Home delight for Millers....
It was the perfect one-two for the Millers, as two first-half headers from front pairing Will Grigg and Michael Smith helped them sweep aside the challenge of AFC Wimbledon, and boost their Sky Bet League One promotion ambitions in the process.
Following a lacklustre opening, Paul Warne’s side burst into life, late in the first half, when Grigg showed his predatory instincts with a classy header, for his first league goal in Rotherham colours before Smith made it seven goals for the campaign - following a brace either side of the interval with a bullet header and a smart finish, late on.
Following their weekend draw with Crewe Alexandra last time out, Warne made three changes to his starting line-up for the visit of the Londoners.
A defensive reshuffle was required and Michael Ihiekwe was drafted into one of the three centre-half berths. Joe Mattock was ruled out because of an Achilles injury sustained against the Railwaymen while Wes Harding was absent due to his late sending-off in the same game.
Northern Ireland international Ferguson celebrated his latest call up, by being recalled to the Millers engine room, alongside Jamie Lindsay. Tolaji Bola and Ben Wiles had to settle for places among the substitutes.
In the early stages of the game, there was very little to report. The referee had shown his willingness to let the game flow, in the face of some robust early challenges from the Dons players, especially when a mazy run from Chiedozie Ogbene was brought to an end, in a very uncompromising manner.
In the first noteworthy action, Rarmani Edmonds-Green showed his defensive instincts by ushering Ethan Chislett away from goal, after he had ghosted into the box before Nik Tzanev was forced to palm Ferguson’s corner away from danger, at the other end.
Just past the quarter hour, the hearts of Millers’ players and fans skipped a beat when a harmless looking ball skipped off the slick AESSEAL New York Stadium surface and Aaron Pressley got on the wrong side of Richard Wood, to bear down on goal, but Viktor Johansson came to Rotherham’s rescue with a smothered save.
The visiting contingent were appealing that Wood may have illegally halted the Dons forward’s progress en-route to goal, but any claims of a penalty were waved away by the referee. Wood needed lengthy treatment, following the incident, but in typical no-nonsense fashion, the Millers talisman could not been kept out of the action for long.
The Millers were struggling to find their rhythm until Ogbene injected pace into a home move with a darting run from the flank, and after skipping past a number of challenges and the aid of a fortunate ricochet, he flashed a left-footed effort, from just outside the box, which had Tzanev nervously scurrying across goal, as it shaved the visitors’ upright.
The Millers were having their best spell of the game, and they were duly rewarded nine minutes from the break when Ferguson delivered a delicious ball into the box, and Grigg, who had smartly pulled away his marker, rose highest to plant a header back across goal and with Tzanev, in no position to intervene, the ball grazed the inside of the post, before finding the AFC Wimbledon net.
Warne’s side were sensing an opportunity to take the game by the scruff of the neck, and Dan Barlaser’s perfectly weighted pass took Paul Osew out of the game, but Ogbene failed to make it count with a poor cross.
The home fans were in good voice, and they were standing on their feet, when firstly Wood produced a crunching tackle to put Pressley and the ball proverbially in row Z, before they doubled their lead on the stroke of half-time.
The goal came about when Ferguson’s dangerous free-kick was put behind by a retreating Dons defender, and from the resultant corner, Barlaser put the ball on a sixpence, at the near post, and Smith had read his intentions perfectly, to work a yard of space on his markers, to meet his centre and head powerfully into the roof of the net from close range, giving Tzanev no chance.
The Millers almost put the gloss on the first-half score line when Ogbene’s assist gave Ollie Rathbone, a sight of goal, but the man-of-the-moment could only scoop a left-footed effort into the grateful hands of Tzanev.
Half-time: Rotherham United 2 AFC Wimbledon 0
Both teams made changes, in the opening period of the second half, with Wiles entering the fray, at the expense of Lindsay, after the Scottish midfielder pulled up, with what appeared to be muscle injury, and had to be replaced.
The Dons missed a gilt-edged chance to halve the deficit – with half an hour to go - when Daniel Csoka flung over a cross and Ihiekwe misjudged the flight of the ball in the air, and Jack Rudoni was the grateful recipient, as he took the ball out of the sky, but he fluffed his lines with a hurried finish, from close range, as he inexplicably failed to trouble the target.
The Millers were less of a force in the attacking areas of the pitch but they were largely nullifying the threat of the South Londoners until Henry Lawrence cut inside to fire goalwards from distance, but Johansson could safely let the ball fly harmlessly wide.
Warne’s side were looking to a match winning third, and it almost came in the shape of Ogbene, who firstly curled an effort wide following good work by Smith in the build-up, before Smith, himself, blazed an effort over from a promising position.
The Millers were showing good game management and the icing was almost put on the cake when sub Joshua Kayode came close to turning Ogbene’s cross, from point-blank range while Ferguson stung the palms of Tzanev with a drilled effort, in the next phase of play.
The Dons frustration boiled over when Pressley saw yellow for a hefty aerial challenge on Ihiekwe, which left the Rotherham centre-half grounded and needing treatment while Johansson joined him in the book, for vehement protests, in the aftermath of the incident.
Late on, Wiles came within a whisker of a third goal with a smart turn and shot, which flew just wide but Rotherham were not to be denied, and it was fitting they had the final say when Wiles caressed a ball which was taken in his stride by Smith, who held off his marker, before sliding the ball home, for his second goal of the evening.
Full-time: Rotherham United 3 AFC Wimbledon 0
Rotherham United 3
AFC Wimbledon 0
Teams: Rotherham- Johansson, Barlaser (Odoffin 84), Wood, Grigg (Kayode 66), Ogbene, Lindsay (Wiles 58), Ferguson, Rathbone, Ihiekwe, Edmonds-Green, Smith. Unused- Vickers, Sadlier, Ladapo, Bola.
AFC Wimbledon- Tzanev, Lawrence, Csoka, Woodyard, Nightingale, Marsh (Hartigan 75), Chislett (McCormick 68), Rudoni, Pressley, Heneghan, Osew (Mebude 55). Unused- Oualah, Alexander, Guinness-Walker, Charles.
Referee- A Haines
Attendance- 8004 (216)