ROTHERHAM UNITED rode their luck to book a semi-final berth in the Northern Section of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy as they secured a nail-biting 2-1 victory over Hartlepool United.
Kieran Agard’s ninth goal of the season was the decisive strike as ex-Miller Andy Monkhouse had cancelled out Tom Eaves’ early opener.
Following their handsome cup victory over Bradford City last weekend, Steve Evans rang the changes for their trip to Victoria Park in their Johnstone’s Paint Northern Section Quarter Final tie.
Richard Brindley was given a recall at the expense of Mark Bradley while Pablo Mills returned at the heart of the back four with Kari Arnason unavailable due to his World Cup commitments with Iceland.
Rob Milsom was handed a recall in the Millers’ engine room as Michael O’Connor was ruled out because of injury while Michael Tidser was given a rare start as Ben Pringle had to settle for a place on the bench.
Bolton loanee Eaves was also given an opportunity to shine upfront as Saturday’s goalscorer Alex Revell was given a well-earned rest.
The home side were quick out of the blocks and James Poole had the first sight of goal when he cleverly worked a shooting position before firing a left-footed drive which had Adam Collin nervously scrambling across goal.
At the other end, Matt Tubbs screwed an effort wide of the target following fine interplay involving Tidser and Eaves before Eaves ballooned a header over following Brindley’s tantalising cross minutes later.
However, the Millers stunned the home faithful by breaking the deadlock on nine minutes.
Following a period of visitors’ pressure, Tidser swung an inviting corner into the danger box and Eaves ghosted in unnoticed through a ruck of bodies before planting an unstoppable header into the heart of the home goal.
The visitors were buoyed by the breakthrough and Eaves was in the thick of the action minutes later when he was the quickest to react from a Agard centre but his header failed to trouble Scott Flinders.
The home side came within a whisker of the equaliser when Monkhouse climbed above his marker to meet a Luke James corner but his looping header despite beating Collin was hacked clear by Lee Frecklington, who was well-stationed on his own line.
Moments later, Eaves turned provider when his first-time cross was met by the head of Milsom but his header blazed over before the Millers’ hearts were fluttering at the other end when a superb throughball saw Poole shrug off the attentions of Mills, before poking an effort towards goal but Collin stood up tall to parry his effort to safety.
Minutes later, Tidser was the first to see yellow when he tripped Poole in full flight before Jack Baldwin scooped an effort over from six yards despite having the goal at his mercy as the Millers were caught napping from a free-kick.
The Millers goal was living a charmed life and it was no surprise when Pools equalised with 24 minutes on the clock.
Following a period of home pressure, James played a perfectly weighted reverse pass into the advancing run of Monkhouse who left the visitors’ defence in his wake and with just Collin to beat, the ex-Miller kept his nerve to calmly slot the ball past the visitors’ ‘keeper.
Minutes later, Monkhouse stung the palms of Collin with a snap shot from just outside the box before fine interplay from the home side involving Poole and James gave full-back Michael Duckworth a sight of goal but he fluffed his lines as he miscued despite looking a likely scorer.
Poole was running the Millers ragged and he curled a delightful effort which fizzed narrowly over the bar before home skipper Neil Austin was the next to find the referee’s notebook with a late tackle on Brindley.
Almost immediately, Joe Skarz was yellow-carded for bringing down Jonathan Franks before the visitors had Collin to thank for keeping parity as the half drew to a close as he threw out a hand as James’ curling effort was arrowing towards the bottom corner.
Despite being second best for much of the half, the Millers surprisingly regained the lead on the stroke of half-time when Frecklington ran from the heart of midfield before unleashing an effort from distance which struck Agard, who looked to be trying his best to get out of the firing line of the shot, but the ball took a wicked deflection off the ex-Yeovil striker which wrong-footed Flinders and the ball rolled tantalisingly into the unguarded net.
In first half stoppage time, Frecklington saw yellow as he clipped the heels of Matty Dolan before the referee drew an enthralling first half to a close.
Half-time:- Hartlepool United 1 Rotherham United 2
Following the restart, Skarz was well-positioned to snuff out a dangerous centre from Austin before Dolan swung a fantastic inswinging cross which arrowing towards the head of Baldwin but bizarrely the home centre-half failed to make contact despite looking a certain scorer.
Agard was the fourth Rotherham player to be cautioned for kicking the ball away before Skarz was fortunate to escape a second yellow when he brought down Franks.
The home side then had strong appeals for a spot-kick when Mills appealed to bundle over Monkhouse in the box before Skarz was immediately withdrawn by the Millers’ chief.
Poole’s jinking feet inside the box had the visitors at sixes and sevens before skipper Craig Morgan was on-hand to block a cross-cum-shot from Monkhouse moments later.
In a rare foray by the Millers, Tidser blasted over the bar from distance before Agard became the latest to ride his luck when he escaped sanction for bringing down Baldwin on the edge of the box.
The home side almost punished the visitors to the full from the resultant free-kick when Simon Walton floated a delightful effort which had Collin beaten but it whistled narrowly wide of the target.
Sub Daniel Nardiello became the next to see yellow for hauling down a marauding Duckworth before the visitors came close to doubling their advantage when Tidser’s perfectly weighted pass saw sub Revell calmly slot the ball past the advancing Flinders into the bottom corner of the goal but his joy soon turned to despair, as the assistant referee had already flagged for offside.
With time running out, Brindley was yellow-carded for hacking down Monkhouse before Collin came to the visitors’ rescue when Sam Collins headed down into the path of Franks, whose first-time effort was diverted past the past by Collin.
From the resultant corner, Jordan Richards’ centre to the near post was met by the head of Walton, who crashed a point-blank header against the bar.
The Millers luck was summed up in the dying seconds when Collins’ header gave sub Antony Sweeney an ideal opportunity to level matters but he blasted over the bar from point-blank range when it looked easier to score before the referee waved away strong appeals for a late spot-kick when Milsom appeared to bundle over James.
There was even more drama to come in the last kick of the match when Collins swiped a goalbound effort following a goalmouth scramble but Collin was perfectly positioned to snuff out the danger to the relief of Millers’ players and fans alike.
Full-time:- Hartlepool United 1 Rotherham United 2
Teams:- Hartlepool- Flinders, Duckworth, Baldwin, Collins, Austin, Franks (Richards 87), Walton, Dolan (Sweeney 80), Monkhouse, Poole (Walker 85), James. Unused:- Rafferty, Burgess.
Rotherham- Collin, Brindley, Skarz (Pringle 60), Mills, Frecklington, Milsom, Tubbs (Nardiello 67), Morgan, Agard, Tidser, Eaves (Revell 68). Unused:- Shearer, Davis.
Referee:- Darren Drysdale
Attendance:- 2911 (268).