There was late drama at the Keepmoat Stadium as Ben Whiteman’s 88th minute penalty sealed a dramatic 2-1 win over local rivals Rotherham United after James Coppinger’s volley cancelled out Jake Hastie’s opener.
Rovers made two changes to the side that defeated Lincoln City in the Leasing.com Trophy earlier in the week. Niall Ennis and Kieran Sadlier missed out in favour of Kazaiah Sterling and former Miller Jon Taylor.
In the other dugout, Millers manager Paul Warne made five changes to his side that drew with Tranmere Rovers in their last league outing. Goalkeeper Daniel Iverson received a late call-up for international duty making way for Lewis Price in the goal. Also stepping into the starting XI were Shaun McDonald, Carlton Morris, Jamie Lindsay, and Jake Hastie.
There could be no doubt from the atmosphere in the ground that this was a derby day and the players clearly felt it too. There was an edge to proceedings with a few late challenges flying in on Brad Halliday and James Coppinger but neither team was really able to take hold of the match.
Rotherham looked dangerous from set pieces possessing a height advantage over the Rovers XI but centre-backs Tom Anderson and Cameron John seemed to be able to get on the end of anything being crossed in the box.
The first real chances for both sides fell to the respective captains. Rotherham’s skipper Richard Wood heading wide of Ian Lawlor’s post from a corner and Ben Whiteman firing over from the edge of the box.
Whiteman’s chance was set up by some sublime passing down the Rovers’ right-hand side. A perfectly weighted chip by Alfie May into Halliday started off the move, Coppinger’s backheel completed a one-two with the right-back whose cut-back fell to Whiteman on the edge of the box - he fired over.
The Millers set pieces continued to prove a threat as Michael Ihiekwe headed wide from a corner. The visitors took the lead from a free-kick when Hastie’s ball into the box evading both sets of players and went into the net.
The goal gave Rotherham fans and players a lift and they almost doubled their lead immediately. Anderson doing just enough to stop Ben Wiles nodding in a Hastie cross at the back post.
The first yellow card of the match went the visitor’s way – Wood punished for a cynical challenge on Sterling as the striker turned his man on the half-way line. Anderson was then shown a yellow for a late challenge on Rotherham ‘keeper Price.
Rotherham kept their lead going into the break and – like most games this season – Rovers would be asked to come from behind.
Darren Moore opted for a change at half-time with Sterling making way for Niall Ennis.
The visitors had the first early opportunity straight after the break. Freddie Ladapo forcing his way into the box, but a combination of Anderson and John did enough to snuff out the danger. Ladapo went close again moments later when the ball found him at the back post, but he could only stab it wide before Wood headed over from a corner.
Rovers first chance of the half came after a driving run from Taylor was cut short by the flailing leg of Matthew Olosunde. Coppinger’s free-kick was headed behind for a corner and – while the corner kick did find May at the back post – it was asking a lot of the no.19 to fire it home with his first touch.
Rovers continued the pressure. Coppinger’s cross into the box was inviting - Taylor rose highest but headed over. Ben Sheaf’s half-volley from the edge of the box forced a superb save from Price before Anderson’s effort with his head went wide.
Rovers found the equaliser they’d been pressing for just after the hour mark and it was the man who always delivers in those big moments. Substitute Ennis did brilliantly in the build up to hold off his man and cut the ball back into the path of Coppinger who was unmarked in the box. The no.26 can always be relied on in those situations and the ball flew into the net.
Rovers had the wind in their sails and when Taylor was allowed to run unchallenged deep into the Millers half, he unleashed an effort which required more good keeping from Price. Reece James was next to try his luck, some clever switching of play between Whiteman, Sheaf and substitute Kieran Sadlier found the left-back unmarked at the back post. He struck it sweetly, but the angle was narrow, and the keeper was always favourite to make the stop.
Ennis had a chance to take the lead on the 82nd minute when Sadlier’s low ball found him free in the box – he spun well but the ball didn’t quite sit up and he skewed it wide. Some more fantastic one-touch passing through the Rovers midfield set Ennis up again soon after – this time the Wolverhampton Wanderers loanee fired wide. Sadlier’s shot from the edge of the box skimmed the crossbar.
Rovers would take the lead just two minutes from time when Ennis was brought down in the box under a bundle of clumsy challenges from the Rotherham defence. Whiteman stood up to take it and put the ball away in the calmest of fashions to put Rovers ahead for the first time.
The Rovers’ skipper almost extended the lead when he picked the pocket of Millers substitute Matt Crooks, his effort curled beyond Price but also beyond the post.
Rotherham had one final chance in the five minutes of stoppage time but Anderson was there to clear Ladapo’s header off the line and Sheaf was on hand to hook the second ball away. Rovers were able to see out the time and secure their fourth win in a row across all competitions.