Millers hold play-off contenders ... on-the-whistle report: Rotherham United 1 Sunderland 1

BOTTOM club Rotherham United said goodbye to 2023 with a hard-earned Championship point against play-off contenders Sunderland at AESSEAL New York Stadium tonight.

A wonder-goal from Sam Clucas had given them hope of a second successive victory in their fight against relegation but they couldn't hold on for a priceless win.

They enter the New Year at the foot of the table but can take encouragement from the improvement new head coach Leam Richardson has wrought since his December 11 appointment.

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They were well worth a share of the spoils and the visitors needed a huge slice of luck with their goal to peg them back.

Dexter Lembikisa in first-half action for Rotherham United against Sunderland at AESSEAL New York Stadium. Picture: Jim BrailsfordDexter Lembikisa in first-half action for Rotherham United against Sunderland at AESSEAL New York Stadium. Picture: Jim Brailsford
Dexter Lembikisa in first-half action for Rotherham United against Sunderland at AESSEAL New York Stadium. Picture: Jim Brailsford

A slow start saw the Black Cats dominate possession but they did little with it and there was no attempt on goal at either end until Dan Neil let fly with a shot for the visitors that went wide in the 18th minute.

The home side suddenly sprang to life and had a flurry of opportunities in quickfire succession to take the lead.

Sam Nombe raced from the halfway line on to Hugill's pass only to be denied by Anthony Patterson's save before the Black Cats goalkeeper deflected Hakeem Odoffin's goalbound touch for a corner.

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Within seconds Nombe fired a shot just off target and then the Sunderland net somehow remained unbreached during a goalmouth scramble in which the ball refused to fall to the feet of a Millers player.

Sunderland, under new management in Michael Beale following the sacking of Tony Mowbray, had arrived at New York in the top six but were struggling to find a way through the Rotherham defence.

The depleted Millers' injury woes had grown even worse since their Boxing Day triumph over Middlebrough, with midfielder Ollie Rathbone and centre-half Daniel Ayala the latest players to be sidelined.

The absence of the former was a big loss for Rotherham while the latter was frustratingly unavailable having just completed a two-match for two dismissals.

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It meant they could name only six men on their bench in the third game of their four-match festive schedule.

The 11 out on the pitch did well and should have gone in at the interval in front.

They needed only three minutes of the second period when Clucas, starting in place of Rathbone, truly announced himself in Millers colours after his September move to New York.

The man with the Premier League pedigree took aim from outside the box and sent a stunning volley flying beyond Patterson in front of the kop.

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The lead lasted until the 73rd minute when a vicious deflection on a Jack Clarke shot was too much even for a goalkeeper of Viktor Johansson's capabilities.

Both teams had shouts for penalties waved away as the clock ticked down and home substitute Georgie Kelly shot wastefully wide from a difficult angle before Johansson got down sharply to keep out Timothee Pembele's header.

The final chance fell to another sub, Tom Eaves but he headed wide in the last minute of stoppage time.

The result was enough to close the gap to safety from nine points to eight and now the survival battle rolls into 2024.

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Rotherham (3-5-2): Viktor Johansson; Hakeem Odoffin, Sean Morrison, Seb Revan; Dexter Lembikisa (Arvin Appiah 77), Jamie Lindsay, Christ Tiehi, Sam Clucas (Cafu 68), Cohen Bramall; Sam Nombe (Georgie Kelly 77), Jordan Hugill (Tom Eaves 77). Subs not used: Dillon Phillips, Ciaran McGuckin.

Sunderland (4-2-3-1): Anthony Patterson; Jenson Seelt (Timothee Pembele 63), Luke O'Nien, Dan Ballard, Trai Hume; Pierre Ekwa (Alex Pritchard 63), Dan Neil; Patrick Roberts (Abdoullah Ba 15), Jobe Bellingham, Jack Clarke; Adil Aouchiche (Mason Burstow H-T). Subs not used: Nathan Bishop, Nazariy Rusyn, Jewison Bennette, Nectarios Triantis, Aji Alese.

Goals: Clucas 48 (Rotherham); Clarke 73 (Sunderland).

Referee: Tony Harrington (Hartlepool).

Attendance: 11,323 (2,420).