Sheffield United kept the heat on Leeds ahead of a promotion showdown at Elland Road next Saturday.
Goals from Jack O’Connell and Mark Duffy were enough to subdue a proud performance from Rotherham, who played most of the game with ten men.
Millers’ skipper Will Vaulks saw red for a first half challenge at a time when his relegation-threatened side were well in the game.
Mark Duffy celebrates after scoring Sheffield United’s second goal against Rotherham
Rotherham’s Will Vaulks was sent off in the 28th minute, making his team’s task much harder
The Rotherham captain was dismissed for his challenge on Sheffield United’s George Baldock
From there, with the Blades already ahead, there was only one winner. Duffy buried a beauty from 20 yards to reward incessant home pressure after the break. Only keeper Marek Rodak prevented a rout in the end.
It meant Paul Warne’s team suffering a first defeat in seven games. Chris Wilder’s side are unbeaten in eight and have yet to concede at Bramall Lane in 2019. They had some anxious moments in the opening half but after that only the margin of victory was in doubt.
By common consent, Rotherham were unlucky when the sides shared a 2-2 draw at the New York Stadium in November. In many ways, that result was typical of the Millers – so near and yet so far from pulling clear of the drop zone.
Sheffield United’s Scott Hogan competes for the ball with Rotherham’s Michael Ihiekwe
David McGoldrick attempts to score for Sheffield United but is denied by Marek Rodak
They arrived on a six match unbeaten run, but five of those were draws – and their win over Blackburn last weekend had been their first in nine. The Blades were on a roll as they went back in pursuit of the top two.
Unbeaten in seven at start of play and practically unbreachable. Having shipped three late goals in a bizarre 3-3 draw at Aston Villa, Wilder’s men didn’t concede at all in their next four. Make that five. And the last Championship opposition to score at Bramall Lane were Derby County – who still lost 3-1 – back on Boxing Day.
MATCH FACTS & LEAGUE TABLE
Sheffield United: Henderson, Basham (Madine 65), Egan, O’Connell, Baldock, Norwood, Fleck, Stevens, Duffy, McGoldrick (Cranie 84), Hogan
Subs not used: Dowell, Sharp, Coutts, Stearman, Moore
Rotherham: Rodak, Jones (Crooks 82), Ihiekwe, Robertson, Mattock, Ajayi, Taylor (Forde 69), Vaulks, Wiles, Newell (Williams 70), Smith
Subs not used: Wood, Price, Towell, Yates
Sent off: Vaulks
Season at a glance
- Premier League
- League One
- League Two
- Scottish Premiership
- Scottish Div 1
- Scottish Div 2
- Scottish Div 3
- Ligue 1
- Serie A
- La Liga
Wilder has the luxury of rotation in his squad, extending to leaving his top marksman on the bench for this one, among four changes. The last time he rested 23 goal Billy Sharp, in the previous home game, United won 4-0 against Reading. Again they made a great start.
Rotherham had already had escapes even before they fell behind in the fifth minute. Oliver Norwood, a dead-ball specialist, cleverly engineered the breakthrough. He unexpectedly delivered a corner low and deep and O’Connell timed his run to finish with a precise sidefoot. Brilliantly executed and presumably straight off the training ground.
Rotherham responded with a series of awkward crosses from either side – and a succession of challenging long throws from Vaulks. For that, and many other reasons, it was a huge blow when Rotherham lost their inspirational skipper, sent off.
Rotherham’s Clark Robertson attempts to win the ball from McGoldrick in an intense clash
Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder was pleased as his side took all three points
Rotherham boss Paul Warne will be concerned with his side in the relegation zone
Vaulks’ mistake in mispassing the ball to George Baldock led to him chopping down the United player. It was a desperate attempt to retrieve a mistake and perhaps a yellow card would have been predictable.
Instead, referee Geoff Eltringham deemed it dangerous in brandishing a straight red. Vaulks was incredulous and it did look harsh in the instant. But, while there was no malice in the challenge, replays tended to support the official’s interpretation.
Earlier, David McGoldrick might have doubled the lead when he dragged wide after being played in by Scott Hogan. Norwood forced Rodak to save from 25 yards before the break but it was far from a convincing lead at 1-0 with the ten men still a threat.
The Blades bossed the second half, though. And, after a flurry of saves from Rodak, Duffy finally beat him with a lovely left foot strike into the top corner from the edge of the box.