Exeter City slipped to a fourth successive defeat at the hands of promotion rivals Rotherham United, as the Millers prospered 4-1 at the New York Stadium.
The Grecians had been trailing since the first minute as Ben Pringle drove forward on a quick break and lashed in an effort.
City were containing the Millers well and creating openings before two crazy minutes which saw Daniel Nardiello and Michael O’Connor put the hosts three up before the 30 minute mark.
Craig Morgan extended the lead with a shot from inside the six-yard box after the interval, and Danny Coles
headed in a consolation late in the game.
The Grecians welcomed Jamie Cureton
back to the starting XI for the fixture, leading the line alone. Mark Molesley
also returned to a starting berth with Jake Gosling
not in the squad, and Anton Rodgers took a seat on the bench for Exeter for the very first time.
Amongst the starting line-up for the Millers were two former City players of last season in the shape of David Noble and Nardiello.
The Grecians were trailing almost as soon as the game kicked off as the ball was nicked away in midfield to allow Pringle the opportunity to surge goalwards. With little better options than to shoot, the midfielder lashed in a left-footed strike from 25 yards which found the bottom corner of Artur Krysiak
Exeter settled well into the fixture despite the early setback – and despite Rotherham having a lot of the early possession, the Grecians were shepherding the play well.
had an early opportunity to test goalkeeper Scott Shearer with a free-kick from the apex of the box on the right-hand side, and the Millers stopper was forced to punch clear and out for a corner.
was showing plenty of energy off the ball and when he dispossessed Michael O’Connor midway into the Exeter half, he set off on a counter attack. Driving deep into the opposition half, he played a one-two with Mark Molesley
– but his cross was slightly overhit.
The same combination linked up once again when Molesley came in off the right flank to play a series of neat passes, but D’Ath’s effort ultimately cleared the crossbar.
Having spent several minutes camped inside the Millers half, the next Millers goal was cruel on City when it came. It was Nardiello that picked the ball up wide on the left, drove goalwards from the byline – and improvised an effort which foxed everyone and found the net.
And moments later, City were trailing by three with only half an hour on the clock. When a ball was cleared as far as O’Connor, the midfielder steadied himself and lashed a volley at goal – and a deflection left Krysiak stranded.
City were by no means waving the white flag and continued to play the ball on the deck on a superb playing surface. Tommy Doherty
was sweeping up ahead of the defence and trying to feed the attack – and when he picked out Cureton with a low cross, the striker walloped a shot over the bar as it sat up invitingly.
O’Connor again had a chance to score just before the interval as he drilled a free-kick from a tight angle, but Arron Davies
took the full force of the ball at his head to prevent the shot finding the target.
Half-time: Rotherham United 3 Exeter City 0
The Grecians re-emerged from the tunnel after the interval with a very different set-up – Dawson and Molesley had been removed for Jimmy Keohane
and John O’Flynn
, as they opted for a very different tack – with effectively a 3-1-4-2 formation.
It looked effective as City were working the ball through the centre and retaining possession under close attention from the Rotherham players – and Scot Bennett
was twice allowed to storm forward and deliver crosses from deep.
But any gameplan was quickly undone when the hosts netted a fourth within six minutes of the restart. The Millers loaded the box for a free-kick deep on the right flank and when an initial ball was dealt with, Nardiello nodded back into the danger area for centre-half Morgan to hammer in unchallenged from close range.
Despite the chasm in the scoreline, City continued to create opportunities, the latest of which coming through a whipped D’Ath cross which was diverted just over the crossbar via the head of O’Flynn.
City were being allowed to set up camp in the Rotherham half, and D’Ath was showing plenty of ambition in his bright play between the lines. He opted to unleash a strike from 30 yards, but it cleared the frame of the goal.
Anton Rodgers was introduced with 20 minutes of time left to play to make his Exeter debut, with Doherty the man to make way.
City did manage to cut the arrears as the clock was counting down after D’Ath’s deflected effort earned the Grecians a corner. Davies was the man to whip it in, and it was adjudged to have crossed the line as Coles arrived to head in.
Exeter continued to press and fashion chances to try and reduce the deficit further, but it wasn’t to be as the clock ticked down on a defeat in South Yorkshire.
Full-time: Rotherham United 4 Exeter City 1
Rotherham United: Shearer; Tonge, Morgan, Arnason, Skarz; Agard (Ainsworth 72), O'Connor (Frecklington 83), Noble, Pringle, Nardiello, Revell (Odejayi 77).
Subs (not used): Warrington, Rose, Ridehalgh, Rowe.
Goals: Pringle (1), Nardiello (28), O’Connor (30), Morgan (51).
Exeter City: Krysiak; Dawson (Keohane h-t), Baldwin, Coles, Woodman; Molesley (O’Flynn h-t), Doherty (Rodgers 71), Bennett, Davies; D'Ath; Cureton.
Subs (not used): Evans, Bauza, Reid, Moore-Taylor.
Goal: Coles (76).
Attendance: 6,703 (222 away).
Referee: S. Duncan