On a night when the rain never stopped, neither did the effort.
Rotherham United progressed to the second round of the Carabao Cup after a pulsating clash with Lincoln City where both teams ran themselves to a standstill.
A cracking tie, full of endeavour and no little skill from both sides, was settled by goals for Paul Warne’s men from Jamie Proctor and and substitute Anthony Forde.
Semi Ajayi and Richard O’Donnell will be indebted to that scoring duo after a terrible mix-up between the centre-half and goalkeeper had gifted the visitors an equaliser.
The League One Millers deserved their victory against the league newcomers who have a great recent cup pedigree. Both sides had chances to score late on. The home team prevailed and the class of 2017/18 is now up and running.
“I thought it was a good, competitive game,” Warne said. “Both teams wanted to win. It was more stretched than I would have liked.
“I thought, going forward, we were excellent. We weren’t as aggressive at the back as I wanted us to be. I think their goal took two months off my life!”
The first half was a fast-paced affair between two hard-working, committed teams, with Rotherham shading proceedings with their superior quality.
The Millers had to match Lincoln for effort and they duly did before making the breakthrough in the 39th minute.
Proctor put them ahead with a pinpoint 22-yard strike, taking control of Joe Mattock’s pass and picking his spot before burying the ball into the corner past Josh Vickers’ outstretched right hand.
O’Donnell produced a sharp save from a Sean Raggett header at his back post to prevent an immediate equaliser, although referee Seb Stockbridge missed it and awarded a goalkick.
Last season, three divisions separated these sides. The Millers’ relegation from the Championship and Lincoln’s promotion to the Football League has narrowed the gap to one, and this was a thrillingly hard-fought encounter.
The visitors are no strangers to knockout success, having reached the last eight of the FA Cup last year when they beat top-flight Burnley and Championship Brighton and Ipswich on their way to a quarter-final date with eventual winners Arsenal.
The second half continued at the same breakneck speed. O’Donnell saved another Raggett header, Ryan Williams saw his shot saved after a flowing Millers move and Michael Ihiekwe’s header header was tipped over.
The Millers looked to be taking the upper hand, but then came the horrible 64th-minute mix-up which handed Billy Knott the opportunity to level the scores.
If the heavens were well and truly open so, suddenly, was the Rotherham defence in the 64th minute as Ajayi and O’Donnell left the ball to each other and Knott gratefully nipped in and said thank you
Like the rain, both sides kept coming and it was Rotherham who struck the decisive blow when substitute Anthony Forde steered home Mattock’s 79th-minute cross from close range.
Warne made four changes to his side, bringing in wide men Ryan Williams and Joe Newell in place of Anthony Forde and Jon Taylor, opting for Darren Potter in midfield at the expense of Will Vaulks and replacing David Ball up front with Kieffer Moore who impressed once again.
Potter made a big difference with his composure and ability to look after the ball.
After the opening-day league reverse against Fleetwood last Saturday, this was a result Rotherham needed.
“Just as I was about to leave the house, I heard Iain Dowie on Sky saying teams don’t want to lose two games on the trot because it makes life harder,” Warne grinned.
“Boy, did I suddenly feel a bit of pressure!”
Happily, this showing brought brighter spells for the boss.
Goals: Proctor 39, Forde 79 (Rotherham); Knott 64 (Lincoln).
Rotherham (4-4-2): O’Donnell; Emmanuel, Ajayi, Ihiekwe, Mattock; Williams (Forde 63), Potter, Frecklington (Vaulks 90), Newell; Proctor (Clarke-Harris 87), Moore. Subs not used: Bilboe, Purrington, David Ball, Taylor.
Lincoln City (4-4-1-1): Vickers; Long, Dickie, Raggett,Eardley; Maguire-Drew (Arnold 67), Bostwick, Woodyard, Anderson; Knott (Rhead 82); Green (Palmer 63). Subs not used: Farman, Whitehouse, Howe, Chapman.
Referee: Seb Stockbridge (Tyne).
Attendance: 5,489 (1,706).