In-form Rotherham proved too strong for Oxford United this evening as the Millers won 3-1 at the New York Stadium. Early goals from Anthony Forde and Richie Towell gave the home side a 2-0 lead before a James Henry goal gave United hope at half time. Sadly a Michael Smith goal after the break sealed the win for Paul Warne's side to make it a dozen games unbeaten for Rotherham and back to back defeats for the U's.
Given their recent form it was no surprise to see the Millers start strongly, Wes Thomas having to clear from close to the goal line in the second minute and Isaac Buckley-Ricketts charging down a Will Vaulks effort, but after seven minutes it was 1-0 through number 7 as Rotherham won the ball in midfield and worked it to the right channel where Forde had time to size up his options and smash the ball past Simon Eastwood from 20 yards out for a well-taken opener.
Eastwood then marked his 100th start for the U's with one of his very best saves, somehow reaching a Michael Smith header from six yards out on 13 minutes when the ball seemed to be past the keeper and heading for the net. An astonishing save from a supremely consistent performer for the U's.
There were moments of hope for United: a shot from the recalled James Henry and a run and cross from Isaac Buckley-Ricketts. But the home side were quick to close them down and then very comfortable in possession, with David Ball bouncing around, picking up the pieces and driving Rotherham on. After 29 minutes it was 2-0 when United gave the ball away once more and the excellent Joe Newell drove in a shot from 20 yards that was angled across Eastwood. The keeper saved well but the angle meant that the ball was always going to come towards the far post, where Towell racked up his third goal of the season from close range.
United didn't (ahem) throw the Towell in by any means and a run and flick from Joe Rothwell gave Buckley-Ricketts a clear run at goal after 34 minutes, only for keeper Marek Rodak to get enough on his low shot to take it beyond the far post for a corner.
After 43 minutes they were back in the game as they worked a terrific goal to make it 2-1 and reward the frozen Yellow Army for their journey. Rothwell started it with another driving run before bringing Kane and Buckley-Ricketts into the move down the right. They cleverly fed Henry who drifted past a defender and then fired a wonderful effort into the roof of the net to make it 2-1 at the break.
It could have been 2-2 had Rodak not made a good save from Henry in injury time but to balance that Ball had rounded the keeper at the other end moments before and then mysteriously gone to ground with the goal gaping in front of him. (There is a suspicion that John Mousinho may have helped him over, but no foul given and OUFC Goalcam backs up the decision although we are not allowed to show that until midday tomorrow).
Initially bouncing back with a boing, United were the dominant force at the start of the second half, twice forcing openings but neither Ruffels nor Buckley-Ricketts were able to test Rodak when well-placed. Had either of those gone in then who knows? However, on 52 minutes the recovery was nipped in the bud when Rotherham made it 3-1. Forde made it with a run past two men on Rotherham's right and his low cross was comfortably tucked home by Smith to open a two-goal home advantage again.
Eastwood made one or two blocks and saves to keep it at 3-1 while Agon Mehmeti and Malachi Napa were given around half an hour to make their mark up front. A word for Rob Dickie, who did well on his United debut; the tall centre-half won plenty in the air and made several important interceptions on the deck.
United never gave up but that third goal had taken the wind out of their sails and with Rotherham so full of belief a second revival never really looked like happening, despite a dipping effort from 25 yards from Ryan Ledson that Rodak had to tip over the bar at full stretch after 82 minutes.
We move on. Next up is another in-form side, Plymouth Argyle at home. It has become a massive game for the U's. Be there.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels, stats by OPTA