Prolific strikers prove the difference in South Yorkshire derby between Sheffield Wednesday and Rotherham United

Rotherham United won yesterday’s South Yorkshire derby by two goalscorers to nil.

Sheffield Wednesday were the better team throughout - ask Millers manager Paul Warne - but football is about goals, not passes or possession.

When collector’s item chances fell to Freddie Ladapo and Michael Smith, for the second Hillsborough game running they took them. Smith also scored in a 2018 draw there.

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“I was delighted,” said Smith of his latest - brilliant - finish which settled the contest. “To celebrate in front of that many Rotherham fans - especially at this stadium - was unbelievable.”

DERBY SPOILS: Sheffield Wednesday 0-2 Rotherham United. Picture: Steve Ellis.

Ladapo was denied the chance to celebrate with fans when he scored last March’s stoppage-time winner, so it was fitting his latest strike came in front of the away supporters.

The much more regular flow of shots at the other end tended to end up going straight at goalkeeper Josh Vickers.

You have to do better than that to beat the team top of League One, now seven matches unbeaten. The six league wins have all featured clean sheets.

A 2-0 defeat was harsh on an Owls team who might have won had Lee Gregory, Josh Windass or possibly even Tyreece John-Jules been fit but winger Nathaniel Mendez-Laing and Jack-of-all-trades Callum Paterson formed a makeshift front two until Sylla Sow’s late introduction.

DERBY SPOILS: Sheffield Wednesday 0-2 Rotherham United. Picture: Steve Ellis.

Paterson has not scored in his last 21 games. Manager Darren Moore denied it, but it is showing.

Rotherham were without an injured goal-getter of their own in Will Grigg and surprisingly brought in Ladapo for only a second league start since his misjudged transfer request came to light in early January.

Smith, though, is Rotherham’s goalscoring talisman and as the Owls kept you doubting about the outcome by maintaining the pressure on Vickers’s goal, he ended all questions with a wonderfully-precise 84th-minute goal, his 50th in the league for the Millers.

That is why Rotherham are top of the league, and why it is getting harder by the week to imagine them being knocked off their perch, no matter how many games in hand Friday’s visitors Wigan Athletic have. The win burst the balloon Wednesday had been blowing up lately with four straight victories also backed up by clean sheets. They ought to be able to make the play-offs but there are no guarantees. Their chances will be much better the sooner Gregory and Windass are back.

DERBY SPOILS: Sheffield Wednesday 0-2 Rotherham United. Picture: Steve Ellis.

It was hard to argue when Moore claimed: “We will play far worse than that this season and win.” No one in League One is as hard to beat at Rotherham.

The rain which fell all weekend made the main stand wing of the pitch squelchy but it was obvious immediately this would be a full-blooded affair.

The game was three minutes old when Barry Bannan sprinted across the mud as Wednesday got the ball clear from a corner, roared on by the majority of a 26,418 crowd. When Jamie Lindsay - who looked a better bet in the conditions than Ollie Rathbone but whose swapping places with him at half-time greatly improved the visitors - kept pace and won the ball, the away fans cheered their approval.

The Owls were at their most effective moving the ball quickly from one end of the field to another, Massimo Luongo releasing Jack Hunt with an excellent long pass early on to win a corner Sam Hutchinson headed wide.

Mendez-Laing was a constant threat in a position somewhere between Paterson’s strike partner and right winger.

He drifted in from there in the 13th minute to shoot at Vickers, as he did when picked out by Patterson.

Still, it was a big blow when he came off with muscle tightness.

When Liam Palmer released Paterson with a good ball, the striker turned it inside for Bannan, playing in the hole, to run onto and shoot wide.

Even the defenders were looking for a piece of the attacking action, Hunt coming inside to shoot - at the goalkeeper, obviously - and Palmer striking solidly at him too having got a taste for it with a deflected effort.

Even in the slippery conditions, the Owls were not making Vickers’ life tough enough.

The Millers were too passive, especially in a first half where they offered little after Ben Wiles glanced a cross from Chiedozie Ogbene wide in the sixth minute.

Wednesday felt hard done by when a corner was awarded in the 60th minute but it was their fault they conceded from it, fooled by his position into thinking Wiles had no interest only for him to run from deep onto Dan Barlaser’s delivery and head it on for Ladapo to convert. The Owls kept plugging away.

Bannan forced a good save from a free-kick two minutes later and Shane Ferguson had to defend brilliantly when Marvin Johnson put in a wonderful cross. That corner was well worked too, but Hunt ballooned his shot from the back of the penalty area.

Palmer felt he had a good penalty shout waved away. Generally, though, Rotherham nerves were not tested enough. Mendez-Laing went through one-on-one in the 74th minute but was no match for Vickers. You wondered if the Owls would get just one finish right but instead the Millers produced another out-of-the-blue goal when Michael Ihiekwe touched a deep free-kick to Smith, with little room to work in. There was more than enough, though, as he curled a precise finish which left Bailey Peacock-Farrell no chance. In most aspects of the game, the Owls were the superior side. In the only one that matters, the Millers were.