MATCH REPORT: Victorious Millers are heading for the play-offs

ROTHERHAM United confirmed their place in the League One play-offs with a hard-fought win over mid-table Bristol Rovers.
Celebration time after Michael Smith's opener. Pictures: KERRIE BEDDOWSCelebration time after Michael Smith's opener. Pictures: KERRIE BEDDOWS
Celebration time after Michael Smith's opener. Pictures: KERRIE BEDDOWS

An early strike from Michael Smith and a late one from substitute Caolan Lavery secured a 2-0 win and a place in the end-of-season shootout with two games to spare.

The applause at the end at a sunny AESSEAL New York Stadium were thoroughly deserved for a team that some had written off before Christmas.

After being forced to defend in the opening exchanges, Rotherham took the lead with virtually their first venture forward. Smith robbed James Clarke on halfway and hared clear before sizing up a super finish into the top corner.

The goal lifted the crowd and the home side and Will Vaulks was a whisker away from doubling the advantage when stabbing narrowly over from Matt Palmer’s corner.

Again lining up in a 4-5-1, with Joe Newell coming in for Ryan Williams, the Millers found the visitors to be durable opponents and there was a lull before the next chance, tamely placed wide by Richie Towell from a crisp three-man passing move.

Despite seeing plenty of the ball, Rovers' only real clear sight of goal in the first half saw Ellis Harrison plant a header straight at Marek Rodak.

Josh Emmanuel on the charge.

The home supporters, many in shirt sleeves for the first time in a long time, thought their team should have had a penalty when Newell went to ground soon after half time but the referee was having none of it.

Both defences looked comfortable for much of the second period. There were sporadic bursts from Rovers while sub Ryan Williams just couldn’t get enough contact on a lovely low ball in from Newell.

The biggest scare came late on when Kyle Bennett was slipped clean through for the visitors but the reliable Rodak stood tall to make an important save before the victory was sealed in the 90th minute.

Newell centered and Lavery stole in to turn the ball home in front of a jubilant kop.

It capped a good afternoon and guaranteed a finish in the top six, some achievemebt after last seasons’ crushing relegation from the Championship.

Millers: Rodak, Emmanuel, Purrington, Ihiekwe, Wood; Taylor (Williams 64), Vaulks, Palmer (Ajayi 75), Towell (Lavery 58), Newell; Smith.

Bristol Rovers: Slocombe, Lockyer, Clarke, Harrison, Nichols, Lines, Clarke, Moore, Bola, Craig, Bennett

Referee: Andy Haines (Tyne & Wear)

Attendance: 8,579