Rotherham United’s unbeaten start to their Sky Bet Championship return came to an end at the Stadium of Light on Wednesday night as they were beaten 3-0 by Sunderland.
Tony Mowbray took up position in the Black Cats’ dugout for the first time having replaced Alex Neil this week and began life in the North East with his new side with a convincing win, courtesy of a Ross Stewart double and a Jack Clarke strike.
The Millers, who were without a number of key players following a tough week in the injury department, huffed and puffed but were unable to hold out in the end, as a relentless home side eventually got their reward for their persistence on 52 minutes with a goal which would open the floodgates.
In a very physical few opening minutes, there was an early scare for the Millers after just two minutes when the ball was dragged back to Dan Neil who blazed over the bar.
Not long after a Lyndon Gooch cross was swung into the Millers’ box and Richard Wood was there to clear the danger, but only as far Clarke who scuffed his shot high before it eventually dropped into the hands of Johansson. During the defensive scramble, Black Cats forward Ross Stewart went down with a head injury and as Stewart was treated, the squads used the break in play for a water break and a regroup.
The Millers first chance of note came when defender Dennis Cirkin couldn’t control a loose ball, slipping and letting through Shane Ferguson, who attempted to play through Conor Washington but the ball didn’t have enough behind it.
Ellis Simms’ powerful effort shot whistled just past the near post of Johansson in the 12th minute as he looked to finish an impressive through-ball from Luke O’Nien as the hosts continued to mount their charge for the opener.
That early spell of Sunderland pressure saw a further chance for Stewart who aimed hard and low but the effort rolled wide – another marker for the Millers’ defence.
Lyndon Gooch then did well to brush off Ferguson as he strode into the Millers danger area on 18 minutes, cutting it back for Stewart whose shot looked destined for a goal, but a last-man heroic clearance off the line by Wes Harding kept the scoresheet blank.
The visiting midfielders had struggled to take hold of the game but looked to do so when Ollie Rathbone picked up possession outside the box and forced Anthony Patterson into a diving save with a powerful, drilled effort from 25 yards just after Harding’s heroics.
Chiedozie Ogbene then drew a foul inside the Sunderland half, paving the way for Barlaser to swing it in from deep where the ball found it’s way through a sea of bodies to the magic man Richard Wood who couldn’t get it under his spell – but was found to be offside anyway.
As the Millers grew into the game, a dangerous-looking combination of Harding and Brooke Norton-Cuffy combined to force a ball into the Sunderland box, falling to Ogbene who managed to sort his feet out just in time to lay it off to Wiles – his effort forcing a low save from Patterson.
The 33rd minute saw another Sunderland chance as Simms took a good touch down for Gooch, who worked it well to Pritchard as he probed the Millers box then finding Stewart once more but his curling effort flew wide.
The Sunderland pressure continued as Clarke found Cirkin on the overlap, before his close-range cross was just too high for Stewart whose head did connect, but sent the ball over the bar.
Five minutes from the interval a Barlaser free kick was played low down the line for Ferguson, whose subsequent ball into the box found a sea of bodies in the Black Cats’ area, however the defensive header was only as far as Conor Washington, whose half-volley was over the bar.
Rathbone saw another powerful effort fly over the bar in the 44th minute as he seized on a loose ball to Dan Neil, hitting it first-time but was unable to hit the target with the final act of the opening half.
Half-time | Sunderland 0 v 0 Rotherham
The Millers piled bodies forward upon the start of the second half which looked to play into the Black Cats’ hands as they broke up the pitch in the early exchanges, forging an opportunity to cross for Gooch, which fell to the chest of Simms who shot on the spin, but it ended up over the bar.
The deadlock was broken shortly thereafter and unsurprisingly by the Sunderland’s flying Scotsman Stewart, who had been a threat all night. This time he made no mistake as he connected with Jack Clarke’s low cross first-time, fizzing the ball beneath a helpless Johansson and into the back of the net.
The Millers danced around the Black Cats’ box in on the hour-mark before Ogbene looked to turn O’Nien, but he reacted the quicker of the two and cleared the danger, hitting it into Ogbene as it deflected out for a Sunderland goal kick.
The home side doubled their lead in the 65th minute and it was Stewart again on the mark for the hosts. Clarke was the architect as he found space on the left, crossing it hard and low into Stewart, whose effort was agonisingly close to being saved by Johansson, but it just snuck inside the near post despite the Swede’s best efforts to keep it out.
Sunderland added gloss to the scoreline when they made it 3-0 in the 70th minute, with Clarke – who had provided the ammunition all night for teammates – turning from provider to predator when he danced his way through the Millers defence and slotted it into the bottom left corner to put the hosts out of sight.
Norton-Cuffy was one of the positives for the visitors on the night and he showed some more promising touches when he broke down the pitch in the 79th with what is already becoming a trademark run, but the danger was averted as Danny Batth intervened to get it out of play.
Rotherham continued to battle however, showing their familiar grit and determination as Norton-Cuffy played a ball through the middle to substitute Georgie Kelly who was inches from making a connection – the ball fell into the hands on Patterson, however.
Sunderland continued to bay for blood but wouldn’t be able to heap further misery on the Millers when Simms found himself through on goal, with Peltier – who had also had a good night in defence - back in time to block the shot and the danger was cleared in the 89th minute.
Full-time | Sunderland 3 v 0 Rotherham
Sunderland – Patterson, Cirkin, Evans ©, Batth, Simms, Gooch, O’Nien, Stewart, Clarke, Pritchard, Neil
Subs – Roberts (Pritchard 67’), Wright (Clarke 83’), Embleton (Neil 88’), Unused – Bass, Matete, Hume, Alese
Rotherham – Johansson, Harding, Barlaser, Wood ©, Wiles, Norton-Cuffy, Ogbene, Washington, Ferguson, Rathbone, Peltier
Subs – High (Ferguson 67’), McCart (Harding 75’), Kelly (Ogbene 75’), Lindsay (Barlaser 75’), Unused – Vickers, Eaves, Odoffin
Referee - Tim Robinson
Attendance – 36,530 (746 away)