Harry Drew reports on a barnstorming performance from City, on the field at least.
It had been clear for some time that this fixture was an end of season dead-rubber. While City blew their chances of automatic promotion in a winless March, Rotherham secured safety weeks ago thanks to an impressive run of results under the guidance of Neil Warnock. The Millers boss expressed surprise that City had failed to challenge for the top two in the latter stages of the season – with more performances like the one against his side on Saturday afternoon, we just might have done.
With the pressure firmly off, a strong City side trounced Rotherham in a game that could have seen double figures. That is hardly an exaggeration: the Tigers registered 27 attempts, 13 of which were on target, in a thoroughly dominant display. This was a welcome result and performance, especially considering the off-the-field troubles surrounding the club in recent weeks.
Steve Bruce fielded what seemed like his best XI in preparation for the impending play-offs. Hernandez was back in the side, playing up front with Diame and supported by Snodgrass and Elmohamady on the wings. Curtis Davies regained his place in the starting eleven at the expense of Harry Maguire, while Robertson and Odubajo were given starts after being rested at Bolton last weekend.
Protests against the membership scheme once more preceded the on-the-field action, but this did not deter City, who made a promising start. Livermore curled a shot narrowly off target on nine minutes and soon after Hernandez had two chances in quick succession, but was unable to convert either.
Against the run of play, the visitors took the lead on 16 minutes. Ward’s cross from the right was headed away but Smallwood reacted first, nodding the ball on for Frecklington who skilfully hooked a left-footed shot into the corner of the net, to the delight of the sizable contingent of travelling fans.
City were keen not to go into the play-offs with a loss, however, and responded immediately through a Hernandez shot which Camp had to keep out. On 25 minutes, the deserved equaliser came. Diame was played in by Elmohamady on the right-hand-side; his cross to the far post was headed back to Snodgrass by Huddlestone, and the Scotsman produced a fine finish to draw the Tigers level. Merely 90 seconds later Steve Bruce’s men were ahead. Odubajo’s deflected cross flew high into the air, Livermore got a touch and hesitancy in the Rotherham defence gave Hernandez space to score via an overhead kick. 2-1 City.
These goals dented the away team’s confidence, and in the remainder of the half City effectively put the game to bed. Hernandez had two decent opportunities before the lead was extended thanks to an unlikely source. Elmohamady was given time on the ball in the centre of the park and the Egyptian picked out the run of Jake Livermore who, after rounding Lee Camp, finished well from a tight angle.
Livermore was involved again almost immediately as City went 4-1 up. Rotherham were found wanting in possession by Diame – the ball fell to Livermore, who returned it to Diame, and the Senegalese international calmly took it past the oncoming Millers defender and shot past Lee Camp to give City an insurmountable lead. Hernandez had a goal disallowed for offside before a quite remarkable 45 minutes of football came to an end.
Evidently wanting to avoid an even more humiliating defeat, Rotherham sought to shut City out in the second half, and did it to some effect in the opening quarter of an hour. They were unable to prevent City going 5-1 up on the hour mark, however, as Livermore latched onto a smart flick from Snodgrass before finding the bottom corner.
All that was needed to round off a fine afternoon was a Jake Livermore hat-trick. He had the chance to do this ten minutes from time, but his shot was saved comfortably by Camp. Allan McGregor was called into action at the death as he saved well at his near post from Leon Best, who had got in too easily, but this was a footnote in a very pleasing afternoon for City supporters (at least as far as on-the-field matters go). A play-off semi-final with Derby County beckons.
Harry Drew @hdrew95