ROTHERHAM United slipped to a disappointing opening day home defeat at the hands of newly promoted Milton Keynes Dons, who toasted their first ever game at Championship level with a victory.
In an enthralling first half, Matt Derbyshire cancelled out Rob Hall’s early opener and the Millers were made to pay for missing a host of first-half chances as Jordan Spence and Dean Bowditch gave the Buckinghamshire outfit a comfortable half-time lead.
The Millers fought hard to get a foothold back in the clash but their hopes of a fightback ended when sub Lewis Baker smashed home a Dons fourth near the end.
Following their encouraging pre-season both at home and north of the border, the Millers fielded eight summer recruits for their competitive debuts for the curtain raiser against Karl Robinson’s promoted outfit.
Derby stopper Kelle Roos was handed the goalkeeping jersey while Joe Newell was thrusted into the fray just days after putting pen to paper on a permanent deal with the Millers from Peterborough United.
Experienced defender Greg Halford was handed the skipper’s armband while Tom Thorpe and Danny Collins were asked to fill the central positions in a new-look back four.
Chris Maguire and Aidy White were asked to provide the ammunition from the wing back positions while Grant Ward, arguably the Millers’ standout performer in pre-season, was rewarded with a slot in the Millers’ engine room.
There was familiarity in the forward positions with Danny Ward shrugging off an ankle knock to play alongside Derbyshire, who has been amongst the goals in the pre-season campaign.
Following a slow opening by both sides, the Dons made a fairytale start when they broke the deadlock on five minutes.
Following a quick break, Bowditch and Ben Reeves combined smartly to expose Halford on the left flank before the former drilled a dangerous centre which Roos was unable to cut out and Sam Gallagher looked to force the ball home but it was blocked by a retreating defender but Hall was on-hand to poke the ball into the unguarded net.
However, the visitors joy proved shortlived as Rotherham equalised with their first foray of note on 13 minutes
Maguire showed great tenacity to win a corner and the ex-Wednesday winger floated a superb centre from the resultant set-piece and Derbyshire ghosted away from the attentions of his marker in the six-yard box to glance a superb header from point blank range into the heart of the MK Dons goal.
Minutes later, in a carbon-copy of the equaliser, Derbyshire was inches away from connecting with another Maguire corner with the visitors defence at sixes and sevens but they managed to bundle the ball clear before the ex-Forest hitman was in the thick of the action as he came within a whisker twice in a matter of minutes of giving Steve Evans’ men the lead.
Firstly, Halford’s perfectly weighted pass saw Derbyshire escape the offside trap to race clear and his snap effort was pushed onto the bar by David Martin and the ball looped invitingly into the path of White, who looked a certain scorer but he fluffed his lines when he screwed his effort wide despite having the goal at his mercy.
Moments later, a defensive lapse by the Dons presented Derbyshire with another opportunity but Martin stood up tall to block his effort as he looked to round the visitors’ keeper before Derbyshire rose highest to meet White’s centre in the Millers’ next attack but his header cleared the crossbar.
Despite their superiority, the Dons stunned the home faithful by regaining the lead just before the half hour mark.
Following a switch of play, Spence got the better of White on the right flank before whipping in a low centre which seemed to take a deflection of a retreating Collins to wrongfoot Roos and the ball squirmed into the home net.
Minutes later, Spence turned from hero to villain as he became the first to see yellow for flattening Derbyshire just seconds after Reeves cynically hauled over Danny Ward to prevent a quick home counter attack before the visitors took a stranglehold on the proceedings by extending their lead on 36 minutes.
There looked little danger until Halford’s driven backpass put Thorpe in trouble and Reeves pounced on the loose ball before advancing menacingly to the edge of the box and he bided his time to deliver a tantalising centre which saw Bowditch nip infront of his marker to bundle the ball into the corner of the net.
The visitors missed a gilt-edged chance to seal the deal before half-time when Hall cut inside to slip a fantastic ball into the path of Gallagher, who bared down on Roos, but he dragged his shot wide of the target when he really should have done better.
With half time approaching, Kyle McFadzean became the next to incur the wrath of referee Nigel Miller as he cynically hauled over Maguire just outside the box to earn a caution and Newell almost made them pay from the resultant free-kick with a rasping effort which was arrowing towards the top corner before Martin’s late intervention.
Half-time:- Rotherham United 1 Milton Keynes Dons 3
At half-time, Evans looked to breathe new life into the Millers by making a double substitution but the afternoon almost took another cruel twist for the home side soon after the interval when Reeves got the better of Collins but floating a delicate centre which had Roos and Thorpe in a daze forcing the latter to head clear but the ball whistled narrowly past his own upright.
Just before the hour mark, Newell showed fleet of foot to get the better of Hall to embark on a forceful run which ended with a drilled effort which was deflected into the arms of Martin.
Moments later, Halford’s clever pass released sub Lee Frecklington in the channel and his clipped cross was met by fellow sub Paul Green, who disappointingly headed over the bar from a promising position.
Reeves became the next to see yellow as he put his arms around Richie Smallwood to prevent him racing clear before long serving Dons skipper Dean Lewington ghosted in between a static home defensive line to meet Hall’s inswinging cross but he could not keep his effort down as it ballooned over the bar.
The Millers were fighting hard to get a foothold back in the clash and they wasted an opportunity to halve the deficit when Halford’s exocet throw was met by the head of Thorpe just yards out but his point-blank header lacked power as Martin snuffed out the danger on his own goal line.
The home side had faint appeals for a spot kick when firstly Frecklington’s bobbling effort struck McFadzean before Halford appeared to be hauled over from the resultant corner but referee Miller waved away home protests.
With quarter an hour to go, the MK Dons put the game to bed when Gallagher made the hard yards down the right flank to find sub Baker, who calmly jinked past the attentions of Newell to sweep into the box before smashing a fierce effort which flew past Roos at his near post.
The Millers came close to grabbing a consolation when firstly sub Jordan Bowery’s dangerous centre was cleared from his own line by Spence, who hacked clear despite being under pressure from home runners before Halford headed over as he towered to meet Newell’s corner in the next phase of play.
Full-time:- Rotherham United 1 Milton Keynes Dons 4
Teams- Rotherham- Roos, Collins, Maguire (Bowery 73), D Ward, White (Green 46), Halford, G Ward (Frecklington 46), Newell, Thorpe, Derbyshire, Smallwood. Unused- Collin, Buxton, Ledesma, Richardson.
MK Dons- Martin, Lewington, McFadzean, Kay, Potter, Bowditch (Powell 69), Reeves, Spence, Gallagher (Church 76), Carruthers, Hall (Baker 69). Unused- Cropper, Hodson, Walsh, Aguza.
Referee- N. Miller
Attendance- 9,869 (849).