Rotherham United 1 Middlesbrough 2: Controversial red card leaves Millers sore

NEIL WARNOCK admitted to having a little cry when watching his favourite television programme ‘Call the Midwife’ on Sunday when a new series began.

Chuka Akpom celebrates his goal for Middlesbrough at Rotherham United. Picture: Getty.

His Rotherham United counterpart Paul Warne also likes his TV dramas. But the only episode of ‘Casualty’ that is currently occupying his thoughts revolves around avoiding the bitter pill of relegation as opposed to hospital matters.

On the pitch, there is a pressing emergency after a third successive home defeat left them firmly entrenched in the drop zone and this one was made more grievous by an early dismissal which shattered the Millers' game plan.

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It was one of tense, controversial nights that this period of the season throws up from time to time and it was Rotherham’s rotten fortune that the game turned on the hugely controversial - and erroneous looking - dismissal of Matt Crooks on 18 minutes by referee Darren Bond.

Bond, of course, had previous history with Rotherham after dismissing Michael Smith at Hillsborough on March 3 with the decision subsequently rescinded - as was his decision to send off Barnsley captain Alex Mowatt at Wycombe a fortnight later.

His judgement also looked flawed when he sent off Crooks for a perceived elbow as he rose and caught Hall in an aerial duel, with Boro player subsequently substituted after a fair bit of treatment.

It looked a purely accidental clash of heads, with Crooks’s look of bewilderment afterwards speaking volumes.

After being on the receiving end of some hard calls this season, here was a big one in favour of Warnock, whose side used their extra man to full use and controlled the rest of the game to claim a relieving first win in six matches courtesy of goals from George Saville and Chuba Akpom.

Akpom’s winner ten minutes into the second half - with his first goal since January 2 - owed a bit to a rare mistake from Viktor Johansson, who had been fortunate earlier when Duncan Watmore nipped in to score in the sixth minute, only for Bond to deem that the keeper had full control of the ball on the ground. It looked a charitable call.

It was an evening when the likes of Yannick Bolaise, Watmore and Neeskens Kebano feasted on the extra space on a night when the feeling was inescapable that Rotherham - whose spirits were lifted by Derby’s loss at Preston the previous night - had to win to provide their survival quest with a momentum charge.

Should the Millers somehow stay up, it would probably surpass their ‘Great Escape’ under Warnock in 2015-16.

Inspection of Boro’s match-day squad - with ten first-teamers not featuring for different reasons and five teenagers with no league appearances for the club named on a six-strong bench - should have given them a pre-match lift and the game started in perfect fashion.

Angus MacDonald picked an exquisitely-timed moment to score his first goal in Millers colours, heading in from a corner from the recalled Joe Mattock, with the defender also perfectly placed to clear an Akpom effort off the line as Boro fought back.

But the dismissal changed the game’s direction of travel. It was ‘two different games’ as Warne succinctly put it, with Millers pushed to feed off scraps after that, playing for just over seventy minutes with ten men.

The leveller also had an element of controversy when a short corner routine, which started with a moving ball, ended with Kebano deceiving Ben Wiles and finding George Saville, but there was nothing in doubt about his fabulous rising finish which flew past Johansson.

Boro then hit the bar twice in the blink of an eye through Jonny Howson’s strike and Bolaise’s follow-up, but the second-half breakthrough was not long in coming.

Floored, psychologically, there was little by way of a response from Rotherham. Howson rued his luck when he struck the bar for a second time, this time with a header, but the element talking point regarding fortune favoured Boro. For once.

Rotherham United: Johansson, Harding (Giles 75), Ihiekwe, A MacDonald; Sadlier (Ogbene 71), Barlaser (Lindsay 45), Wiles, Crooks, Mattock (Olosunde 45); Smith (Hirst 82), Ladapo. Substitutes unused: Blackman, Wood, Clarke, Jozefzoon.

Middlesbrough: Archer, McNair, Hall (Malley 24), Bola; Kebano, Howson, Saville, Johnson; Watmore, Akpom, Bolaise (Coburn 87). Substitutes unused: Bettinelli, Hackney, Kokolo, Robinson.

Referee: D Bond (Lancashire).