Rotherham United gave Premier League-bound Norwich City a good run for their money on their own turf, but Paul Warne’s side had nothing to show for their efforts, following a narrow defeat.
Teemu Pukki’s first-half winner proved the difference the sides – but despite Norwich dominating first-half affairs, Rotherham acquitted themselves with great credit in the second 45, and Ben Wiles, who struck the crossbar, and Matt Crooks, whose goalbound effort was cleared by Max Aarons from his own line, came close to giving their side a share of the spoils.
For their second cross-country trip in just a matter of days, Warne made just two changes to his starting line-up for the visit to Carrow Road.
Angus MacDonald was recalled to the heart of the Rotherham defence, at the expense of Richard Wood, while fellow centre-half Michael Ihiekwe took the skipper’s armband.
Wolves loanee Ryan Giles was granted an opportunity to impress, in one of the wing-back roles, as Matt Olosunde had to settle for a substitutes berth.
The league leaders had the first sight of goal, in the early stages, when Todd Cantwell’s threaded pass presented Mario Vrancic with the chance to strike a left-footed effort which had Viktor Johansson scurrying across goal, but it fizzed harmlessly wide.
In the Millers’ first foray of note, Matt Crooks’ pass saw Giles force a corner and Lewis Wing, possibly aided by a gusty wind in Norfolk, curled an inswinger which almost caught Tim Krul off guard, as he had to parry the ball away from his own goal line, after initially anticipating the centre.
Warne’s side then had a couple of scares when firstly Emiliano Buendia found himself in space, to give Pukki a glimpse of goal, but the Finnish striker failed to make the most of the chance when his tame finish was smothered by Johannson before Pukki turned creator, by ghosting past MacDonald with ease, before pulling the ball back to Vrancic, who looked set to trouble the target, but he stroked the ball narrowly wide from the edge of the box.
The Millers were pressing the hosts high to great effect and after one such occasion which saw Ben Wiles force a corner, Giles swung a delightful centre into the danger area and Clark Robertson appeared to get the better of an aerial duel with Kenny McLean, to nod the ball into the far corner of the net – but any visiting joy was brought to an abrupt halt, as the referee had blown for a foul by the Scottish centre-half – with TV replays indicating that he was somewhat unfortunate.
The moment of controversy proved crucial as Norwich opened the scoring – with their next attack - on 17 minutes, as Pukki ironically notched his 17th goal of the season, for club and country.
A threaded ball forward into the path of Cantwell looked innocuous but no Rotherham defender took charge and with the England Under-21 international stepping over the ball, Pukki had the chance to race clear and show Ihiekwe, a clean pair of heels to bare down on Johansson, and the seasoned international striker kept his nerve to slide the ball through the legs of the Swedish stopper and find the heart of the Millers net.
The Millers were rattled by the setback and they almost gifted a second, just seconds later, when an uncharacteristic mistake by Ihiekwe presented Cantwell with the chance to dart towards the Rotherham goal, unchallenged, but he fluffed his lines with a wayward finish, from the edge of the box.
The visitors were looking for a foothold back in the game, and they found themselves in promising positions, but both Wes Harding and Wiles failed to make the most of the openings, before Krul was called into action, firstly with a parry and then a smart catch, in the aftermath of a Harding long throw.
Daniel Farke’s men were in confident mood, especially in possession, and they were breaking the Rotherham lines almost at will, and they had another clear-cut opportunity when Vrancic got around the back, with a minimum of fuss, before picking out Buendia, who looked on course, to make it two, but his goalbound effort struck Robertson en-route to goal – with the hosts claiming a handball – before Wing scrambled the ball clear.
Minutes later, Wiles blasted over from an inviting position while Giles stung the palms of Krul with a right-footed effort but Norwich had the final say of the half when the highly rated Aarons and Cantwell combined smartly to split open the Rotherham defence but Harding was on-hand to hack the former’s dangerous cross to safety.
Half-time- Norwich City 1 Rotherham United 0
With Olosunde introduced at the interval, the Millers started the second period in a positive vein and they came within a coat of paint of the equaliser.
After Harding launched a long throw into the box, Rotherham continued to press and a corner was only half-cleared into the path of Wiles, and the Rawmarsh-born midfielder showed good technique to keep his head over the ball, to strike a fierce effort, from just outside the box, which rattled the top of the Norwich crossbar.
Warne’s side were asserting themselves more in the game, but Norwich continued to look threatening, and Buendia’s slide-rule pass paved the way for Pukki, to strike a fierce effort which brought the best out of Johansson, with a fine, reflex save, although a flag had been raised, before Cantwell dragged a low shot wide.
Just before the hour mark, Ihiekwe became the first to see yellow for a hefty challenge on Buendia but the Canaries failed to exact further punishment when Vrancic’s free-kick struck Barlaser in the Rotherham wall.
Minutes later, Rotherham were indebted to Robertson for a goal line clearance from Buendia’s set-piece before Warne threw caution to the wind – with just over 20 minutes to go, by introducing Freddie Ladapo and George Hirst into the fray.
The double move almost reaped immediate rewards when the Millers’ spell of pressure ended when Crooks gave Hirst a sight of goal, but despite the Leicester loanee firing just wide, the Millers midfielder was penalised for a handball in the build-up.
Minutes later, Johansson kept the Millers in the game, when Pukki sprang the offside trap to advance on goal but the Swede was his equal with a superb save before Vrancic fired wide on the follow-up.
The Millers were very much in the game and Wing’s defensive splitting pass saw Ladapo pull the ball back to Crooks, who looked certain to equalise but with yellow shirts converging, his low effort, beat Krul, but agonizingly, Aarons came out of nowhere to keep the ball out, against all the odds.
The incident was Crooks’ last involvement, following a clash with retreating Norwich defenders, and Kieran Sadlier made a welcome return to action, after a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
With the game in the balance, Pukki slashed another effort wide and the Millers, who are never found wanting for hard work and endeavour, were unable to make the required breakthrough, in the seven minutes of stoppage time, as Norwich held on to extend their advantage at the top of the Sky Bet Championship standings.
Full-time- Norwich City 1 Rotherham United 0
Norwich City 1
Rotherham United 0
Teams: Norwich- Krul, Giannoulis, Zimmermann, Hanley, Aarons, McLean, Skipp, Cantwell (Rupp 90), Vrancic (Tettey 90), Buendia, Pukki (Idah 90). Unused- Barden, Gibson, Quintilla, Sorensen, Dowell, Hernandez.
Rotherham- Johansson, Harding (Jozefzoon 84), A MacDonald (Olosunde 46), Ihiekwe, Robertson, Giles, Wiles, Wing, Barlaser (Ladapo 67), Crooks (Sadlier 76), Smith (Hirst 67). Unused- Blackman, Wood, Clarke, S MacDonald.
Referee- T Harrington