It was a night to forget for Notts County, as Rotherham United booked their place in the third round of the FA Cup with Budweiser. A disappointing first half showing led to the 10-man Magpies being 3-0 down and there was no way back, despite a hard-working display after the interval.
It took only the Millers just 10 minutes to move in front, when wideman Ben Pringle found the top corner with a stunning, long-range drive. 12 minutes later, it was 2-0, after midfielder Mark Bradley prodded home from a dangerous corner delivery.
The home fans knew it was not going to be their team’s night, when Damion Stewart was red carded for an alleged elbow on striker Alex Revell. Forward Daniel Nardiello then added to the Magpies’ misery with a controversial goal ahead of the break.
Three changes at half time led to a livelier second half performance from Notts but they were always up against it, as the visitors piled men behind the ball. Chances remained limited and it was Rotherham that booked a trip to Aldershot Town in the New Year.
Alan Judge returned from suspension to take up his regular attacking midfield role, behind Yoann Arquin, who had recovered from injury in time to replace the cup-tied Chris Iwelumo at the spearhead of the attack. Dean Leacock was withdrawn from the weekend’s meeting with Brentford and was missing from the teamsheet, meaning that Stewart took his place, alongside Gary Liddle at the heart of defence.
Elsewhere, there was an FA Cup surprise before a ball had even been kicked, with the announcement that 20-year-old goalkeeper Liam Mitchell was to start in goal. An injury to the ever-present Bartosz Bialkowski had forced the change, allowing Mitchell to make his senior debut for the Magpies.
The visitors made their intentions clear from the opening minute and that was to test the inexperienced stopper. Every corner was targeted under the youth team graduate’s crossbar but he dealt with the pressure well and punched clear on multiple occasions.
Mitchell was required to show what he was capable of for the first time when midfielder Michael O’Connor fired towards the bottom-left corner from range. The number 12 managed to deal with an awkward bounce, as he leapt across his goal to tip behind.
There was nothing Mitchell could do to keep out a spectacular opener from Pringle. The wideman was given space 25 yards from goal and he made the most of it by rifling into the top-right corner.
Notts struggled to get a passing game going, as the visitors pressed high up the pitch. The first attempt on goal arrived in the 20th minute, when Alan Sheehan’s in-swinging free-kick was headed over by Stewart inside a crowded six-yard box.
United doubled their advantage in the 22nd minute, with Pringle this time providing an assist. His well-placed corner into the goalmouth evaded everyone, leaving Bradley with the simple task of striking into the roof of the net at the back post.
The Magpies attempted to pin the visitors back following the second goal and Alan Judge was unfortunate to see a decent effort blocked, following good hold-up play on the byline by Jamal Campbell-Ryce. Moments later, Neal Bishop forced away goalkeeper Andy Warrington into a smart save with a downward header, which was created by Arquin’s nodded centre.
O’Connor threatened again when he found the roof of the net with a curled free-kick. Notts needed to offer more if they were to mount a comeback but it was made an even tougher challenge when Stewart was dismissed.
The Jamaican was seen to have swung an arm at Revell and the referee, Darren Deadman, wasted no time in issuing a straight red card. County faced an hour with 10 men but maintained an offensive approach by adapting to a back three of Julian Kelly, Liddle and Alan Sheehan.
Rotherham looked to make the most of the extra man and, on 36, Frecklington was able to escape down the centre, only to be kept out by Mitchell, who rushed off his line to make a fine block. Nardiello then cleared the bar with a stern drive, though he did not have to wait much longer to find the net.
Four minutes before the break, the home defenders were left stranded, as they reacted to an offside flag, which was quickly withdrawn. The linesman had decided that Revell had not been interfering with play and Frecklington was able to race clear unopposed.
The midfielder proceeded to confidently round Mitchell and provide a low centre for Nardiello. The forward smashed home without hesitation, under pressure from the retreating backline.
Keith Curle used all three of his substitutions at the break in an attempt to salvage something from the match. Enoch Showunmi, Francois Zoko and Joss Labadie replaced Arquin, Jeff Hughes and Andre Boucaud.
County refused to be beaten and worked tirelessly to find a way back. It was one of the substitutes, Labadie, who almost provided a lifeline in the early stages of the half.
Kelly had broken down the right wing and managed to pick out Zoko, whose volley was well blocked. With a powerful, first-time hit from the edge of the box, Labadie was unfortunate not to find the top-left corner.
On 60, Frecklington should have scored, after he latched on to a hopeful long ball. The midfielder beat Mitchell with a clever, chipped finish but watched the ball bounce wide of the mark.
Mitchell was forced to palm behind to prevent Pringle from adding his second of the evening with a shot from distance. The stopper then tipped over a dangerous looking effort by Revell that was certain to find a way under the crossbar.
Headed efforts from Liddle and Zoko failed to work Warrington in the dying stages. At the other end, Revell did manage to force Mitchell into a reaction save inside his near post, but he was not to be beaten again and the game ended 3-0 to the League 2 high-flyers.