An action-packed game fit for a final. The Millers were victorious against a hard-working Mansfield Town side thanks to goals either side of half time - a Ben Hatton close-range rifle and a Leiwi Abraham header.
Ben Hatton set the tone early when he capitisled on a misplaced pass from the Mansfield rearguard, driving a low effort towards goal. The Mansfield ‘keeper was level to it.
Despite the early chance, much of the opening exchanges saw the Stags’ play the aggressors. However, a resolute attitude across the Millers’ backline saw Hamid Seisay and Archie Day continue to deny and frustrate the Mansfield frontmen.
After weathering the early storm, Rotherham broke the deadlock through Ben Hatton. The young number 10 produced an instinctual finish as he received the ball from Tom Shepherd, steadied himself in the box, and powered home a strike into the roof of the net from close range.
After scoring the first, Richard Hairyes’ men didn’t look back. Body on the line defending where necessary saw a handful of stoppages in play, but the Millers maintained their attacking intent through Kanye Nisbett, Leiwi Abraham and the goalscorer Ben Hatton.
On the stroke of half time, Hatton had the ball in the back of the Mansfield Town goal once again, but the linesman’s flag unfortunately denied the forward after a deft run to catch the opposition defence sleeping.
HALF TIME: ROTHERHAM 1 – 0 MANSFIELD
Whatever Richard Hairyes and his coaching staff said to the young Millers in the changing rooms evidently have worked wonders as they rushed out of the blocks in the second 45’ looking like a team possessed.
It took around 10 minutes for the Millers to have the ball in the back of the net for a third time, this time without the raised flag. Leiwi Abraham snuck in front of his marker to wriggle his way to the front post before converting a glancing header to double his side’s lead from a Tom Shepherd corner.
Mansfield looked for a near-instant response but five minutes later. Two clever balls cut open the Millers defence, leaving the Mansfield striker will a nearly empty net to slot into, before Archie saved the Day – intervening with a goal-line clearance.
The balance of the game began to even out as the second ticked on, but this isn’t to say the game was without chances. The substitute Zach Bond evaded two men before pulling it back from Jake Champion. The Millers’ ‘7 struck powerfully – the ‘keeper could only parry the effort into the path of Bond, but he couldn’t quite get it under his spell.
After yet another tidy Millers move to create the chance, Mansfield worked the ball up the other end and scored on the counter.
Clearly smelling blood, the Stags piled forward once again not even a minute after pulling one back, and earned a penalty as Archie Day saw red for a foul on the last man. It looked as if Mansfield had returned from a two-goal deficit within two minutes… up steps Nat Ford. The ‘keeper produced a brilliant save to deny Mansfield an equaliser from the spot.
A cagey closing period saw the Millers withstand copious amounts of pressure to seal the victory, and book their place in the Youth Alliance Cup National Final.
The final is to be played at Stadium MK against MK Dons for the silverware.
FULL TIME: ROTHERHAM 2 – 1 MANSFIELD
ACADEMY | Ford, Jenkinson, Day, Seisay, Hatton (Clark 53’), Abraham, Grove, Champion, Shepherd, Holvey (Bond 45’), Nisbett (Ayres 45’).
UNUSED | Hamilton, Roddis.
MANSFIELD TOWN | Turner, Hartmann (Kokkinos 53), Anderson, Maher, Wauchope, Bonser (Flanagan 53), Whyle, Carter, Kruszynski, King (Aynsley-Johnson 63), Abdullah
UNUSED | Avery, Hamilton