Middlesbrough 0 Rotherham United 0: Millers end losing streak in stalemate

Rotherham United manager Paul Warne.
Rotherham United manager Paul Warne.
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ON the last occasion that Rotherham United triumphed on Teesside in March 1965, Tom Jones hit the top of the charts with It’s Not Unusual.

As far as the Millers’ horrendous second-tier away form was concerned ahead of last night’s game, no-one could say it was commonplace or usual to be hailing a point on the road.

That Paul Warne’s side most definitely did at the close of proceedings was a thoroughly deserved reward following a display of heart, organisation and resolve, interspersed with moments of quality too.

Their wait for a victory in Middlesbrough may have extended to an eighth match, but the story of the night was that the visitors ended their sequence of seven away defeats in all competitions so far this season at a thoroughly unexpected venue.

Rotherham may have still not won a second-tier game on their travels for 32 matches now, but a point at the Riverside will have felt like a victory in the circumstances.

It was a joyous moment for the Millers’ hardy band of away supporters who have suffered some bitter episodes and indignity on the road at this level, when the final whistle arrived.

Meanwhile, manager Warne was able to reflect on his side picking up a point away from the AESSEAL New York Stadium in the Championship for just the second time in 20 matches during his time in charge.

It was a fair way to crown his 100th match at the Millers’ helm.

The visitors’ achievement was all the more noteworthy given that the Championship leaders had the benefit of an extra day’s rest.

You would never have noticed on the night and while Boro pressed strongly late on, Warne’s Millers held firm when it mattered.

Ahead of the game, Tony Pulis warned his players that the evening would not be a straightforward one and his sentiments proved right on the money.

Warne pledged that the Millers, despite their epic bout of Championship travel sickness, would come to Teesside with no fear in their quest to upset Boro and his on-message side took his advice to the letter.

Much like in their encounter at Leeds in August, the visitors had the better of the first half against high-flying opponents, showing discipline in their defensive duties and aplomb going forward – and looked nothing like a side with such an appalling away record.

The hosts were provided with food for thought and should have been staring at a deficit on 20 minutes.

Kyle Vassell easily swatted aside Adam Clayton down the left and his fine pull-back found Ryan Williams a few yards out in front of goal.

But the winger – brother of former Boro player Rhys – saw his steered effort blocked at point-blank range by goalkeeper Darren Randolph when it looked easier to score.

Boro showed similar overindulgence with their best opportunity moments later when Martin Braithwaite’s casual chip was blocked by Marek Rodak after he was sent clear by Jonathan Howson.

In truth, it was the only time that the visitors’ rearguard, with Semi Ajayi outstanding, were opened up in the first 45 minutes.

A mini-spell of pressure before the break caused a few flutters, more especially when Britt Assombalonga just failed to turn in Braithwaite’s centre, but it was job well done by United.

The trick was sustaining it against a Boro side likely to have been given a few words of interval encouragement from Pulis to step things up.

A timely block from Joe Mattock got in the way of a goalbound effort from Howson before Ryan Manning saw his long-ranger fly wide.

The hosts started to finally impose themselves and the Millers had a let-off when Assombalonga could not bundle home the loose ball after Rodak spilled Stewart Downing’s cross-shot.

Boro’s intensity levels were clearly higher and it yielded the sort of spell that the Millers were maybe expecting at the outset.

Assombalonga fired over, while Downing’s volley flew inches wide, but the moment of quality that the hosts craved would not arrive.

The hosts threw on some attacking ballast in Rudy Gestede and his presence manufactured a close-range chance for Assombalonga, but Rodak alertly blocked his swivelled effort.

Frustration was piling up for the hosts and a far from comfortable night almost got a great deal worse when Randolph was called upon to tip over Michael Smith’s curler in the nick of time.

A frantic finale saw Boro pour bodies forward and lay siege, firing crosses into the box, but the method and ingenuity was lacking and the Millers defended stoutly to take a tangible reward home – at long last.

Middlesbrough: Randolph; Ayala, Flint, Friend; McNair (McQueen 72), Howson, Clayton, Besic, Downing; Braithwaite (Gestede 72); Assombalonga (Hugill 83). Substitutes unused: Konstantopoulos, Batth, Fry, Saville.

Rotherham United: Rodak; Vyner, Ajayi, Robertson, Mattock; Vaulks, Williams (Wiles 61), Towell, Manning, Vassell (Forde 82); Smith (Proctor 90). Substitutes unused: Price, Wood, Palmer, Newell.

Referee: D Bond (Lancashire).