Rotherham United 2 Sunderland 1: Millers show real heart for the battle - and so much more

If staying in the Championship was all about appetite, you would put your mortgage on Rotherham United bucking the trend of their last four seasons there.

Where you do worry about them is the extra moments of quality to make their defensive work pay off.

Two great finishes by Ollie Rathbone and Shane Ferguson, one in each half, did just that to add another twist to the relegation battle.

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It is incredible how lacklustre teams can suddenly start winning games as soon as the threat of relegation looms and in the last few days alone, most of the teams at the sharp end of the second tier have had a moment in the sun.

GOAL: Rotherham United captain Ollie Rathbone (right) celebrates opening the scoringGOAL: Rotherham United captain Ollie Rathbone (right) celebrates opening the scoring
GOAL: Rotherham United captain Ollie Rathbone (right) celebrates opening the scoring

Rotherham's 2-1 win took them above a Cardiff City who had back-to-back wins last week and opened a five-point gap to the relegation zone.

Joe Gelhardt's 61st-minute goal tested Rotherham resolve but they were more than up to it.

Lee Peltier was outstanding in defence before picking up an injry and so was Wes Harding when he came on for Grant Hall.

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When the Millers needed him, goalkeeper Viktor Johansson came up with the saves.

But this Rotherham are more than just scrappers. Rathbone was terrific in midfield once more, despite a groin injury which stopped him completing the 90 minutes and Fosu produced the touches so important to his game without neglecting the work ethic you need to play in the middle of a Miller's team.

It took 19 minutes for Rathbone to come up with the game's first shot on goal but the stand-in captain made the most of it.

Tariq Fosu played a clever ball on to the other man in a V-shaped three-man Millers midfield and he produced a precise shot which left Anthony Patterson with no chance.

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Sunderland were provoked into their first shot almost immediately but Johansson turned Alex Pritchard's shot around the post.

Until then it had been slim pickings, a clever pass Pritchard slid down the channel picking out Amad Diallo but the winger unable to find Joe Gelhardt.

Like Gelhardt, Rotherham's Leo Hjelde is on loan from Leeds United and the defender showed the quickness of mind needed in the Premier League to get ahead of Diallo – borrowed from Manchester United – but not the precision to pick out Fosu.

It would not be the last time he showed that extra sharpness.

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Not that the goal changed things much beyond Sunderland's initial response.

Peltier, so good defensively, headed over at a corner and Johansson was very quick off his line to deny Gelhardt.

Jordan Hugill was appealing for a penalty in the 36th minute as he went down under Rathbone's cross. Those whose eyes followed the ball would not have seen what happened, and the officials may have fallen into that category.

Either way, replays suggested not much more than a coming together with Luke O'Nien.

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Hugill's frustrated foul on Ballard quickly after earned him a booking.

Rotherham's passing got more confident as half-time approached and although the chances fell to Sunderland, Diallo and Gelhardt coming off the right, neither could take them.

Four minutes after Gelhardt had a header disallowed for offisde, Rotherham hit them with another precise finish.

Fosu robbed Dan Neil in midfield and saw the bursting run of Ferguson, which no one in powder blue could match. The former Newcastle United man put his shot just inside Patterson's left-hand post.

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That greater hunger for the ball was becoming a feature, Coventry showing it against Pritchard, Chiedozie Ogbene with Dennis Cirkin and Fosu again robbing Ballard.

Substitute Harding produced a thumping tackle on Aji Alese then a big clearing header.

But the Black Cats do have quality and now, Gelhardt.

Johansson beat away his shot from a tight angle but could do nothing about his header from O'Nien's cross. It left half an hour to hold out.

Rotherham did not limit their ambitions to that, though, bringing on strikers Georgie Kelly and Conor Washington to make sure Sunderland could not pile forward with abandon.

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The former picked out the latter to strike a post in the 84th minute.

Johansson comfortably held Gelhardt’s header in the 89th minute and five minutes into a seemingly endless stoppage time, he saved with his feet from the striker.

Gelhardt was quick to the rebound but Harding was not much slower, throwing himself in the way.

It summed up the hosts' determination but it would be disrespectful to pretend there was not so much more to them.

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Rotherham United: Johansson; Peltier (Odoffin 77), Humphreys, Hall (Harding 45), Hjelde; Rathbone (Washington 79), Coventry, Fosu; Ogbene, Hugill (Kelly 77), Ferguson (Lindsay 64). Unused substitutes: Vickers, Bramall, Kelly.

Sunderland: Patterson, O'Nien, Ballard, Batth (Hume 63), Cirkin (Alese 63); Neil, Michut (Roberts 63); Diallo, Pritchard (Ba 85), Clarke (Bennette 85); Gelhardt. Unused substitutes: Unused substitutes: Bass, Ekwah.

Referee: C Kavanagh (Manchester).