Millers slip to opening day defeat.....
Rotherham United had a day to forget in their Sky Bet Championship opener as a new-look Stoke City ran out comfortable victors at the bet365 Stadium.
Two of the home side’s summer recruits, Ki-Jana Hoever and Andre Vidigal – with a brace – made themselves instant hits with the Stoke faithful as Alex Neil’s side raced into a three-goal interval lead.
To their credit, the Millers – despite the game being as good as over – rallied in the second 45 when sub Lee Peltier reduced the arrears but salt was rubbed into Rotherham wounds when firstly Cafu was sent off for two yellow cards before Jacob Brown added a fourth goal.
The Millers headed to Staffordshire in good heart following a successful pre-season campaign.
There were a number of summer recruits in the visitors’ starting line-up.
Cafu and Fred Onyedinma made their competitive bows in Millers’ colours.
Experienced Championship campaigner Sean Morrison took on the skipper’s armband.
Fellow signings Dillon Phillips and Dexter Lembikisa were named on the bench.
The Millers – who came out on top by a solitary goal in their last league visit largely thanks to a superb performance from Viktor Johansson – had no such luck this time around.
Matt Taylor’s side were on the backfoot almost immediately when Tyler Blackett was penalised for bundling over Ryan Mmaee just outside the box but the home side failed to make it count from the resultant free-kick when Vidigal fired straight into the Rotherham wall.
The Millers failed to heed the early warning when Stoke broke the deadlock in their next attack.
There looked little danger until Potters skipper Josh Laurent floated a lovely cross field pass into acres of space and Hoever made a sweet connection with a controlled volley, and Johansson was powerless as the ball flew into the roof of the Millers net.
Minutes later, Jordan Hugill had a sniff of goal following a long punt forward but he failed to make the most of the opportunity with a tame effort before the home fans were off their seats appealing for a spot kick when Hakeem Odoffin charged down Enda Stevens’ cross, but the referee waved away vehement home protests.
The Millers produced their best move to date when Ollie Rathbone found Cohen Bramall, who in turn, picked out Ben Wiles, but the Rawmarsh-born midfielder could only prod over from the edge of the box under pressure from home defenders.
Bramall was a victim of the new rules when he was cautioned for modestly kicking the ball away to prevent Stoke from taking a quick set-piece before Odoffin soon joined him in the book for hauling down Vidigal near the touchline.
There were bookings a plenty when Brown was harshly adjudged to have hauled over Onyedinma, before he took the shot on, possibly in frustration, and the referee again brandished the yellow-card.
The Millers were thankful to Blackett for a timely clearance as Daniel Johnson looked on course to find Brown unmarked, and just yards from goal.
The visitors had another moment of concern when Johansson needed lengthy treatment following a collision involving Onyedinma and Vidigal, but the Swedish stopper was thankfully able to continue.
Minutes later, Cafu showed great poise to find Wiles, who skipped away from his marker, before firing low with his weaker left-foot, but his effort was straight down the throat of Mark Travers.
In the seven minutes of stoppage time, the Millers arguably had a stroke of luck when Johnson’s threaded pass saw Morrison in a footrace of Brown, who tumbled under his challenge, but the referee decided to only brandish a yellow-card to the Rotherham captain.
Nevertheless, Stoke exacted retribution – in the following set-piece – when Johnson clipped a cross into the box and Ben Wilmot cleverly knocked down into the path of Vidigal, who found himself on the wrong side of the Rotherham defence, and he calmly slid the ball into the heart of the visitors goal.
The Millers’ heads were in a spin and Mmaee failed to trouble Johansson when given a sight of goal.
However, Stoke managed to add a third goal when Mmaee skipped past some half-hearted Rotherham challenges to bare down on goal, and although Johansson won the battle of wills in the one-on-one situation, the ball fell kindly for Vidigal, who kept his nerve to fire home his second goal via the inside of the post.
Half-time: Stoke City 3 Rotherham United 0
Taylor reshuffled his defensive pack at the interval with Lee Peltier introduced at the expense of Morrison, while reverting to a back four in the process.
The Millers were given a much-needed boost when they reduced the arrears just minutes into the half.
Cafu delivered a corner into the danger area which Cameron Humphreys appeared to nod down into the six-yard box, and Peltier – with presumably his first touch – forced the ball home from close range.
The Millers temporarily had a spring in their step until Cafu was cautioned for bringing down Laurent before Peltier – just minutes after scoring – was forced out of the game with a muscle injury, in what proved to be a bitter-sweet and short-lived participation.
Taylor’s side were refusing to throw in the towel and Onyedinma raced away from Hoever, momentarily, but the home scorer halted his progress before Cafu blasted over from long range.
The Millers’ afternoon took another turn for the worst with just over 20 minutes to go when Cafu brought down Mmaee on halfway and the referee adjudged the Millers midfielder to have been high in his challenge, and he was given his marching orders for a second bookable offence.
The visitors were now intent on damage limitation and with Stoke not replicating their first half momentum, there was little to report until Mmaee became the latest to see yellow.
The home side almost added a fourth goal when Hoever picked out an unmarked Vidigal – who looked set to claim the match ball with a powerful point-blank header – but Johansson denied him his hat-trick with a superb, reflex save.
Laurent was yellow-carded for bringing down Wiles before Hoever had a shot deflected over when he burst onto Laurent’s pass.
The reprieve was only temporary though when Stoke put the icing on the cake of a polished performance when Johnson swung over a corner which Wilmot flicked on and Brown kept his nerve to sweep home a fourth goal at the far post.
Full-time: Stoke City 4 Rotherham United 1
Stoke City 4
Rotherham United 1
Teams: Stoke- Travers, Stevens, Pearson (Thompson 78), Rose, Vidigal (Wesley 90), Brown, Johnson, Wilmot, However, Mmaee (Chiquinho 75), Laurent. Unused- Bonham, Tymon, McNally, Sidibe, Okagbue, Lowe.
Rotherham- Johansson, Bramall, Blackett, Cafu, Wiles, Hugill (Kelly 62). Onyedinma (McCart 78), Rathbone (Kayode 78), Odoffin, Morrison (Peltier 46, Lembikisa 58), Humphreys. Unused- Phillips, Bola, McGuckin, Ayres.
Referee- J Busby
Attendance- 22601 (1672)