A CONTROVERSIAL late equaliser from Sean Hessey derailed Rotherham United’s promotion tilt at the Crown Ground.
Hessey curled in a quickly taken free kick from 25 yards after the returning Danny Schofield had been harshly penalised for handball on the edge of the area. Rotherham’s protests fell on deaf ears.
It had cancelled out Ryan Cresswell’s first half opener. It was the second successive season the centre-half had scored at Accrington.
Playmaker Schofield had returned to the starting line-up for Rotherham having served one-match ban for his red card at Swindon. He replaced Jason Taylor in midfield in the only alteration from the victory over Dagenham. It was a bold statement from manager Andy Scott in selecting Schofield and meant the visitors started five attack minded players who have plied their trade up front at some period of their career.
Early on, both sides struggled to string passes together on a wet pitch. Marcus Marshall featured prominently on the right and he whipped in a centre which was expertly defended by Burnley loanee Kevin Long under pressure from Rotherham new boy Alex Revell.
A quick counter almost saw Rotherham break the deadlock on 18 minutes. Revell, making a nuisance of himself as the leader of the forward line, exchanged a lovely one-two with Marshall and his header was deflected for a corner Peter Murphy.
But against the run of the play, Accrington came close when Dean Winnard flashed a centre across goal that narrowly evaded Wes Fletcher. Well on top, another free flowing move involving Danny Harrison, Lewis Grabban and Schofield saw Marshall drag a tame effort wide.
Yet, on the half hour mark, Craig Lindfield had a drive hacked off the line by Dale Tonge.
Lindfield then caught Rotherham’s defence napping when he raced on to Sean Hessey’s free kick but his cross went harmlessly out of play.
The hosts were starting to take control of proceedings and had a penalty appeal turned down after goalkeeper Conrad Logan had made a hash of a free kick.
Moments later it took a tackle from Winnard to stop Cresswell from testing the reflexes of Sean Murdoch after a well directed corner from Danny Schofield.
But Cresswell was not to be denied seven minutes before the interval as he lost his marker in the middle and powered home a header from Schofield’s corner.
Accrington looked for a response and Fletcher turned sharply before lifting his effort over the bar a minute later while in the dying embers of the half, Evans, subdued by his own high standards, blazed over. On the re-start, Lindfield continued to be a thorn in the visitors’ sid.
Evans came close to doubling Rotherham’s advantage and his low drive forced Murdoch into a smart stop.
It was threatening to boil over in the midfield engine room when Kevin McIntyre clattered Tonge with a thunderous challenge. Tonge came off worse in the collision and he required treatment from Rotherham’s physio Denis Circuit. Ultimately, he shrugged off the knock. Accrington poured forward in search of the leveller and Cresswell, outstanding throughout, managed to clear the danger after a neat and tidy play between Fletcher and Amond. Hessey was given the first yellow card of the evening on 64 minutes after hauling down Grabban. Evans wasted the resulting free kick.
Marshall again stretched the home side’s back four and his persistence almost paid off. He swung in a delicious centre which Grabban back headed over with Murdoch bearing down on him.
Accrington boss John Coleman sacrificed one of his two holding midfielders in Murphy late on in a bid to salvage something from the contest. He sent on Ian Craney, who claimed his first of the season in the 1-1 draw with Gillingham on Saturday.
Referee Webb waved away a penalty claim from Andy Proctor before Accrington’s leveller after he tumbled to the ground in a challenge with Tom Newey.
As the rain lashed down, substitute Chris Holroyd could have snatched the winner in stoppage time but he touched Schofield’s corner wide.
ACCRINGTON: Murdoch 7; Winnard 6, Hessey 7, Long 7, McIntrye 6; Joyce 6, Murphy 6 (Craney 72), Lindfield 8, Procter 7, Fletcher 7; Amond 6. Subtitutes: Guthrie, Moult, Bender, Dunbavin.
ROTHERHAM: Logan 7; Tonge 7, Cresswell 8, Raynes 7, Newey 6; Marshall 7 (Holroyd 81), Harrison 7, Schofield 7, Evans 7; Grabban 7, Revell 6. Substitutes: Taylor, Pringle, Warrington, Brown.
Referee: David Webb (Durham)