Rotherham 2-1 Preston: Will Vaulks and Michael Smith seal victory
Report and highlights as Millers earn first win since early November
Last Updated: 01/01/19 8:49pm
Rotherham climbed out of the Sky Bet Championship relegation zone with a 2-1 victory over Preston.
The depleted Millers, who had been hit by injuries and suspension over the festive period, could not even fill their bench but managed to battle to a vital win thanks to Will Vaulks' thunderbolt and Michael Smith's header.
Preston started the game brightly and would have been disappointed not to have taken the lead in a dominant first 20 minutes, Marek Rodak denying Lukas Nmecha's powerful strike and Paul Gallagher's free-kick.
An even better opportunity fell to Tom Barkhuizen who was put clean through by the sharpness of Nmecha before dragging his shot wide when one-on-one with Rodak.
Rotherham youngster Ben Wiles had the home side's first effort with a rasping strike from the edge of the box that Declan Rudd had to tip over the bar.
But there was nothing Rudd could do to deny Rotherham a half-time lead. Vaulks' 25-yard free-kick flew past the Preston goalkeeper into the top of the net in stoppage time.
Rotherham were buoyed by the breakthrough and Ryan Williams came close to extending their lead after dragging just wide following a swift move.
Preston's best hope of getting level looked like coming from a set-piece from Gallagher and they came close when he picked out Nmecha but his effort was clawed away by Rodak.
Rotherham made them pay in the 76th minute with half-time substitute Joe Newell bursting down the left flank and picking out Smith to head home at the back post.
That sprung Preston back into life and they pulled a goal back in the 78th minute through Nmecha, despite Richard Wood's best efforts to stop the shot crossing the line.
Rotherham's stand-in right-back Semi Ajayi had to clear off the line from his own man as Smith diverted Nmecha's cross goalwards in a period of immense pressure but the dogged hosts managed to survive four minutes of added on time.
Rotherham assistant manager Richie Barker: "It was a vital three points and after looking at other results it was even more important.
"The togetherness was excellent, the organisation was okay in a patched-up team. We had a few square pegs in round holes so we are obviously delighted to get the three points but we are well aware we need to improve things.
"The performance wasn't great but they don't know that they're beat. They dig in when things are not going so well. The character is excellent.
Preston manager Alex Neil: "I was extremely frustrated but I couldn't tell my players they hadn't played well because it wasn't true. There was real frustration and disappointment because we spurned opportunities.
"Normally Rotherham are hard to create chances against but we created six by half-time.
"As a coach you know when your team has played well. Their goalkeeper getting man of the match tells you the story of the game."