JUST as Michael Carrick’s selection and availability headache was beginning to ease, the Middlesbrough head coach was dealt some fresh blows on what turned into a frustrating day at Rotherham.

First of all, the good news: the return of Riley McGree, Paddy McNair and Tommy Smith.

Then, the not so good: an injury to Jonny Howson in the warm-up that meant he was unable to start, the absence of Ryan Giles and a red card for Anfernee Dijksteel late in the first half.

The timing of the red card couldn’t have been much worse for Dijksteel, who had an opportunity to make the right-back spot his own after impressive recent displays. The saving grace for the full-back is that he’ll only serve a one-match ban rather than three.

Thankfully for Boro, McNair, who was shifted from the bench into the starting XI after Howson’s blow, and Smith, who came on at the start of the second half after Dijksteel’s red, appeared to come through their returns unscathed. And so too did McGree, who in his 80 minutes on the pitch, was Boro’s best player.

But the trio couldn’t prevent Boro from slipping to a second successive away defeat to a Rotherham side that guaranteed safety with a crucial win, secured thanks to a fine strike from Hakeem Odoffin early in the second half.

Boro had 77% of possession and pushed for a leveller after the goal but didn’t quite hit their usual levels of intensity.

McGree impressed and looked Boro’s most likely route to goal. He almost made an immediate impact on his return to the side when he ghosted in behind the home defence and lifted the ball over keeper Viktor Johansson, denied by Rotherham skipper Richard Wood who cleared off the line.

There were no early signs that the Aussie international had only played six minutes of football for Boro since the home defeat to Burnley in early April. He was bright and sharp and teed up a chance for Archer, who fired over.

Rotherham didn’t manage a single shot on target in the first half, understandable considering they lost two of their three starting attackers to injury. The game wasn’t 20 minutes old when Chiedozie Ogbene, who has been the star man for the Millers this term scoring eight goals and creating four more, had his afternoon ended prematurely when he pulled up with a hamstring injury after a foul from Hayden Hackney. Hackney was booked, Ogbene replaced.

Shane Ferguson soon followed Ogbene into the treatment room.

The only starting attacker left on the pitch was Jordan Hugill, who was at the heart of the only real moment of incident in the first half in the dying seconds of five added minutes. Hugill went down under the challenge of Dijksteel, who was judged to be the last man by referee Keith Stroud.

Carrick was forced into an alteration, with Cameron Archer the man sacrificed and Smith introduced.

But Rotherham wasted no time in taking advantage of their extra man. Just three minutes into the second period, Odoffin was allowed space to shoot from outside the box and found the bottom corner.

“We are staying up,” bellowed the buoyant home fans. Rotherham were certainly within touching distance so were understandably happy to protect their lead as Boro tried to move through the gears.

Former Miller Dan Barlaser has scored a few belters at the New York Stadium and tried to add another with an effort from distance that he couldn’t keep down. Smith followed suit with a close range strike when he really should have at least hit the target.

Referee Stroud infuriated both bosses in equal measure. Rotherham wanted a free-kick for a challenge from Lenihan, who was the last man, on substitute Georgie Kelly, before a Boro penalty claim when Jones hit the deck. “You’re not fit to referee,” sang all four stands.

Boro almost levelled in the last minute when a cross from the left was inadvertently turned towards goal by a Rotherham defender, but Johansson saved well at full stretch.