Rotherham United 1 Middlesbrough 0: Millers punish wasteful Boro to record a famous and relieving win

BOXING DAY was appropriately named for Rotherham United given the amount of blows that have rained down upon them in a punishing 2023-24 campaign to date.

Nine points adrift of safety ahead of the game with no wins in their previous 11 matches since late October, the Millers were battered and bruised heading into one of the biggest days in the domestic football calendar.

They ended it with the most precious of victories, albeit an unlikely one.

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It was a game which saw opponents Middlesbrough muster 19 shots and boast 71 per cent possession.

AESSEAL New York Stadium, home of Rotherham United. Picture: PAAESSEAL New York Stadium, home of Rotherham United. Picture: PA
AESSEAL New York Stadium, home of Rotherham United. Picture: PA

Keeping in the boxing theme, the Teessiders floated like a butterfly for spells, but unfortunately stung like one as well.

The hosts had one chance and took it gleefully to record the first win of the Leam Richardson era.

Arguably the sweetest moment in the Millers’ troubled campaign arrived when Cohen Bramall’s cross-shot sailed over aghast Boro keeper Tom Glover - whose positoning was somewhat suspect and three-quarters of the AESSEAL New York Stadium celebrated on 72 minutes. It was Bramall’s first Millers goal on home soil.

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Richardson said: "Credit goes all to the players for the victory.

"The level of performance typified where we are (after the Plymouth and Leicester games) and we probably deserved that bit of luck to get the result today."

Boro counterpart Michael Carrick rued: "I think it's the first time we haven't not conceded a shot on target and have lost the game.

"We limited them to literally next to nothing and controlled it, really.

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"The other side is the chances we have created and have not taken. We created more than enough opportunities to win the game.

"It's a very strange game, sometimes. We feel sore, it's crazy."

Against one of the division’s pure football sides - and one in good order of late - Rotherham rewound the clock a little to afford themselves some welcome hope.

It was on May 1 that a pumped-up Millers side secured their cherished Championship status for another season in front of a high-octane holiday crowd against Boro - displaying the best traditions of Rotherham teams of yore.

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They did that again by digging deep and throwing bodies on the line in the second half as Boro’s efforts to find the net grew more frantic on Tuesday.

The final whistle was relieving as the Millers conjured their first three points of the winter. A famous win, also akin to their late-season victory in Neil Warnock's 'Great Escape' season in 2015-16 when they nicked three points over a promotion-chasing Boro side.

For all Boro’s polish, they had only themselves to blame in the final analysis.

The Teessiders were without a recognised centre-forward on the pitch and for all their artistry, it showed.

The tone was set in the first period.

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Boro did force Viktor Johansson to make one splendid save, a super tip-over to keep out Sam Greenwood, yet aside from that, their finishing lacked the swagger of their approach play and was enough to keep the hosts interested with the scoreline being their friend at half-time.

The Millers were opened up enough times in the first half. Sides in the play-off mix finish teams off. Boro didn’t.

While Greenwood did genuinely test Johansson, he was very charitable later after some sublime work by Morgan Rogers and Isaiah Jones prized open the hosts - clipping the crossbar when he really should have finished.

More meek finishing arrived following a quick-fire Boro break. Jones’s effort was tame and straight at Johansson, who soldiered on manfully after suffering an early injury when diving at the feet of Rogers.

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On the resumption, Rotherham started to win more second balls and hint at changing the narrative. Boro continued with their earlier traits, with Sam Silvera firing wide after being sent clear by a defence-splitting pass from Jonny Howson.

Moments later, referee Andrew Kitchen was not interested after Alex Bangura went down in the box under pressure from Hakeem Odoffin. Johansson then denied the profligate Greenwood.

The goal that would finally arrive came at the other end as Michael Carrick stood motionless, slightly bewildered in his technical area.

As one famous son of Middlesbrough in the late Brian Clough once said, it only takes a second to score a goal.

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The feeling that it was not Boro's day, however hard they tried was confirmed again when Riley McGree's low drive shuddered against the post.

Following a rotten campaign when they have had plenty thrown at them, here was a rare moment to savour for United.

Rotherham United: Johansson; Lembikisa (Appiah 66), Odoffin, Morrison, Revan, Bramall; Lindsay (Clucas 83), Tiehi, Rathbone; Hugill (Cafu 90+2), Nombe (Eaves 66). Substitutes unused: Phillips, Kelly, McGuckin.

Middlesbrough: Glover; Dijksteel (Coburn 77), Fry, Clarke, Bangura (Engel 77); Howson (Crooks 90+1), Barlaser; I Jones, Rogers, Greenwood (McGree 70); Silvera (Kavanagh 90+2). Substitutes unused: J Jones, Van den Berg, Gilbert, Bridge.

Referee: A Kitchen (Durham).

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