Rotherham United’s U18s kicked off 2024 with a narrow 3-1 defeat at the hands of Hartlepool United on Saturday in the Youth Alliance League.
Gavin Atherton’s youngsters were ultimately overcome in the North East despite Tom Shepherd netting early on in the contest with Pools.
The clash with Hartlepool marked the Millers’ first action of the New Year following the Christmas break, but they showed no signs of a sluggish return when their bright start paved the way for Shepherd to net their first goal of the New Year after just 11 minutes.
They were so clinical, in fact, that Shepherd’s strike was the first of the game and came following a free kick in a wide position, to which he applied the final touch to take the ball beyond a helpless Hartlepool goalkeeper.
Josh Ayres was next to threaten for the Millers when he threw himself at a delivery from the right on 35 minutes and was unfortunate to see his diving header go wide of the target.
Pools did manage to find the equaliser and at an important time just before the break, too. The opportunity came for the hosts when Alfie Steel was upended in the Millers box and subsequently awarded a penalty for the foul, which he stepped up to take himself and despatch to make it 1-1 just before the interval.
The hosts started the second half as brightly as they had ended the first and issued warning signs of their attacking intent in the early exchanges, but were kept at bay by the Millers’ resistance.
Atherton’s men would then hit the woodwork when the lively Ayres made something of Bailey Hamilton’s long goal kick downfield which had been flicked into his path by a teammate, before he thundered a strike against the near post which would canon away to safety.
Steel would then combine with Alfie Storey for Pools as they edged their noses in front.
The former’s elegant control would allow him the time to find Storey, whose clinical turn and strike resulted in the ball ending up in the back of the Millers’ net to give the home side the advantage.
A third for Pools and a second for Storey would come five minutes from the end as the Millers pressed in their search for a way back into the game.
Joe Aungiers’ goalbound strike was initially kept out by the visiting defence, who were unfortunate to see Storey on-hand in the right place at the right time to tap home and make it 3-1.
Academy | Hamilton, Shepherd, Paisley (Richardson 75), Roddis, Seisay (Gordon 72), Hibbard, Clarke, Grove (Abraham 82), Ayres, Wilson (Hatton 77), Giwa (Lee 72).