneath his own crossbar.
Minutes later, Sadlier worked a yard of space on Tom Hamer, by firing over from outside the box.
Smith was in the thick of the early action and he brushed aside the challenge of Conor Shaughnessy to race towards the Burton goal but Garratt got down well to save his low effort, from a tight angle, before the Millers top-scorer nodded wide, in the next phase of play.
The Brewers, ironically, had their best spell of the half, before Rotherham deservedly opened the scoring on 24 minutes.
Firstly, Charlie Lakin dribbled a shot harmlessly wide before Harry Chapman volleyed over, when he really should have done better, after Rotherham failed to clear a long throw into the box.
However, Rotherham, who were oozing confidence, took the lead when there looked to a lost cause in the corner, but Rathbone made something out of nothing to get the better of Shaughnessy, with the ball very close to the touchline. The former Rochdale midfielder showed good awareness to pull the ball back to Ben Wiles, who struck the ball towards goal with his weaker left-foot, and with Garratt looking to snuff out the danger, Ladapo, in predatory fashion, had a telling touch, to divert the ball into the unguarded goal.
Rotherham were boosted by the opener and Wiles’ lovely ball over the top gave Smith a glimpse of goal, but he blazed over before Garratt was forced to turn Ferguson’s inswinging corner to safety.
The Millers were seeking a second goal to take a firm grip on the game and they almost got it when Wiles’ innocuous ball was toe-poked forward by Smith, and Ladapo raced down on the Burton goal, but Garratt won the battle of wills, in the one-on-one situation, by smothering his dinked effort at close quarters.
The moment proved crucial when Burton levelled matters, just shy of the break, when Rotherham lost possession up field, due a timely Cameron Borthwick-Jackson intervention, and Albion quickly countered quickly before Lakin’s slide-rule ball split open the Rotherham defence, who were vainly appealing for offside, and Hemmings showed his marker a clean pair of heels, before drilling a low effort which Johansson got something on, but couldn’t keep out, as it found the roof of the Rotherham net.
Albion’s joy almost proved short-lived though, just seconds later, as Smith was the recipient of a home through-ball, but the Millers marksman, in uncharacteristic fashion, fluffed his lines with a wayward finish.
Half-time: Rotherham United 1 Burton Albion 1
The Millers may have been taken off their stride, by the Burton equaliser, but they were having none of it, as attacking the North Stand, they regained the lead – with their first foray of note, in the second period.
There looked little danger for Albion until Rarmani Edmonds-Green strode forward with purpose, before executing a superb defence splitting pass, which saw Ladapo get on the wrong side of Borthwick-Jackson, who was in hot pursuit, and the home frontman kept his nerve, and atoned for his first half miss, by calmly stroking the ball past the attentions of Garratt, to find the heart of the Burton goal.
The Millers were given an immediate scare when Hemmings floated ball caught the home side napping but Lucas Akins squandered the opportunity when he volleyed away from goal, despite just having Johansson to beat.
On the hour mark, Rotherham missed a wonderful chance to take control of matters, when Ladapo missed an open goal, but his blushes were spared by the offside flag.
Rathbone, who was impressive throughout, nipped the pocket of Deji Oshilaja before finding Smith, who got a yard on his marker, to drill a cross-cum-shot which took Garratt out of the game, and Ladapo looked certain to claim his hat-trick, and the match ball, by tapping home, but he did not read the script, as he took a swipe but failed to connect, and the ball hit his standing leg, before dribbling away from goal, although the flag to his rescue.
The visitors were still very much in the game and Hamer’s low drive was smothered by Johansson before Harry Chapman’s fierce effort was bravely blocked by Dan Barlaser, who needed treatment afterwards.
Albion were upping the tempo and Hamer planted a delicious cross into the Millers box, but Leak headed wide from an inviting position before Shaughnessy screwed a snap shot wide, following a goalmouth scramble.
Rotherham’s lead was looking a slender one and Shaughnessy almost silenced the home faithful, when he crashed a point-blank header from a corner onto the post, before firing over on the rebound.
Warne’s side were living on the edge but they were given a helping hand from the visitors, who were the victims of their own downfall, in the hosts’ third goal.
The Millers were looking for a breather by planting a hopeful ball forward but Leak fired a back pass, which Garratt was forced to catch, due to the pace on the ball, and the referee awarded an indirect free-kick, from where he gathered the ball.
From the resultant free-kick, sub Jamie Lindsay touched the ball allowing Barlaser to strike and the midfielder, nicknamed the Geordie Pirlo by the Millers fans, made no mistake by firing through a mass of Burton bodies in the box, to find the visitors’ goal, against all the odds.
Full-time: Rotherham United 3 Burton Albion 1
Rotherham United 3
Burton Albion 1
Teams: Rotherham- Johansson, Barlaser, Wood, Sadlier (Ogbene 80), Wiles, Ladapo, Ferguson (Mattock 69), Rathbone (Lindsay 80), Ihiekwe, Edmonds-Green, Smith. Unused- Vickers, Bola, Kayode, Odoffin.
Burton- Garratt, Borthwick-Jackson, Oshilaja, Hemmings, Akins (Amadi-Holloway 85), Shaughnessy, Taylor, Leak, Hamer, Chapman, Lakin (Jebbison 73). Unused- Hawkins, Morris, Powell, Maddox, Mancienne.
Referee- S Allison
Attendance- 9007 (267)