Trailing to Marc McNulty’s first-minute strike, the Millers created a succession of decent chances as they dominated the second half, with Jake Hastie finally claiming an equaliser with 24 minutes left. In truth, it was the absolute least they deserved.
They could not have made a worse start, as they found themselves behind after just 31 seconds. Their backline was far too high up the field as Alim Ozturk took a quick free-kick from inside his own half, and McNulty was able to break clear before slotting a composed finish past Daniel Iversen.
That was bad enough, but things almost got worse midway through the first half as Clark Robertson dived in on Lynden Gooch to concede a penalty. Aiden McGeady stepped up, but after stuttering during his run-up, the Irishman produced a tame side-footed effort that Iversen got down well to save.
It proved to be something of a turning point, with Rotherham’s players belatedly rediscovering some of the attacking verve that had enabled them to put six goals past Bolton last weekend towards the end of the first half.
They might well have had two penalties of their own, with Luke O’Nien appearing to control the ball with his arm after Sunderland goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin punched clear and Ozturk getting very little of the ball as he checked Carlton Morris’ run in the box.
As it was, referee Ben Toner remained unmoved on both occasions, and Rotherham’s frustration increased further on the stroke of half-time as Matt Crooks headed over from inside the six-yard box after the Sunderland defence failed to deal with a corner.
However, the visitors had secured a foothold in the game, and either side of half-time, they became the dominant force.
Hastie came close to scoring with a second-half effort that was saved by Jon McLaughlin, and when the Millers forward was presented with another chance four minutes later, he was not found wanting again.
Freddie Ladapo was the architect of the goal, robbing Ozturk of possession deep in the Sunderland half, and after creating space in the left of the box, Hastie crashed a fiercely-hit finish into the roof of the net.
Sunderland: J McLaughlin, C McLaughlin (Maguire 69), Willis, Ozturk, Hume, McGeouch, Dobson, Gooch (Grigg 85), O’Nien, McGeady, McNulty (Wyke 59).
Unused subs: Burge, Power, Flanagan, Leadbitter.
Rotherham: Iversen, Olosunde, Ihiekwe, Robertson, Mattock, Wiles, Lindsay, Crooks, Ladapo (Barlaser 90), Morris (Smith 81), Hastie (MacDonald 88).
Unused subs: Price, Wood, Lamy, Jones.
Referee: Ben Toner.
Attendance: 29,078 (1,004)