Rotherham United 1 v Darlington 1 (Rotherham win 4-2 on penalties): ALL'S well that ends well - and when it comes to penalties it usually does end well for Rotherham United, the penalty kings!
They made it three out of three in penalty shoot-outs this season and that's 14 penalties taken and 13 scored in that most nerve-wracking of finales.
But the Millers were cool and positive with all the four spot kicks required to earn themselves a place in the Northern Area Final of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy where Scunthorpe United await them over two
legs after beating Ronnie Moore's Tranmere 2-1 last night.
They had dragged themselves back from a pretty dismal first half display in which Darlington - winners here in October - had secured a 1-0 lead and looked infinitely superior in most areas.
But not in the goalkeeping department where reserve 'keeper Steve Cann was the unlikely hero in only his second outing for Rotherham.
His first one ended in a 3-0 defeat in the FA Cup replay with Aldershot when he had no chance with any of the goals.
He must have been itching for another go and got the opportunity through David Stockdale's suspension.
He did not waste it.
Inside the opening eight minutes Cann, who is 20, had done well to twice deny Billy Clarke. He could do nothing about the 35th minute effort central defender Steve Foster steered instinctively on the run from a Liam Hatch cross.
It could not be denied that Darlington deserved the lead. Playing with four strikers, they shed the defensive outlook of the league game in the attempt to go and win this one rather than be solid and look to nick something.
They were stronger and more determined and Rotherham struggled to make openings, the closest being when a Peter Holmes pass induced an error by Foster but Alan White rescued him with the latest of last-ditch touches when Ryan Taylor looked sure to score.
Once in front, Darlington resorted to slowing it all down, taking ages at throw-ins or when the ball went dead. They might have been better off going for the jugular.
Right on half-time Cann turned over a Hatch cross destined for the unmarked Clarke. Millers fans were dismayed by their side's poor showing and more of the same seemed likely when Cann had to make a very good save from a Hatch header two minutes into the second half.
But Rotherham had changed formation, bringing on Marc Joseph as they went to a back three in what was effectively 3-4-3 with erstwhile full backs Dale Tonge and Jamie Green encouraged to get forward.
They changed again 10 minutes into the half, replacing an ineffective Alex Rhodes with Mark Hudson to go 3-5-2 but they at least had given their followers a lift by then simply by having some shots at goal.
All were from outside the area, Taylor twice forcing none too difficult saves, Reuben Reid forcing a save and twice shooting over. But it was something meaningful. Perhaps Darlington, after being superior, allowed a touch of slackness to creep in too and Rotherham gained a foothold.
Young Green's enthusiastic forays down the left were a spur and he was only denied by a fine save from Simon Brown after surprising Neil Austin by nipping inside him onto Joseph's diagonal pass.
Ian Sharps made a vital intervention just before the 74th minute equaliser. Initially it was quick thinking at a throw-in, Tonge's cross was missed by Brown's punch and Nick Fenton's effort was adjudged over the line when cleared via the bar.
Three minutes later, Taylor headed just over from Green's superb cross and with both sides busting a gut to win it, Cann made a super save as little right winger Seb Carole - on trial at Sheffield United a couple of weeks ago - cut in from the right.
In stoppage time, Hudson headed wide of an empty net after a Sharps header flicked off Foster leaving keeper Brown stranded. No sweat though - it only delayed the inevitable when it came to the penalties with former Darlington midfielder Micky Cummins smacking in the clinching one after Cann had opened with two saves, the second one painfully so!
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