Rotherham United breathed new life into their Sky Bet Championship survival charge by earning a handsome victory over play-off chasing Middlesbrough.
The Millers compounded the history books, by notching their first ever victory at the Riverside Stadium, and their first in the town since 1965, in a display of defensive resolve and panache in the attacking areas of the pitch.
Paul Warne’s side had a deserved interval lead when Matt Crooks notched his sixth goal of the campaign following a fine volley and his fellow tormentor-in-chief Michael Smith eased Rotherham nerves, when he struck from the spot after Michael Ihiekwe was felled in the box.
Following a dominant display, the crowning glory came in second half stoppage time, when Ryan Giles, on his Millers debut, smashed home a third goal.
For the trip to the North East, Warne made a solitary change to his starting line-up, from their last outing against Stoke City.
Shaun MacDonald made a welcome return to the Rotherham engine room for his first start since the end of October, following long-term injury. Playmaker Dan Barlaser was not part of the matchday squad. Warne resisted the temptation to throw new boy Giles immediately into the fray, by naming the Wolves loanee among his substitutes.
Both sides traded chances in the early stages. For the hosts, Duncan Watmore ghosted past Angus MacDonald to bare down on goal and Britt Assombalonga was the grateful recipient, as he looked to get his shot away, but Wes Harding blocked his point-blank effort.
At the other end, Crooks took a pass on the turn, before planting a perfectly weighted pass into the run of Smith, who showed his marker a clean pair of heels, before dribbling a low effort, from just outside the box, which beat the outstretched hand of Marcus Bettinelli, but it grazed the outside of the upright.
Minutes later, Assombalonga curled an effort harmlessly wide of the target before Paddy McNair attempted an ambitious free-kick from distance, but Jamal Blackman was not called into action.
There was a moment of controversy when Blackman launched a long punt up field which was flicked on by Smith, into the path of Crooks, who had McNair for company in the box, and the Millers man was hauled down by the former Manchester United defender, and with many of those with a Rotherham United persuasion expecting a spot kick, the referee pointed in favour of the hosts, with Crooks adjudged to have nudged McNair, before the decisive contact.
Just minutes later, Crooks had his head in his hands, for a second time.
There looked little danger for the hosts when Smith threaded a ball forward but Jonathan Howson made a hash of clearing the danger, and Crooks nipped his pocket to dart into the box, to face a one-on-one situation with Bettinelli, but he failed to make the most of the opportunity when he slid his effort past the post.
The Millers had a few scares when firstly Djed Spence tumbled under the challenge of Harding in the box, but home appeals for a penalty were waved away before Sam Morsy blazed over from a promising position after Patrick Roberts had broken clear initially.
Minutes later, Crooks was appealing for another spot kick after Nathan Wood appeared to drag him down by his shirt, near the home goal, but no further action was taken.
However, Rotherham were duly rewarded for their impressive first-half performance, by taking the lead two minutes before the break.
Crooks and Smith were combining to great effect throughout the opening period, and the Millers duo were at it again when Smith took advantage of Crooks’ pass to fire a snap shot which was bravely blocked by Morsy en-route to goal and George Saville looked to head clear, but his tame clearance fell invitingly for Crooks, on the volley, and the former Northampton Town midfielder kept his nerve to fire a low effort which arrowed past the unsighted Bettinelli, to find the home net.
Warne’s side were visibly buoyed by the breakthrough and the half almost had a dream ending when a long ball into the home box saw Smith win his aerial duel with his ‘Boro counterpart to loop a header which was arching into the far corner of the goal, but Bettinelli did superbly to claw the ball away from goal.
Half-time- Middlesbrough 0 Rotherham United 1
The Millers started the second period as they finished the first when Crooks caused havoc and Smith had a shot blocked by a retreating home defender before Matt Olosunde was felled by Marc Bola just outside the box.
In the aftermath of the resultant free-kick, Harding dug out a shot which Ihiekwe attempted to deftly flick towards goal but Bettinelli correctly guessed his intentions to snuff out the danger.
The home side had a few moments of danger when Roberts blasted over from an inviting position before Harding was on the stretch to divert Watmore’s cross to safety – with a number of home runners lurking for a tap in.
However, Rotherham continued to threaten the ‘Boro goal and after Smith’s heels were clipped by Nathan Wood just outside the box, Wiles’ lay-off from the following free-kick presented Jamie Lindsay with the chance to strike, and the Scotsman duly obliged by stinging the palms of Bettinelli with a skimming shot – before Howson scrambled the ball clear.
Minutes later, Warne’s men turned defence into attack in the blink of an eye after Smith turned over possession, following a home corner and with skipper Richard Wood, amazingly, leading the cavalry charge, Crooks had a sight of goal, but he was crowded out before he could test Bettinelli.
The Millers lead was a slender one and they were indebted to Blackman for preserving it, just past the hour mark, when Watmore injected pace into a home move – with a turbo charged run and the ball was diverted into the path of Morsy, who looked a certain scorer, but Blackman raced from goal to narrow the angle before spreading himself, and he diverted the ball to safety with his legs.
Following a trio of home substitutes and with George Hirst introduced at the expense of Shaun MacDonald, Ihiekwe pumped a long ball into the channel and Smith raced away from his marker, before sliding the ball across goal, invitingly, and Hirst, in his first involvement, appeared to be brought down by Howson, as he looked to meet the centre, but to the bemusement of the Rotherham coaching staff, no penalty was given.
The Millers then had their hearts in their mouths when an innocuous ball forward was not dealt with by the visitors, and Wood, in an attempt to clear the danger, played the ball back past the on-rushing Blackman, but fortunately, the ball was played away from goal and before sub Chuba Akpom could take advantage.
However, Rotherham were given some much-needed breathing space, by doubling their lead with eleven minutes to go.
Lindsay arrowed a free-kick into the danger area and with Wood, in typical wrecking ball fashion, ‘Boro were unnerved and Ihiekwe looked to pick up the pieces before being unceremoniously felled by Bettinelli in the six-yard box and the referee finally pointed to the spot, in the favour of the visitors.
Smith, who was a constant menace to the home side throughout, kept his nerve from 12 yards, by wrongfooting Bettinelli, to find the heart of the home goal with a composed finish.
The Millers were defending superbly and this was epitomised in all its glory when Saville looked set to halve the deficit but both Wood and Angus MacDonald came out of nowhere to throw their bodies in the way of his goalbound shot.
The home side huffed and puffed near the end, and sub Lewis Wing had a couple of efforts but it was a token gesture as Millers earned a third goal, in second half stoppage time, to crown a superb display.
The Millers were always a threat on the break and with ‘Boro pushing numbers forward, Ben Wiles took advantage to race forward by playing an inch-perfect pass into the path of Giles, who celebrated his 21st birthday yesterday, and his first appearance in Rotherham colours, by drilling a sweet left-footed effort which went through the legs of Bettinelli.
Full-time- Middlesbrough 0 Rotherham United 3
Rotherham United 3
Teams: Middlesbrough- Bettinelli, Spence (Wing 68), N Wood, McNair, Bola (Fletcher 83), Howson, Morsy, Saville, Roberts (Coulson 68), Watmore (Johnson 83), Assombalonga (Akpom 68). Unused- Archer, Hall, Hackney.
Rotherham- Blackman, Olosunde, Ihiekwe, R Wood, A MacDonald, Harding, S MacDonald (Hirst 68), Lindsay (Giles 88), Wiles, Crooks (Robertson 85), Smith. Unused- Johansson, Thompson, Tilt, Clarke, Ladapo.
Referee- M Salisbury