Millers grab vital win.....
Rotherham United breathed much-needed life into their Sky Bet Championship survival hopes following an eye-catching victory over Middlesbrough at a highly-charged AESSEAL New York Stadium.
The Millers tasted victory for the first time since late October and earned their first points under the stewardship of Leam Richardson when Cohen Bramall – with just his second ever goal in Millers colours – settled the Boxing Day affair in the Millers favour, in somewhat fortuitous circumstances with a left-wing cross which flew straight into the Middlesbrough net.
Following their weekend reversal at the hands of Premier League-bound Leicester City, Richardson named an unchanged line-up.
Richardson was able to call upon the services of Portuguese playmaker Cafu – who was fit enough to take his place on the bench – following hamstring trouble.
There were a couple of familiar faces in the Boro squad. One time loanee Dael Fry lined up at the heart of the visiting rearguard while former fan favourites, Dan Barlaser and Matt Crooks, were given a generous ovation prior to kick-off as they returned to their old stomping ground with Barlaser starting and Crooks named among the replacements.
Barlaser – as he often did in Rotherham colours – was asked to orchestrate midfield affairs for the North East outfit and he was in the thick of the early action with a lovely slide-rule ball which presented Sam Greenwood with the chance to pick out Isaiah Jones, who fired goalwards, but skipper Sean Morrison struck out a timely leg to divert the ball away from goal.
Minutes later, Jones fired straight into the grateful arms of Viktor Johansson from the edge of the box following good work by Anfernee Dijksteel before the Swedish stopper showed great bravery to dive at the feet of Morgan Rogers, in a nasty looking collision.
There was a delay in the action as Johansson needed lengthy treatment but to the collective relief of three corners of the AESSEAL New York Stadium, Rotherham’s vital last line of defence was able to continue.
This was no more in evidence than just past the quarter hour when Sam Silvera found Greenwood, who got the ball from under his feet to fire a fierce effort which was arrowing into the roof of the Rotherham net until a late, superb fingertip save from the home ‘keeper.
From the resultant corner, Greenwood nodded wide from Barlaser’s set-piece before the former Millers midfielder gave Dijksteel the chance to strike, but Bramall blocked his effort en-route to goal.
Boro skipper Jonny Howson latched onto the breakdown of a Barlaser free-kick but his left-footed effort arched away from the target.
Michael Carrick’s side were having the lion’s share of possession and territory and Rotherham were indebted to the woodwork for maintaining parity just before the half-hour mark.
Rogers injected pace into a visitors’ move and found Jones – who made light work of Seb Revan – before pulling the ball back into the path of Greenwood, who struck a rising effort which beat the outstretched hand of Johansson, but smashed against the crossbar before fortuitously falling to safety.
Minutes later, Rotherham created their best move of the match to date when they worked the ball up the pitch before Ollie Rathbone clipped a ball forward which Jordan Hugill quickly got under his spell but he could shoot harmlessly wide of the target with his weaker left-foot.
In the next home attack, Morrison found himself in an unfamiliar right-wing role, after taking a long throw, and he delivered a near-post centre which Nombe attempted to cleverly back flick towards goal but he was crowded out by a masse of Boro defenders.
The Millers were almost caught short of numbers defensively when Jones and Silvera combined smartly on the counter-attack but the former’s low shot was comfortably smothered by Johansson.
In the last act of the first 45, Jamie Lindsay embarked on a lung-bursting run from deep inside his own half but Nombe failed to make the breakaway count with an over hit centre.
Half-time: Rotherham United 0 Middlesbrough 0
The Millers – now attacking the KCM Waste Management Stand – started the second half with a more positive intent and Lindsay and Rathbone swapped several passes to put Boro on the backfoot before Rathbone’s deep centre forced Tom Glover into a parried clearance.
The home fans had raised the decibel level and the Millers players were responding in kind by having their best spell of the game but Lembikisa’s cross following some good build-up play was cut out with ease.
The visitors gradually regained the ascendancy and Howson’s inch-perfect through ball was inviting for the speedy run of Silvera – who showed Morrison a clean pair of heels initially – but the Millers skipper stuck to his task to narrow the angle as best he could, and the Middlesbrough forward could only flash his low shot narrowly wide of the far post.
The home side had another scare when another lovely through ball bisected the Rotherham defence and Alex Bangura looked set to test the home goal before Odoffin – in a last ditch attempt to prevent him shooting goalwards – appeared to bundle him over in the box but despite vehement appeals from the Boro players and fans behind the goal, the referee waved away their protests.
Carrick’s side had upped the tempo and a lovely one-two involving Rogers and Silvera presented Greenwood – who was in an inviting position - with the chance to fire goalwards, but despite looking a certain scorer, Revan bravely put his body on the line with a superb goal-saving block.
The moment proved crucial when Rotherham – arguably against the run of play - took the decisive lead with 19 minutes to go.
There looked little danger for Boro when Rathbone gave Bramall the opportunity to cross, just in front of Jones, and the Rotherham speedster duly obliged with a fierce first-time centre which looked to be aimed at sub Tom Eaves at the far post, and to the amazement of all those present, and perhaps, Bramall, himself, the ball sailed over the outstretched of Glover to find the far corner of the visitors goal.
The visitors were temporarily rattled by the setback but one of Carrick’s substitutes almost got them back on level terms with ten minutes to go.
Australian midfielder Riley McGree tried his luck with a lovely, low effort from distance but the slightest of touches from a fully-stretched Johansson and the upright kept the visitors at bay.
Naturally, Rotherham were now clearly intent on preserving their slender advantage and they were proving a tough nut to crack with Odoffin the latest to demonstrate their defensive fortitude with a well-timed sliding block to deny fellow sub Josh Coburn.
Boro’s frustration was summed up when Silvera wastefully blazed over twice from the edge of the box.
Odoffin put his body on the line again to deny Rogers soon after before Johansson released the pressure on the hosts when he plucked Howson’s cross out of the South Yorkshire sky.
In the dying minutes, Crooks – in his first involvement from the bench – nodded wide of the Millers goal from Barlaser’s centre.
The Millers were hanging on to all intent and purposes and McGree squandered Boro’s last chance of note when he fired across the face of goal evading a number of visiting runners.
The final whistle saw the Millers' fans acclaim the efforts of their side – who rode their luck at times – but showed great resolve to hold out and claim a vital victory in their attempts to beat the drop.
Full-time: Rotherham United 1 Middlesbrough 0
Rotherham United 1
Teams: Rotherham- Johansson, Lembikisa (Appiah 66), Bramall, Hugill (Cafu 90+2), Lindsay (Clucas 83), Rathbone, Odoffin, Morrison, Tiehi, Revan, Nombe (Eaves 66). Unused- Phillips, Kelly, McGuckin.
Middlesbrough- Glover, Barlaser, Clarke, Fry, Rogers, I Jones, Dijksteel (Coburn 77), Howson (Crooks 90+1), Silvera (Kavanagh 90+2), Bangura (Engel 77), Greenwood (McGree 70). Unused- J Jones, Van den Berg, Gilbert, Bridge.
Referee- A Kitchen
Attendance- 11487 (2404)