Millers denied by cruel leveller.....
Rotherham United were dealt a cruel blow in their Sky Bet Championship survival battle when Jack Clarke’s deflected effort earned Sunderland a share of the spoils and denied the Millers a North East winning double.
Sam Clucas’ first goal in Millers colours looked set to earn Leam Richardson’s side back-to-back victories but Rotherham – who were beneficiaries of a fortunate goal at the weekend against Middlesbrough thanks to Cohen Bramall’s strike – found that lady luck was against them when Clarke’s effort took a wicked deflection off Jamie Lindsay to level matters, this time around.
Following their much-needed victory over Boro on Boxing Day, Richardson was forced into one change to his starting line-up.
Box-to-box midfielder Ollie Rathbone was unavailable and Clucas was recalled to the home engine room.
There was little to report in the early stages with Sunderland taking command of the majority of possession but Rotherham were generally holding their shape although Jack Clarke embarked on a direct run which ended when the ball ran away from him before Dan Neil over hit a centre which evaded visiting runners.
Christ Tiehi showed a lovely piece of skill to emerge from a tricky situation but the home move came to nothing.
Just past the quarter hour, Sunderland had the first shot in anger when Trai Hume presented Neil with the chance to strike and he duly obliged with a fierce effort from distance which had Viktor Johansson scrambling across goal as it fizzed narrowly wide of the target.
Despite showing very little from an attacking sense, Rotherham had a quartet of chances to break the deadlock within a matter of minutes but Sunderland’s defence and in particular, Anthony Patterson provided stern resistance to maintain parity.
The game sprang to life when Nombe got a timely toe in to win possession on halfway and after being played through by Hugill, Nombe showed Neil a clean pair of heels to dart towards goal but Patterson won the battle of wills in the one-on-one situation with a brave block at close quarters.
From the resultant corner, Clucas delivered a teasing centre which Odoffin looked to deftly flick towards goal - with the aid of a slight nick off a Sunderland defender - but a backtracking Patterson smartly palmed the ball over his own bar.
The Millers were having a golden spell and Nombe tried his luck from just outside the box but again Patterson was his equal with a fine parried save.
In the next phase of play, Clucas again planted a tantalising corner into the danger area and with Sunderland failing to clear the danger, Jamie Lindsay – with his back to goal – agonisingly failed to turn the ball home from close range before Odoffin blasted over from just yards out.
Sunderland appeared to have weathered the storm and Clarke almost made the home side pay when he cleverly worked a shooting position before firing wide.
Jobe Bellingham – who got a brace in the reverse fixture at the Stadium of Light – became the first to see yellow for hauling down Tiehi in full flow.
Rotherham almost exacted retribution from the resultant free-kick when Sunderland failed to handle the delivery into the box and Nombe’s lofted ball was flicked on by skipper Sean Morrison but Odoffin could not control his instinctive point-blank header as he failed to hit the target.
Half-time: Rotherham United 0 Sunderland 0
The Millers – who had the best of the first-half chances – made the perfect start to the second 45 when the home side probed down the right flank and a clipped cross into the box was only half-cleared by the head of Pierre Ekwah and the ball looped invitingly for the on-rushing Clucas, who made no mistake with a sweet strike with his favoured left-foot from around 20 yards and Patterson was helpless this time, as the ball flew into the heart of the Sunderland net.
Both sides traded chances when Clarke - often a tormentor of the Millers - had a dangerous near post cross snuffed out while blasting over with another effort before Morrison nodded over from a corner at the other end.
Just before the hour mark, Hume stung the palms of Johansson with a snap shot from a tight angle before Nombe found himself in the book for a foul on Dan Ballard.
Richardson made a midfield change with just over 20 minutes to go when Clucas was withdrawn to a generous ovation from three corners of the AESSEAL New York Stadium and Cafu was introduced.
The away travelling contingent, themselves, were calling for Alex Pritchard from the bench and the Black Cats playmaker almost conjured up a chance – soon after his arrival - but Seb Revan took the sting out of his shot and Johansson was able to gather with ease.
The Millers were looking relatively comfortable at this stage but there was a sting in the tail when fate conspired against them this time around after their lucky winner at the weekend.
Pritchard swung over a cross which Johansson through a ruck of bodies parried away but the ball fell for Clarke, who tried his luck with a first-time shot but his effort took a huge deflection off Lindsay, who was looking to charge down on the edge of the box, and it was agonising for all those of a Rotherham United persuasion when Johansson was in no position to intervene, as the ball spun and dipped into the home goal.
The home side responded positively to the setback and Cafu struck a free kick into the Sunderland wall before dribbling a shot well wide, just minutes later.
Richardson then made a triple substitution with a winner in mind as Arvin Appiah, Tom Eaves and Georgie Kelly were introduced but it was Sunderland, who threatened next when O’Nien volleyed goalwards, but Odoffin put his body on the line to block his effort en-route goal.
The game was very much in the balance and both sides had glimpses of goal in the dying minutes with Eaves heading wide and Johansson – not for the first time coming to Rotherham’s rescue - when he denied Timothee Pembele following a downward header.
The Millers will take great credit for taking four points out of six, but in the circumstances, Richardson’s side will think themselves unfortunate about not claiming another highly-fancied scalp.
Full-time: Rotherham United 1 Sunderland 1
Rotherham United 1
Teams: Rotherham- Johansson, Lembikisa (Appiah 78), Bramall, Clucas (Cafu 68), Hugill (Eaves 78), Lindsay, Odoffin, Morrison, Tiehi, Revan, Nombe (Kelly 78). Unused- Phillips, McGuckin.
Sunderland- Patterson, Ballard, Bellingham, Roberts (Ba 15), O’Nien, Clarke, Aouchiche (Burstow 46), Seelt (Pembele 63), Neil, Hume, Ekwah (Pritchard 63). Unused- Bishop, Rusyn, Bennette, Triantis, Alese.
Referee- T Harrington
Attendance- 11323 (2420)