It was far from a vintage display, but Jonathan Woodgate claimed his second league win as Bournemouth caretaker manager thanks to a sidefooted finish from Philip Billing.
The victory means the Cherries are unbeaten since sacking Jason Tindall earlier this month. Rotherham United missed out on the chance to create some daylight between themselves and the bottom three, but they're still one point clear of 22nd placed Sheffield Wednesday with a game in hand.
Story of the game
The first half was a pretty uneventful affair overall, with limited chances for both teams – certainly from open play. Both teams had a couple of dangerous looking set-piece deliveries which caused a scare, and Arnaut Danjuma hit a tame shot straight at Victor Johansson from just outside the box.
But it was the Cherries who made the breakthrough after 23 minutes. Adam Smith’s defensive header found Sam Surridge in the channel. The frontman held the ball up as Smith darted upfield to overlap him, and then the full-back picked out Phillip Billing in the area. Billing took one touch before placing a composed left-footed finish into the bottom corner.
Danjuma had another half-chance after 37 minutes, but he scuffed an effort from inside the area after a neat flick from Surridge. At the other end, Matt Crooks could only find the side netting with a low shot from a tight angle two minutes later.
Rotherham spent most of the first half threatening to threaten the Cherries from set-pieces. Dan Barlaser put in some good deliveries from free-kicks and Wes Harding’s long throw-ins certainly unnerved their hosts, but the Millers couldn’t fashion clear cut opportunities from them.
That was until the 44th minute when Richard Wood was presented with a golden opportunity to equalise. Barlaser’s free-kick found Michael Ihiekwe at the back post, and his header across goal was diverted over from close range by the thigh of Wood.
The second period was also pretty dull as chances were again at a premium for both teams. Rotherham had their moments as they searched for that elusive equaliser, and Ben Wiles came agonisingly close to netting a stunning equaliser.
He controlled the ball on his chest before unleashing a thunderous volley from the right corner of the penalty area, but Asmir Begovic was at full stretch to deny him with a world-class save.
Substitute Freddie Ladapo squandered a golden opportunity for the Millers just moments after he was introduced to the action. Wood poked the ball in behind the defence to send him through on goal, but the former Plymouth Argyle striker couldn't compose himself and fired over.
Bournemouth finished the game stronger as the Millers threw more men forward in search of a leveller. Jefferson Lerma stung the palms of Johansson with a strike from outside the area, and Junior Stanislas had a wicked effort tipped round the post in stoppage time.
Takeaways from the match
An important win but an uninspiring performance
It was never going to be an easy game for Bournemouth against a hard-working Rotherham side, and their fans will probably have mixed emotions despite coming out on top. On the one hand, it’s a hard-earned victory for a side who very recently lost five games on the spin, and the ability to win ugly is important for a team gunning for promotion.
On the other hand, it was a blunt attacking display that didn’t justify the attacking talent Bournemouth have in their ranks. The likes of Arnaut Danjuma, Junior Stanislas and David Brooks are seriously dangerous players for this level, so it’s easy to see why Bournemouth fans are demanding automatic promotion.
Whoever their next manager is has a serious job to do in terms of moulding that firepower together and getting the best out of the attacking players if Bournemouth are to mount a late automatic promotion charge.
Their last two matches have both come against bottom-half teams, and they’ve only managed a combined 15 shots in those games. The Cherries’ combined expected goals for both of those games was 1.6 - a far cry from the free-flowing football we’d expect to see from this Bournemouth side.
And they wouldn’t have got away with a win here if Wood didn’t miss a great opportunity in the first half, or if Ladapo kept his composure after the break. Things have improved at the Vitality Stadium, but the Cherries performances continue to fall short of automatic promotion standards.
It’s easy to see why teams don’t like playing against Rotherham
That’s without wanting to do Rotherham a disservice, of course. The Millers had won three away games on the spin up to this clash on the South coast, and they made life very difficult for the Cherries. Paul Warne’s side pressed high up the pitch as they always do, making it hard for Bournemouth to play through them.
They kept their defensive line high and made themselves compact, which denied Bournemouth space to play. The hosts responded by going more direct, but the service into Sam Surridge often wasn’t up to scratch.
Rotherham aren’t blessed with a great deal of talent at Championship level, but they’re arguably the fittest and most aggressive team in the division. That ability to press high makes them a nightmare to play against, and this bridges the gap between themselves and the more technically gifted sides.
However, their lack of technical quality was what hindered them tonight. Rotherham’s inability to keep possession and progress the ball on the floor stopped them from putting Begovic’s goal under sustained pressure.
Man of the match
There wasn’t really an obvious candidate, but Smith just about edged it. The right-back produced the assist that won it for the Cherries. After a lung-busting run down the right channel, he showed the composure to get his head up and pick out a lovely cut back to Billing. Aside from that, he provided energy going forward and he was reliable defensively.
Begovic, Smith, Carter-Vickers, Kelly, Rico, Billing, L. Cook, Lerma, Stanislas, Danjuma, Surridge.
Johansson, Ihiekwe, Wood, Robertson, Olosunde, Wing, Barlaser, Wiles, Harding, Crooks, Smith.