Rotherham United may have Wembley in their sights as they brushed aside the challenge of Crewe Alexandra, in a six-goal thriller, to advance to the last eight of the Papa John’s Trophy.
The highlight of the evening was a first senior goal in Millers colours for sub Joshua Kayode, who put the Millers ahead for a second time, before fellow replacement, Freddie Ladapo made sure of the victory late on with a fine strike.
Earlier, Kieran Sadlier’s fourth goal in the competition cancelled out Mikael Mandron’s opener before Scott Robertson levelled for Alex after Michael Smith’s 18th goal in all competitions.
Millers boss Paul Warne freshened up his starting options for the EFL Trophy clash, and ahead of their FA Cup capital visit at the weekend. Rarmani Edmonds-Green, Michael Ihiekwe and Smith were the only players retained from the New Year’s Day victory over Bolton Wanderers.
Josh Vickers was recalled between the Rotherham sticks while there was a new look to the Millers midfield, with several players getting some much-needed game time. Experienced frontman Will Grigg was named alongside weekend hero, Smith.
On the bench, Warne could call upon several of his big-hitters if required, while he was boosted by the return of Angus MacDonald, who was back in the Millers matchday squad for the first time, this season.
On a cold evening in Cheshire, Rotherham had the first sight of goal when they caught Alex napping from a short corner and Sadlier’s lay-off presented Jamie Lindsay with the chance to strike from distance but Will Jaaskelainen was his equal with a parried save at full stretch.
However, Rotherham found themselves trailing early in the game when Crewe opened the scoring with their first real attack of note on 11 minutes.
Hakeem Odoffin was dispossessed on halfway and the home side punished him to the full when they countered with devastating effect and Mandron was the grateful recipient, by taking a through ball in his stride before getting a yard on nearest marker, Ihiekwe, before firing a low shot which beat the outstretched hand of Vickers to find the bottom corner of the net.
Rotherham responded positively to the setback and Lindsay had a shot blocked before he failed to make the most of a Jaaskelainen error when the home ‘keeper had temporarily left the goal unguarded, but the Scottish midfielder was crowded out before he could get his shot away.
Wes Harding was the first to see yellow for a trip on Travis Johnson before Terell Thomas’ attempted clearance fell kindly for Smith on the volley, and the Millers leading marksman showed great technique to control his low effort which arrowed towards the bottom corner of the home goal but Jaaskelainen’s 11th hour intervention kept the ball out.
Rotherham continued to press and after Smith was denied again on the edge of the box after good work by Grigg, in the build-up, Sadlier kept up his good form in the Papa John’s Trophy, by equalising four minutes before the break.
Skipper for the evening Joe Mattock threaded a ball into the feet of Smith, who presented Sadlier with the chance to stride forward before firing a dipping effort from distance which appeared to deceive Jaaskelainen in the air, as it flew into the far corner of the goal.
Half-time: Crewe Alexandra 1 Rotherham United 1
The Millers started the second 45 in a positive vein and Smith cut inside with menace, but his tame shot was straight down the throat of Jaaskelainen.
However, Rotherham’s top scorer was not to be outdone, and he put the Millers ahead, just before the hour mark. Harding’s long throw was headed back to him by Mandron and the Jamaican international planted a cross into the danger area and after Grigg’s aerial duel with his marker, Smith was handily placed at the far post, to stick out a timely leg to prod the ball home from close range.
Rotherham had a sloppy spell, soon after, and after Regan Griffiths stung the palms of Vickers, David Artell’s side levelled matters, with 19 minutes remaining, thanks to a wonder strike from Robertson.
The Millers were slow to react to the danger and sub Luke Murphy presented Robertson with the chance to get the ball under his spell, and with no Rotherham player in the vicinity, he left fly with a rasping effort which arrowed into the top corner of the goal.
Spot kicks were now on the cards, but in a lively finish, Rotherham put the tie beyond Alex’s reach with a late double.
Firstly, sub Shane Ferguson whipped in a lovely cross which Ladapo failed to make a clean connection with but Edmonds-Green kept the ball alive, and Chiedozie Ogbene, provided his second assist in as many games, with a hanging cross, and Kayode nipped in front of Donervan Daniels to nod home from close range.
The goal saw the Republic of Ireland youth international mobbed by his teammates after notching his first senior goal for the club, after making his way through the youth ranks.
Kayode came back to earth with a bump when he somehow scooped the ball over the bar from a few yards out after good approach play from Sadlier before Ladapo netted from Odoffin’s pass, but any joy was cut short by the offside flag.
Crewe threatened to take the game the distance when Callum Ainley brought the best out of Vickers with a stinging drive which the Rotherham stopper had to acrobatically turn away before the vocal Millers followers were treated to another goal in the fourth minute of stoppage time.
Ferguson threaded a pass from the channel into the feet of Ladapo, who spun away from the challenge of two Crewe defenders, before taking aim with a left-footed effort which rifled into the roof of Jaaskelainen’s net.
Full-time: Crewe Alexandra 2 Rotherham United 4
Crewe | Jaaskelainen, Ramsay (Tabiner 68), Thomas, Ainley, Mandron (Salisbury 84), Finney (Murphy 68), Griffiths (Porter 84), Daniels, Johnson, O’Riordan, Robertson. Unused- Richards, Gomes, Sass-Davies.
Rotherham | Vickers, Edmonds-Green, Ihiekwe, Mattock (Ogbene 78), Harding, Sadlier, Lindsay (Rathbone 70), Odoffin, Bola (Ferguson 70), Smith (Kayode 62), Grigg (Ladapo 78). Unused- Johansson, MacDonald.
Referee | R Welch
Attendance | 771 (154 away)