BASEMENT club Rotherham producing a rousing display in front of a 11,653 capacity crowd at the New York Stadium but it proved in vain as Christian Atsu crowned his full debut for Newcastle with what proved the winner.
The Millers were not helped by a warm-up knock which ruled out full-back Joe Mattock and another midway through the first half which saw Tom Adeyemi hobble off.
They were behind at the break but their never-say-die display against the relegated visitors almost produced an equaliser late on when Youan Gouffran deflected the ball against his own post and Will Vaulks’s header from the subsequent corner was cleared off the line.
Alan Stubbs named an unchanged side after Rotherham’s encouraging second-half performance in the 2-1 midweek defeat at leaders Huddersfield Town but Mattock was injured in the warm-up and replaced by Greg Halford with Darnell Fisher switching flanks and Richard Wood coming onto the bench.
Rafa Benitez gave a full debut to Chelsea loanee attacking midfield man and Ghana international Atsu and Dutch right-back Vurnon Anita returned after a three-match suspension.
This was a game between the team with the worst defensive record in the Championship, Rotherham, and a Newcastle side who had scored more goals than any other side in the division and boasted the best away record with 10 points from five games.
The Millers, however, gave as good as they got in the opening stages and after Dominic Ball cleared from inside his six-yard area a shot from Gouffran, Rotherham attacked and Karl Darlow did well to tip over a volley from Joe Newell.
Rotherham forced five corners in the opening 17 minutes and a deflected effort from Jon Taylor struck the bar with Darlow beaten.
However, they suffered another injury blow when Adeyemi damaged a calf and had to be replaced by Vaulks in the 26th minute.
Things went from bad to worse when Atsu cut inside Fisher and curled the ball beyond Lee Camp for a 41st-minute opener for the visitors.
It was a classy finish but the Millers hardly deserved to be behind at the break.
Neither side made a change for the second half and Dwight Gayle almost made it 2-0, stretching to reach a 48th-minute free-kick from Jonjo Shelvey but poking the ball wide of the far post.
Atsu’s low drive was then turned for a corner by Camp at full stretch after Mohamed Diame had sent the ball down the right channel and Shelvey hit over after receiving the ball back from his corner.
Rotherham hit back without testing Darlow and Fry did well to divert a goalbound shot from Diame at the other end before Atsu was replaced by Matt Ritchie in the 66th minute.
Shelvey, who was dominant in midfield, also tested Camp with a shot from outside the area before striker Dexter Blackstock was brought on for Newell in the 73rd minute.
Ciaran Clark almost headed the Geordies 2-0 ahead from their fifth corner of the half and they brought on Aleksander Mitrovic for Gayle.
The Millers threw men forward with the header from Vaulks almost bringing reward but it was not to be despite five minutes of stoppage time.
Rotherham manager Alan Stubbs felt midfielder Lee Frecklington was fouled in the build-up to the goal.
He said: “There is no doubt about it (the foul). If you look at the replay, it’s pretty obvious, there are two hands on ‘Frecks’ which makes him go to the floor.
“We have taken the game to Newcastle and, if I am being honest, it has been a pretty uncomfortable 90 minutes for them.
“We are certainly getting better. On Tuesday we could have taken a point and today one bit of quality has been the difference between the two teams.
“When you’re down there a little bit of luck deserts you but you have to make your own luck in this game. There were positives out of the display but not out of the result. For me it was a step in the right direction.
“If they keep performing like they have done in the last couple of games then it won’t be long until they start picking up points. I’ve got no doubts about that.”
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