RESURGENT Rotherham United ended the year on a high thanks to David Ball’s second-half winner at Walsall.
After Semi Ajayi opened the scoring inside the first minute, Walsall hit back to equalise and played their part in a tight contest.
But it was Ball who made the difference, pouncing from close range to earn a 2-1 win, the Millers’ fourth victory in the last five matches. It was the striker’s five goal in seven games and he also made the opener.
The clock was showing just 58 seconds when the home team were caught cold. Ball darted into the box and his low cross set up the simplest of finishes for Ajayi.
Despite looking second best in the opening exchanges, Walsall levelled from their first serious attack on 12 minutes with a goal which left question marks over the defending. Luke Leahy swung in a cross and Joe Edwards, unmarked, directed his header beyond the dive of Marek Rodak.
Edwards also stung the palms of Rodak from distance while Anthony Forde was denied a goal against his old club when Mark Gillespie darted out quickly to make an important save.
Rotherham survived two close calls before going in at half time even. Zeli Ismail curled an effort an effort close but the his team-mate Erhun Oztumer wasted the best chance of the half. The man dubbed the “Turkish Messi” turned his marker on the edge of the box but pulled his shot wide of an unguarded goal.
Kieffer Moore was introduced at half time ahead of his impending return to parent club Ipswich. His physicality ruffled the home defence and the big man had a hand in the Millers’ second goal on 58 minutes. He powered a header downwards and Ball nipped in ahead of the keeper to score.
Enjoyed that...Semi Ajayi celebrates his opener.
Simeon Jackson, fresh on a sub, thought he had the ball over the line from Walsall’s next assault, with the referee waving away strong appeals.
The final 20 minutes were tense as the hosts pushed on and committed more men forward, but it took a smart stop from Gillespie to keep out a fierce drive from Williams in the closing stages.
The Millers, now up to seventh in League One, celebrated in front of the travelling fans at the finish and now face a quick turn-around before Monday’s attractive home clash with Blackburn.
Walsall: Gillespie; Devlin, Leahy (Candlin 85), Roberts, Guthrie; Ismail, Chambers, Edwards, Morris (Kouhyar 61); Oztumer; Agyeil (Jackson 69)
Millers: Rodak; Emmanuel, Vaulks, Ajayi, Mattock; Forde, Frecklington (Wood 63), Towell, Williams; Yates (Moore HT), Ball (Newell 90)
Referee: Graham Salisbury (Lancashire)
Attendance: 4,685 (765 visitors)