IT was the beginning of the end. But was it the start of a bright new era?
A year on, it will certainly be a new era - in a new stadium and all that that will entail.
The Millers thus began the final season at Don Valley but the first term of the Andy Scott regime. Ok, he had a handful of games at the end of last season but this is the opening chapter of the tome “The Scott Way of Doing Things” with his fingerprints all over these first few pages.
So, first impressions? Mmm, interesting. Encouraging. Will the faithful be eager to turn a few more pages, come back for more?
Well, it always pays not to get too carried away. But any regime that can get Alf chasing back 60 yards or so in a manner rather like someone chasing a bloke who’s nicked your wallet, suggests it’s one that could be heading in the right direction.
With nine new players in the squad and five newcomers in the first day starting line-up, not everything may fit just perfectly. But this wasn’t bad for starters.
Take into account too an Oxford United side under Chris Wilder which definitely looked better and stronger than their only other DVS visit last season. They certainly outmuscled the Millers at times in some areas in the first half.
But, in such a tight encounter in what is likely to be a tough, very close division - the first goal can be decisive. And in such close encounters, a touch of class and quality can produce the match winning moment. That’s just what happened here three crucial, early minutes into the second half.
Going into the stiff breeze this half, Rotherham’s first assault saw Danny Schofield produce a typically deft touch that played Lewis Grabban into the area and, crucially, with a bit of space. He took a touch and the finish from the right side of the area, measured as much as just struck, always looked destined to finish up where it did, high in the far side of the net.
As it does, it compels the opposition to force the issue, chase the equaliser and we had a second half of cut and thrust. It was a test of Rotherham’s defensive capabilities and hints of what they might be about come similar situations further down the line.
They had the narrowest of squeaks during the height of Oxford’s pressure spell around the hour mark but with everyone chipping in they did the most important thing - got the job done.
Of the newcomers there were starts for Conrad Logan, Troy Brown in centre defence, Danny Schofield in midfield and Chris Holroyd and Grabban as part of a three-pronged attack.
Friday’s newcomer, central defender Michael Raynes from Scunthorpe, was on the bench which was really no surprise.
One of the great things about opening day is that all 22 are giving it the absolute, adrenalin-fuelled max in the opening stages. All that pre-season stuff is out of the way and the real thing is finally here. You could light a barbecue with all that early energy!
It could have gone wrong for the Millers early on. James Constable headed a good 10th minute chance wide and two minutes later, Asa Hall’s glancing header from a free-kick struck a post with Michael Duberry putting the rebound over. Rotherham were being made to work hard and probe for openings against a side shutting them off in certain areas, a midfield five in front of the back four but which was quick to spring out, not least down the right.
Rotherham had to keep at it and Holroyd might have done better with a clear header from Grabban’s cross whilst Ryan Cresswell had a header tipped over froma Schofield corner.
The half-time talk about one goal possibly being enough was still lingering over a half-munched Pukka pie when the Millers struck in the 48th minute.
They’ll learn a lesson too because Constable was almost in for an equaliser straight from the kick-off.
It was Constable’s fiercely-driven shot, just missed by Deane Smalley and narrowly avoided by Brown, which shaved the far post on 62 minutes and represented an important let-off.
It was an intriguing finale with Le Fondre’s chasing-around contributions to the defensive cause earning applause from the crowd.
Sub Gareth Evans struck a 30 yarder narrowly over before there was an escape when the Millers were caught out by a quick throw-in but sub Peter Leven, with Logan hurtling at him, could only touch his hurried effort wide.
In the final minute, put clear by Le Fondre, Grabban was denied a second by Clarke’s fine save.
So, a winning start again and a very good one too. The surprise is that the burgeoning new ground will have some way to go to catch the - dare we call it “the dear old” - Don Valley Stadium in one respect.
This was the fourth straight opening day win since moving there in 2008. That’s a fair old record for the new ground to match!
ROTHERHAM UTD: Logan 7, Tonge 7, Brown 8, Cresswell 8, Newey 7, Harrison 7, Taylor 7, Schofield** 7, Holroyd* 6, Grabban 7, Le Fondre 8. Subs: Evans* (72), Pringle** (84). Unused: Warrington, Marshall, Raynes.
OXFORD UTD: Clarke 6, Batt 7, Duberry 7, Wright 7, Tonkin** 6, Smalley 5, Payne* 5, Whing 7, Hall*** 6, Davis 6, Constable 6. Subs: Potter* (56), Pittman** (68), Leven*** (75). Unused: Brown, Heslop.
Referee: Dean Mohareb (Cheshire).
We wanted a winning start and that’s a good start. We were on top in the first half apart from six or seven minutes and then had a fantastic start to the second half with a terrific goal all round. Oxford are a tough side who are going to be strong and that was a good win.
The players were worked hard in pre-season and the idea was that they would be ready for August 6. They were ready and kept a clean sheet too. And Adam Le Fondre contributed massively to that clean sheet.