Business resumed at AESSEAL New Stadium after the summer break and it was as if Rotherham United had never been away.
The pitch looked as perfect as ever, despite being relaid since the Millers signed off at home by securing their Championship safety against Reading.
And the players were everything you’d expect from a Steve Evans’ side, grafting and giving Premier League opponents plenty to worry about despite slipping to a 2-1 defeat.
Just the kind of spirit, in fact, which kept the Millers up last term and will see them establish themselves in midtable next season if Evans has his way. And there’s certainly more quality on display after Evans’ summer pre-season recruitment than there was at this stage last year as the Millers played a big part in a rousing second half.
The first period wasn’t the greatest you’ll ever see, but Evans’ men looked organised and the game sprang to life after the break when Rotherham looked a genuine threat.
They could have twice taken the lead at the start of the second half before Riyad Mahrez buried a classy 20-yard drive for the visitors in the 56th minute.
Four minutes earlier, Jordan Bowery had found himself 10 yards out with only the goalkeeper to beat but somehow steered his shot wide and then Matt Derbyshire was fouled inside the penalty area by Ritchie De Laet only for the referee to award a free-kick for an earlier infringement by the visiting defender.
There were further encouraging signs as they shredded the Leicester defence with a length-of-the-field move instigated by Lee Frecklington’s tackle, carried on by Grant Ward and ended only by desperate Foxes defending as Aidy White crossed, followed moments later by Bowery being denied by Mark Schwarzer.
David Nugent drove the ball through new Millers keeper Kelle Roos in the 72nd minute for the Foxes’ second goal when a Millers equaliser had looked more on the cards through White’s speedy penetration.
The goal they deserved came in the 79th minute, a fifth of pre-season for Grant Ward and the fourth special strike as the young midfielder took his time and fizzed in a 22-yard stunner.
The Millers had handed an instant start to former Sheffield Wednesday forward Chris Maguire, who met his new teammates for the first time on Monday, in a team which didn’t look a million miles away from the one which could start on August 8.
He was neat in possession, but didn’t have a lot of chance to shine, and there are better days to come for the forward who is catching up on his fitness after training on his own for much of pre-season.
Danny Collins and Tom Thorpe and man of the match White were new boys who took their chance to impress.
Leicester, shaded territory in the first half, but Rotherham had the clearer chances.
The downside for Rotherham was Danny Ward limping off in the 19th minute. This might have been a friendly, but you won’t see a more full-blooded challenge than the one early doors by Liam Moore from which the Rotherham forward never recovered.
MK Dons assistant manager and ex-Miller Richie Barker was among the crowd, with the Dons the opening-day visitors to New York.
The Millers look ready.
Goals: Mahrez 56, Nugent 72 (Leicester), G Ward 79 (Rotherham).
Rotherham United (4-4-2): Roos; Halford (Wood 86), Thorpe, Collins, White (Yates 84); Maguire (Richardson H-T), Green (Frecklington H-T), G Ward (Warren 90), Ledesma (Smallwood 71); D Ward (Bowery 19), Derbyshire (Clarke-Harris 71). Subs not used: Collin.
Leicester City: Schwarzer, De Laet, Drinkwater, Watson, Schlupp, Lawrence, Simpson, Moore, Ulloa, Nugent, Mahrez. Subs not used: Maddison, Cain, Elder, Panayiotou, Davis, Stankevicius.
Referee: M Brown.
Attendance: 3,678 (524).