Rotherham United Reserves bowed out of the Central League Cup at the semi-final stage, after they were beaten 2-1 by Blackpool at Roundwood on Tuesday.
Having found themselves two goals behind thanks to goals from Brad Holmes in either half, Leiwi Abraham pulled one back with just over 10 minutes left to set up a grand stand finish, with a host of chances going begging in the final moments.
With the Millers First Team in action against Norwich City the previous day, a youthful side took to the field against the Tangerines, with skipper Richard Wood the only senior player named in the matchday squad.
The first big opportunity of the match feel the away of the visitors inside the first three minutes, when Joe Strawn advanced into the penalty area before laying the ball off to Owen Moffat who could only bend an effort wide from inside the box.
Four minutes later, the Reserves threatened at the other end. Ben Hatton picked up possession outside the box before threading the ball through to Jake Champion who was forced slightly wide before seeing his effort well-blocked by Josh Nyame.
The away side were the team in the ascendency in the opening exchanges and had another good opportunity with 15 minutes on the clock, when a cross from deep was cleared as far as Holmes, who was unlucky to see his volley whistle just wide of the far post.
Two minutes later, another chance came and went for the visitors. Donovan Lescott carried the ball from deep before advance into the box, but the retreating Will Jenkinson stuck to the task and got his body in the way of the ball to make a good block to keep the scores level.
Rotherham did carry a threat at the other end however and went close themselves through the lively Hatton, who collected Champion’s pass before going through one-on-one with Bardsley, but the keeper denied him with an outstretched leg. Despite calls for a penalty from the Millers, the protests were waved away by the referee, after it had appeared the stopper had won the ball.
Home goalkeeper Nat Ford would make the first of a series of big saves in the 33rd minute, when he was at full stretch to claw a Holmes header away, after the striker looked to have met Lescott’s pinpoint delivery with a goalbound header. From the resulting corner, Ford produced yet more heroics when he spread himself like a cat to thwart Squires, who looked certain to score from six yards out.
It was the visiting defence who were called into action two minutes later when Nisbett saw his fierce drive beaten away by Bardsley, before Hatton’s follow-up was hooked off the line by Squires. The away team went straight down the other end in pursuit of the opener with Moffat doing well to round Ford before seeing his effort cannon back off the bar from a tight angle.
The Tangerines were presented with a big chance to open the scoring four minutes before the break, when Joe Strawn was upended by Archie Day inside the box for a penalty. Holmes stepped up and sent Ford the wrong way to give his team the lead.
Blackpool certainly had their tails up and had two good chances to double their lead just before the break. Ford was called into action again to deny Moffat, who got a good shot away despite pressure from Ford, before Day made a superb block to prevent Mariette from scoring, following good work on the left side by Alex Lankshear.
HALF TIME | RESERVES 0 v 1 BLACKPOOL
Having seen an effort from Lescott well defended by Wood, the visitors doubled their advantage 10 minutes into the second half. Again, it was Holmes who would get his name on the scoresheet when he collected Lankshear’s incisive through pass before finishing clinically past Ford to make it 2-0.
The Millers were made to work hard to force their way back into the game. Rylee Grove was left frustrated when he picked up possession in his own half and looked to manoeuvre his way through the centre of the pitch. The midfielder rode a challenge from Trusty superbly before the Blackpool skipper was forced to drag him back, taking a yellow card for the team in the process to halt a promising attack.
Whilst it was the home side looking to turn the screw, Blackpool always carried a threat on the break and it almost yielded a third goal on 68 minutes when Holmes surged forward on the counter attack before selfishly looking to square the ball across the box to a team mate. Thankfully, the Millers had managed to get bodies back and Wood was on hand to make a good interception.
With just over 15 minutes remaining, the impressive Ford came to Rotherham’s rescue again when he spread himself well to prevent Holmes from completing his hat-trick before springing to his feet to deny Strawn on the rebound.
Rotherham kept battling and had their rewards with 10 minutes to go. Abraham charged down Bardsley’s goal kick and earned his slice of luck, when the ball bounced back off him and into the back of the net to half the deficit.
The young Millers threw everything at the visitors and thought they’d found the leveller with five minutes to go. Jenkinson delivered an inviting ball from the left which Ayres looked certain to convert, before a brave header from Lankshear stopped him from getting on the end of it.
They went even closer three minutes later when Josh Ayres met a corner with a spectacular bicycle kick, with the retreating Squires called into action to head the effort off the line and it would prove to crucial for his side, who held on to set up a final with Wigan Athletic.
FULL TIME | RESERVES 1 v 2 BLACKPOOL
RESERVES | Ford, Seisay (Shepherd 78’), Jenkinson, Wood, Day, Champion, Nisbett (Douglas 67’), Hatton (Ayres 67’), Holvey (Clark 45’), Grove, Abraham.
UNUSED | Hamilton