A Rotherham United side containing a mixture of youth and experience triumphed in their opening Central League outing of 2019/20 as they overcame local neighbours Doncaster Rovers in a 3-2 win at Roundwood.
After an early setback goals from Shaun MacDonald, Trevor Clarke and Jacob Gratton helped Matt Hamshaw's side to maximum points despite a second half reply from Harrison Myring, after Max Watters' opener.
The midweek reserve fixture offered the likes of MacDonald, Julien Lamy and Carlton Morris the chance to impress as Paul Warne and his coaching staff cast a watchful eye over the all-South Yorkshire affair from the sidelines, while youngsters including Jake Hull, Harrison Beeden and Wilfred Peel-Evans were all named in the starting XI.
In the early exchanges, Millers stopper Laurence Bilboe was booked as his foul halted an early Doncaster charge and provided Danny Amos with the chance to bend a free kick at the target, but saw his effort crash into the wall.
The visitors did edge themselves in front soon after though when Watters’ alertness in the final third saw him pick off a Millers pass before striding forward to coolly slot underneath the advancing Bilboe and make it 1-0.
Hamshaw’s side responded to going behind brilliantly and levelled just seven minutes after the opener. Trevor Clarke’s delivery from a home corner was half-cleared to the edge of the box where it was met by MacDonald, who made the sweetest of connections with a volley to drive it beyond the helpless Doncaster goalkeeper and restore parity at Roundwood.
The hosts continued to grow into the game following their equaliser and their improvement was so vast that they took the lead on 23 minutes. This time provider turned goalscorer as Clarke pounced following a long throw into the box to loop a header up and over Kian Johnson to give his side the lead.
Clarke remained a key figure in the most notable of the Millers’ attacks firstly picking out Hull from another corner, whose header was smartly saved by Johnson in the Doncaster goal. He almost added a second to his tally for the afternoon soon after when he combined with Julien Lamy in a neat one-two, before being denied by another good save from Johnson in the Rovers’ goal.
Having largely remained a spectator since the opening goal of the game, Bilboe was forced into action to make three saves in quick succession to preserve his side’s advantage. Both chances fell to Rovers’ goalscorer Watters, but Bilboe stood up to the challenge making a trio of saves to come out on top of the mini-battle developing between striker and goalkeeper.
Half-time | Reserves 2 v 1 Doncaster Rovers
The Millers restarted the fixture seeking another goal for their tally and came close to getting one just three minutes into the action. French winger Lamy once again combined cleverly with Clarke, this time taking an effort on himself which forced an excellent fingertip save to deny him.
Wilfred Peel-Evans was next to try his luck from distance but his strike flew over the crossbar.
The Millers surrendered their advantage on 52 minutes when Harrison Myring showed good anticipation to latch onto a ball over the top before executing a well-weighted lob over Bilboe as he raced off his line.
A battle of a similar ilk to Watters v Bilboe then ensued at the other end with Lamy and Johnson locking horns in front of goal. The first of the Frenchman’s testing strikes came in the form of a ferocious effort which was beaten away by Johnson before some useful solo work saw him curl an effort towards the bottom corner, only to be thwarted by an outstretched arm from the Doncaster ‘keeper.
Gratton was the next Millers player to try and beat Johnson, who had been formidable between the sticks for the visitors, and subsequently, was the next to be denied. A weaving run took the Academy player into the area where he fired a low shot at the target, only to see Johnson make the save with his feet.
The Millers pressure finally told on 82 minutes when they were able to find a way past the Doncaster goalkeeper. Gratton’s sublime first touch saw him tame a long ball brilliantly before his drilled effort was too powerful for Johnson to save this time, as the ball flew underneath him and into the back of the net.
There would be one final late scare for the hosts as Myring’s piledriver cannoned back off the crossbar but ultimately ended up away from danger, meaning the Millers recorded maximum points from their first Central League outing of 2019/20.
Full-time | Reserves 3 v 2 Doncaster Rovers
Millers | Bilboe; Beeden, Cooper, Hull, Hinds; Ogbene (Spence 63), MacDonald, Peel-Evans, Clarke (Gratton 63); Lamy (C. Smith 72); Morris (Greaves 63).
Unused | Hodgkinson.