Rotherham 2-1 Town
By David Mitchell
Fleetwood Town’s play-off hopes are all-but over after they went down 2-1 to Rotherham United in a highly-charged atmosphere at the New York Stadium.
It was a more committed performance than seven days ago against Rochdale but, ultimately, not enough to get the result they needed. The win enhanced Rotherham’s own chance of glory this season and Town were forced to defend for large periods against a side buoyed by over 7000 vociferous supporters.
The Cod Army numbered 201 and they witnessed a dramatic first few minutes during which both sides scored. A Daniel Nardiello goal was cancelled out by David Ball with the decisive third goal going the way of the Millers Kieran Agard just after the hour.
Town’s side showed two changes from the disappointing setback against Rochdale. Shaun Beeley returned at full-back after injury and Ball returned in a 4-4-2 set-up, his first start in five games. Barry Nicholson dropped to the bench and Nathan Pond was suspended. Gareth Evans returned to his former club, having played for the Millers at Highbury in November, while former Blackpool striker Nardiello started for Rotherham.
Town were rocked back as Rotherham took a second minute lead. Scott Davies came wide to his left and failed to clear the danger. The ball came to top scorer Nardiello who struck a right foot shot into the empty net for his 20th goal of the season. Davies was indebted to his colleagues just three minutes later when Town equalised. Rotherham’s defence were indecisive and after it looked as if Junior Brown might add to his impressive tally for the season, the ball came out to Ball who slammed home his ninth goal in Town colours.
There was further trouble for Rotherham soon after when danger-man Nardiello left the field injured in a tackle and he was replaced by Lee Frecklington. Ball went close to doubling his account with a right-foot shot which curled past Scott Shearer’s far post and Brown mishit a corner which the keeper pouched at the near post.
The large home crowd began to show signs of restlessness, a tribute to the way in which Town had recovered from their poor start. Kari Arnason tried two long throws from the right as the Millers started to see more possession in the attacking half and Agard dragged a right foot shot across goal after 28 minutes. Just prior to that, Jamie McGuire and Frecklington tangled, Town’s combative midfielder shown his ninth yellow card of the season.
McGuire was brought down twenty yards out in the 34th minute, Evans striking the free kick over the crossbar. The former Miller was immediately involved in two further moves without threatening Shearer on either occasion. Rotherham came closer to breaking the deadlock soon after, Ben Pringle combining with Frecklington and forcing Town to concede a corner.
Michael O’Connor almost capitalised on a Paul McKenna foul with a free kick from 30 yards which narrowly missed the target to Davies’s left. The Millers pressed up to the break, their vocal Yorkshire support claiming a penalty as the half moved into added time but, despite Agard’s tumble, there was clearly no contact from Davies.
Rotherham continued to move forward after the break, Town coming under pressure within their own area. The dangerous O’Connor volleyed narrowly over the bar from eighteen yards. McGuire was relieved to see a further move break down after he had given the ball away in midfield. Town’s counter attacks led to a shot and header from Brown, neither of which carried impact.
In the 55th minute, Beeley put his keeper under pressure with a back pass and Alex Revell almost stole in. Three minutes later, Town advanced with Ball, Brown and Matt involved in a build-up which provided Ball with a half-chance on his left foot.
Rotherham came back strongly and looked increasingly dangerous in the final third of the pitch, linking well and producing chances. McKenna cleared a Revell header off the line just after the hour but the inevitable happened in the 62nd minute when the Millers finally converted pressure into a second goal, taking the lead through the lively Agard who struck from close range for his fourth goal of the season and his side’s 42nd home goal of the campaign.
Beeley was booked for the third time this season, in the 70th minute, for tripping Agard as he beat Town’s defender for pace. Fellow-full back, McLaughlin moved forward four minutes later to hit a right-foot shot wide to the right of Shearer.
Andy Mangan replaced Evans with quarter of an hour left, the home crowd giving their former player a generous round of applause as he left the field. Pringle was booked for a tackle on Beeley as the full-back moved forward and Town mounted some pressure in the attacking half. Pringle brought a good save from Davies at the opposite end following a McLaughlin error.
Each side made a substitution, Nicholson replacing Beeley for Town and Lionel Ainsworth on for Agard. Mangan’s left foot shot hit the side netting with six minutes left and the striker glanced a back header straight at Shearer four minutes later. Graham Alexander increased Town’s strike force in the final minutes as Jean-Michel Fontaine came on for McGuire but there was little time left to influence the game. Seventh place remains available mathematically but getting there is mission impossible.
TEAM: Davies (captain), Beeley (Nicholson 82), Edwards, Goodall, McLaughlin, Brown, McKenna, McGuire (Fontaine 89), Evans (Mangan 75), Matt, Ball
BOOKED: McGuire, McLaughlin, Beeley