Rotherham United v Middlesbrough - Red card sends Millers closer to the drop

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

Winner: Chuba Akpom of Middlesbrough celebrates with Yannick Bolasie and Marvin Johnson after scoring their side's second goal. Picture: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

His Rotherham United counterpart Paul Warne also likes his TV dramas. But the only episode of Casualty that is 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 Rotherham’s game plan.

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

On target: Chuba Akpom scoring the second Boro goal. Picture: Getty Images

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history with Rotherham after dismissing Michael Smith at Hillsborough on March 3 with the decision subsequently rescinded – as was his decision to send off Barnsley captain Alex Mowatt at Wycombe a fortnight later.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 the Boro player subsequently substituted after treatment.

It looked accidental, with Crooks’s look of bewilderment afterwards speaking volumes.

After being on the receiving end of some hard calls, 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 games through goals from George Saville and Chuba Akpom.

Akpom’s winner 10 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. 

Beforehand, the feeling was inescapable that Rotherham 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 10 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 perfectly.

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 complexion. It was ‘two different games’ as Warne put it after. United fed off scraps. 

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

Boro then hit the bar twice through Jonny Howson’s strike and Bolasie’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 main 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, Bolasie (Coburn 87). Substitutes unused: Bettinelli, Hackney, Kokolo, Robinson.

Referee: D Bond (Lancashire).