LEE FRECKLINGTON was the Rotherham United hero as his last-gasp strike earned the Millers a share of their spoils in their League One opener at Crewe Alexandra.
The Millers were caught napping as Alex raced into a two-goal advantage within the 10 minute mark thanks to Anthony Grant and Max Clayton.
Despite Frecklington reducing the arrears almost immediately, Harry Davis penalty just minutes into the second period ensured the Millers had another mountain to climb.
Ben Pringle gave them hope with four minutes remaining before Frecklington’s fantastic strike deep in injury time sent Rotherham’s loyal band of over 1300 followers into ecstasy.
For the Millers League One bow, Steve Evans handed competitive debuts to summer recruits Richard Brindley and David Worrall for their trip to Gresty Road.
The Rotherham supremo fielded a 4-5-1 formation with Alex Revell plying the lone role as in-form Kieran Agard and recent signing Matt Tubbs had to settle for places on the substitutes’ bench.
The visitors were quick out of the blocks and Michael O’Connor stung the palms of Alan Martin with a snap shot from distance.
However, the Millers were stung when Crewe opened the scoring with their first attack of note.
A long ball forward saw Ryan Colclough get the better of Brindley before feeding the ball inside and after Clayton’s intervention, Grant tried his luck from distance and the ball deflected off a retreating defender before looping over the outstretched hand of Scott Shearer to nestle in the far corner of the goal.
However in a whirlwind start, the visitors came within a whisker of the equaliser when an arrowed ball forward saw Revell flick the ball into the path of the onrushing Frecklington, but with the goal at his mercy he screwed his shot wide of the target when he really should have done better.
The match was swinging end-to-end and Crewe stunned the visitors when they doubled their advantage with just nine minutes on the clock.
Colclough’s ball over the top of the Rotherham rearguard put Ajay Leitch-Smith in the clear on the right flank and he fired a low cross which saw Clayton nip in front of Craig Morgan before calmly steering the ball past Shearer at his near post.
Despite their nightmare start, the Millers gave themselves a foothold in the encounter almost immediately when Kari Arnason hurled a superb throw into the box and after the home side failed to clear decisively, the ball fell invitingly into the path of Frecklington, who drilled a shot from the edge of the box which bobbled through a ruck of bodies and past a motionless Martin.
The visitors were finding their feet and O’Connor’s long ball saw Revell challenge bravely and the ball fell into the path of Frecklington, who curled an effort narrowly wide of the target.
At the other end, the visitors had a scare when firstly Colclough floated a corner which saw Kelvin Mellor rise highest but his unmarked header was straight at Shearer before Byron Moore shrugged off Joe Skarz with ease before exchanging passes with Clayton, but Moore fluffed his lines when he missed his kick infront of goal.
Just past the half-hour mark, Shearer’s punt was cushioned by Revell into the path of Frecklington, who unleashed a volley from distance which blazed over the bar.
Pringle then curled an inswinging corner to the far post which saw Revell challenge with Martin but he couldn’t control his header as it looped over the upright.
The Millers were looking the most likely and after Crewe failed to clear their lines with Harry Davis’ weak clearance, Revell drilled a low effort which had Martin nervously scurrying across goal but the ball whistled past the post.
The Rotherham targetman then launched a quick counter-attack which turned defence into attack in the blink of an eye but following a one-two with Worrall, he narrowly failed to latch onto his throughball when Moore was on-hand to snuff out the danger as last man.
With half-time approaching, ex-Alex midfielder O’Connor saw yellow for bundling over Clayton as the home side looked to break quickly before the referee brought an entertaining first half to a close.
Half-time:- Crewe Alexandra 2 Rotherham United 1
The Millers started the second stanza in a similar fashion to the first when Crewe extended their lead with their first foray of the half.
The visitors lost possession and a threaded ball found Colclough who teased and tormented Brindley to ghost into the box and the young full-back caught his heels and the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
From the resultant penalty, Davis kept his composure to calmly send Shearer the wrong way before hitting the roof of the net.
The Millers almost halved the deficit when firstly Arnason’s bullet throw caused havoc and after Morgan challenged for possession, the ball fell kindly for Revell, who fired a stinging volley which crashed against the bar before the ex-Orient striker bizarrely failed to connect with a header just yards out with the goal at his mercy minutes later.
Following the disappointing start to the second stanza, Evans reshuffled his pack with Agard and Tubbs introduced as he reverted to a more attacking formation.
However, this failed to spark the Millers as the home side exerted control of the encounter and when Agard lost possession on the edge of his own box, Colclough pounced on the loose ball before dragging an effort harmlessly wide of the target.
With time running out, Tubbs had a sniff of the target when Revell flicked on into his path but George Ray’s finely timed tackle snuffed out the danger before he looked to strike goalwards.
At the other end, sub Chuks Aneke stung the palms of Shearer with a snap shot from distance before Alex failed to deal with an inswinging free-kick from Pringle, but despite the home defence being at sixes and sevens, Tubbs’ tame effort was comfortably gathered by Martin.
However, the Millers gave themselves a glimmer of hope when they reduced the arrears with four minutes remaining.
There looked little danger when Pringle advanced into the home box but he worked a yard of space on his marker before curling a delightful effort which beat the outstretched hand of Martin to find the far corner of the goal.
The visitors came within a whisker of a share of the spoils when Frecklington danced into the box before threading a ball across the goalmouth but both Tubbs and then Brindley agonisingly failed to connect.
The Millers were throwing the kitchen sink at the home side and with Shearer sent upfield, O’Connor mishit shot fell into the path of Revell, who arrowed a shot goalwards but Martin was on-hand to clear the danger.
However, the decisive moment came deep in injury time, when an arrowed ball was only cleared half-heartedly by the home side and the ball fell to Frecklington on the edge of the box, who composed himself before striking a superb effort which whizzed past a ruck of bodies including an Alex defender on the line to hit the roof of the net.
The midfielder wheeled away in joy before joining the rest of his teammates in celebrating with the Rotherham faithful while Evans jubilantly raced onto the Gresty Road pitch.
Teams:- Crewe- Martin, Tootle, Mellor, H Davis, Clayton, Osman, Leitch-Smith (Aneke 67), Moore (Turton 87), Ray, Colclough, Grant. Unused:- Phillips, Ellis, Oliver, Audel, West.
Rotherham:- Shearer, Brindley, Skarz, Arnason, C Davis (Tubbs 48), Worrall (Agard 48) , Frecklington, Revell, O’Connor, Pringle, Morgan. Unused:- Collin, Bradley, Milsom, Noble, Tidser.
Referee:- Scott Duncan
Attendance:- 5296 (1383)
Full-time:- Crewe Alexandra 3 Rotherham United 3