JEFF Hendrick’s late strike broke Millers’ hearts on their Championship return after a brave rearguard action from Steve Evans’ men looked to have earned a share of the spoils against well-fancied Derby County.
After the hosts were quick out of the blocks, the Millers’ gradually found their feet and Kari Arnason almost stunned the hosts when his glancing header was cleared off the line.
Following an even second half where chances were few and far between, Hendrick’s strike with eight minutes to go proved decisive to leave the Millers’ empty-handed.
Following their extensive pre-season programme, the Millers’ returned to Championship action following a nine-year absence with the short trip to last year’s beaten play-off finalists.
Gaffer Evans’ revealed his first season line-up with Millers’ competitive debuts handed to Kirk Broadfoot, who was selected in the right back-slot as Frazer Richardson was ruled out because of injury and Republic of Ireland international Paul Green, who was entrusted with marshalling engine room affairs with Lee Frecklington.
Ex-Olympiakos striker Matt Derbyshire was also given a striking berth alongside Wembley hero Alex Revell while fellow new signings Scott Loach, Richard Wood, Ryan Hall, Jordan Bowery and Chelsea loanee John Swift had to be content with places on the Millers’ bench.
In a red-hot atmosphere, the home side were quick of the blocks and Joe Skarz’s slip paved the way for Johnny Russell to advance menacingly towards the visitors’ box but he was crowded out by retreating defenders.
From the resultant corner, Craig Bryson delivered a tantalising centre which saw Chris Martin ghost in at the near post before glancing a header which whizzed past the upright.
Minutes later, Martin’s mazy run almost split open the Millers’ defence before good work by Green and Frecklington presented the opportunity for Kieran Agard to fire a daisycutter from distance which stung the palms of Lee Grant at the other end.
In the next phase of play, Will Hughes’ threaded ball saw Hendrick weigh up his options before trying his luck from distance but his effort was deflected behind before Frecklington was almost put in the clear following a fine flick from Revell but the midfield maestro failed to get the ball from under his feet.
Just past the quarter hour, the Millers’ had a half-chance when the home rearguard failed to deal with a deep free-kick from Skarz and Agard had a glimpse of goal but his shot on the turn was blocked.
Minutes later, Green picked up the loose ball on halfway and with the home defence backing off, he dragged a shot harmlessly wide of the target.
However, the home side came within a whisker of the breakthrough when the lively Simon Dawkins was on the end of a lightning home break and after skipping inside Craig Morgan and Broadfoot, he unleashed a dipping effort which had Adam Collin nervously scurrying across goal.
The Millers’ then had their ‘keeper to thank for keeping the scores level when Cyrus Christie skipped to the byline before delivering a pinpoint centre which saw Russell head goalwards from point-blank range but the ex-Carlisle stopper pulled off a superb one-handed save before the ball was cleared.
Just shy of the half hour mark, Skarz became the first to see yellow for hauling down Russell in full flight before the Millers’ came within inches of shocking their hosts.
After Derbyshire had won the corner, Ben Pringle delivered a fantastic centre which saw Arnason get a run on his marker at the near post to glance a header which appeared to be cleared off the line by Hughes, before Agard was agonisingly unable to fire home the rebound.
Minutes later, Russell fired through a ruck of bodies but Collin was well-stationed to collect smartly before an Arnason bullet-throw had the home defence at sizes and sevens at the other end.
With half-time approaching, another missile from the Icelandic international saw Broadfoot climb highest but his header lacked power as Grant collected comfortably.
Half-time:- Derby County 0 Rotherham United 0
Following the restart, the home fans’ were on their feet when Bryson was adjudged to have nudged over Broadfoot on the edge of the box but Pringle wasted the resultant free-kick.
At the other end, Christie’s rampaging run and cross had the Millers’ on the backfoot before Jake Buxton’s superb last-ditch tackle prevented Frecklington from breaking clear in the next phase of play.
Just past the hour mark, sub Bowery skipped past Craig Forsyth with a minimum of fuss before whipping a cross which narrowly evaded Derbyshire before Pringle pounced on the loose ball to float a delightful cross which found the head of the ex-Forest hitman, who planted a downward header harmlessly wide of the target.
The visitors’ then had a lucky escape when Green’s mishit clearance saw Martin strike goalwards from just inside the box but the Millers’ defence put their bodies on the line to block his effort before Agard’s weak shot failed to trouble Grant at the other end.
The home side had faint appeals for a spot-kick when Christie’s incisive cross almost found Bryson at the far stick, who argued he had been impeded as he climbed in vain.
The introduction of Swift almost paid dividends for Evans’ when his marauding run almost paved the way for Agard to strike goalwards but he was crowded out as he looked to shoot.
With the game in the balance, the home side almost unlocked the door when fine interplay between Dawkins and Bryson almost saw the former advance on goal but he was unable to control the ball before Collin snuffed out the danger.
However, Derby made the decisive breakthrough with eight minutes remaining as the Millers’ were caught on the counter attack.
After a visitors’ move broke down, Pringle was caught in possession deep inside the Derby half and Christie took advantage to rampage down the right flank and with the visitors’ short of numbers, his clever pullback paved the way for Hendrick, to curl a fantastic effort from the edge of the box which dipped over Collin to find the far corner of the net.
Despite the setback, the Millers’ responded superbly and they came within a whisker of grabbing an equaliser in stoppage time with the home side visibly hanging on.
Following a period of pressure, Pringle delivered a tantalising cross which found the head of Green, who almost came back to haunt his former club, when his downward header forced Grant into a superb reflex save.
With the hosts struggling to clear their heads, the ball was pumped back into the box and after the hosts failed to clear decisively, the ball fell into the path of Agard, who looked a certain scorer but despite striking goalwards, Craig Forsyth made a superb clearance from his own line to preserve his side’s slender lead.
Frecklington had the Millers’ last chance when he volleyed over moments later as the home side’s fans and players were relieved to hear the final whistle.
Full-time:- Derby County 1 Rotherham United 0
Derby- Grant, Christie, Forsyth, Bryson, Buxton, Keogh, Dawkins (Best 79), Hendrick, Martin, Russell (Ward 65), Hughes (Mascarell 53). Unused:- Roos, Eustace, Whitbread, Sammon.
Rotherham- Collin, Skarz, Arnason, Broadfoot, Frecklington, Revell (Bowery 58), Green, Pringle, Morgan, Agard, Derbyshire (Swift 70). Unused:- Loach, Brindley, Wood, Hall, Tidser.
Referee:- Andy D’Urso
Attendance:- 30, 105