Kieran Agard’s 37th minute strike was enough to give Rotherham United a 1-0 win over Notts County. The Magpies had been hoping to build on an impressive midweek draw with Liverpool but they were unable to get the better of the unbeaten Millers at Meadow Lane.
Skipper Dean Leacock’s return to full fitness saw him drafted straight into the starting 11, alongside Gary Liddle at the heart of defence. As a result, Manny Smith watched on from the substitutes’ bench in the only change from the side that faced Liverpool in midweek.
The first moment of goalmouth action arrived in the 13th minute, when David Bell found space on the edge of the box. The wideman unleashed a stern drive, which stung the palms of away goalkeeper Scott Shearer.
Rotherham struggled to clear and Jamal Campbell-Ryce capitalised with a supberb low centre across the goalmouth. Tuesday night’s Man of the Match Yoann Arquin looked set to prod home but he was unable to gain a touch on the cross.
At the other end, Lee Frecklington tried his luck from range but was unable to keep his strike down. Agard later attempted a shot on the turn but Liddle was at hand to deny the forward with a fine block.
On the whole, Notts played the better football in the opening stages, with some neat, fast-paced passing moves, most notably in the wide areas. However, the Millers made themselves tough to break down and only Leacock’s long clearance threatened, as Shearer misjudged the bounce and had to chase down the ball to prevent an embarrassing concession.
County were forced into an early substitution, following a foot injury to Campbell-Ryce. The wideman was replaced by midweek goal-scorer Adam Coombes, who lined up on the left flank.
On 37, the visitors gained the lead with their first serious effort on goal, following a handball by Mustapha Dumbuya. Michael O’Connor’s free-kick resulted in a goalmouth scramble and Agard pounced to drive into the corner with the help of a strong deflection.
The home support were unhappy with the decision against Dumbuya in the build-up to the goal, as it appeared that the goal-scorer had handled prior to the County right-back. And, their mood almost worsened when Alex Revell headed narrowly wide of the right-hand post.
United came even closer to doubling their lead when an aerial collision between Dumbuya and Bialkowski saw the Magpies’ stopper fumble a cross. Joe Skarz looked certain to score but Bialkowski made an outstanding recovery parry, before smothering Ben Pringle’s follow up effort.
Ahead of the break, Bialkowski was tested again, as Agard searched for his second goal of the afternoon. The former Yeovil Town attacker latched onto O’Connor’s in-swinging free-kick from the left to provide a glancing header, which Bialkowski gathered on his goal-line.
Rotherham should have been two up in the 56th minute, following an impressive one-touch passing move, which resulted in Agard finding space eight yards from goal. However, his finish was touched over by Bialkowski, who had raced sharply off his line.
Adding fresh legs to the midfield, Andre Boucaud was introduced to the action. Mark Fotheringham was withdrawn in a straight swap.
Notts first effort of the half arrived in the 68th minute, made possible by Enda Stevens’ quick free-kick. Coombes progressed into the area but his low hit skidded narrowly wide of the bottom-right corner.
As the game moved into the final 15 minutes, the Magpies came into the game and the Kop responded in fine form. Bell pumped plenty of deliveries into the box from the left but the Millers defended in numbers to frustrate County.
With an emphasis placed on the attack, Rotherham found space on a number of occasions. O’Connor rifled inches past the left-hand upright and Lee Frecklington targeted the bottom-right corner with a placed attempt that Bialkowski batted clear with a save down to his left.
The home faithful vented their frustration again late on, when a penalty shout was waved away. Coombes had charged into the box, only to be blocked off by two Rotherham defenders.
One final push saw another striker added in a switch to a 4-2-4 formation. Labadie made way and Ronan Murray was handed his Notts debut.
Four minutes of added time was shown by the fourth official and the closest the Magpies came was when Murray nodded over from Bell’s set-piece delivery. It was a disappointing day for County but they have a chance to bounce back on Tuesday night against Burton Albion in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.