Nottingham Forest moved 10 points clear of the Championship relegation zone with a narrow victory at Rotherham United.
Ryan Yates scored the only goal of a largely lifeless game at the New York Stadium, securing a second consecutive 1-0 win for Chris Hughton’s side as they continue to pull away from danger.
Viktor Johansson made some excellent saves for Rotherham, who remain two points remain from safety after Michael Smith hit the bar in added time..
Story of the match
Rotherham had also lost their past three matches by single-goal scorelines but went about gaining an early advantage with the first efforts of an uninspiring first half. Michael Ihiekwe put a tricky header over and Smith fired wide on the counter as Forest struggled to settle early on.
The visitors did briefly rally with Filip Krovinovic volleying off target and Cyrus Christie finding the side netting with a decent strike after cutting inside dangerously, while Glenn Murray thought he’d headed them in front from a Gaetan Bong cross only for the assistant’s flag to leave him disappointed.
A scrappy half lacked not only energy and fire, but quality especially, and the only shots on target came late. Lewis Wing caught a snapshot sweetly only for Forest goalkeeper Brice Samba to catch just as easily, while Johansson kept out an Anthony Knockaert free-kick at the other end on the stroke of half-time.
The Swedish stopper had more to do in the second half, making two excellent saves. First he showed brilliant reactions to tip over a Murray header from a Knockaert free-kick, before Knockaert himself was again denied as his fierce strike on the break was pushed away.
But Hughton's men were looking increasingly dangerous and, a couple of minutes after the latter save, Johansson was beaten, caught at sea as Tobias Figueiredo kept a ball alive in the box to allow Yates to thump home despite a strong hint that he was offside.
Rotherham still had a quarter of the match left to stage a recovery but created almost nothing until added time, Lyle Taylor coming closest to a second at the other end before Paul Warne’s side threw everything at the death. When they did threaten they were desperately unlucky not to salvage a point, but Smith saw his header from close range bounce off the bar.
Forest scrap for win
It was not a victory that would earn too many points for artistic merit, but Hughton has largely delivered on his brief of stabilising Nottingham Forest and pulling them well clear of trouble, and has done that with the kind of pragmatic approaches evidenced again here.
Knowing the Rotherham challenge was not to be underestimated, he bolstered his side to tackle the intense and physical task head-on, not least by recalling the eventual match-winner Yates to add presence to a busy midfield area where most of the match would be played out.
They could be most pleased with the defensive aspect of the game, limiting Rotherham to few real chances over the course to secure a fourth clean sheet in five matches. Bong returned for the absent Ribeiro but it has otherwise been a consistent back four of late, with Figueiredo, Joe Worrall and Christie now more assuring figures.
Indeed, only five sides in the entire Championship have conceded fewer goals now than Forest, a record that has helped them put any relegation concerns to bed at last. And with the foundations in place, Hughton will surely have the time to add further style to the substance.
Millers put through the mill
Rotherham had been unlucky to take nothing from their previous three fixtures against Cardiff City, Bournemouth and Norwich City, but this was probably the first time since the turn of the year that they have not done themselves justice in a game and could have few complaints with the result.
Their small squad has generally coped well with the demands of this season but this seemed a match too far for many of their players, who weren’t quite able to keep up the kind of intensity in their pressing and general play as they usually would.
That was especially the case in midfield, where Ben Wiles has started the last four, Wing the previous five, and Dan Barlaser the past six. Where energy and industry usually drives their performance, they were caught a little short and those small margins made a big difference to their overall level.
Injuries, suspensions and some other knocks are beginning to really bite but boss Paul Warne will need to find a way to keep his side fresh and fit enough for the games ahead and ultimately the run-in, with plenty of work still to do getting the necessary points for survival.
Man of the match: Cyrus Christie (Nottingham Forest)
Both full-backs contributed well in attack for Forest with Christie a particularly dangerous runner down the wing.