ROTHERHAM UNITED 1-1 NOTTS COUNTY
PRINGLE '43 ARQUIN '32
As soon as those little black balls were pulled out at Wembley a month ago, Rotherham United vs. Notts County promised to be one of the most intriguing ties of the FA Cup secound round. It may not have the chance of an archetypal giant killing - with the crowds that a plush new stadium has brought, the Millers are one of League Two's biggest sides, but with a local derby of sorts bringing together a side who have been unbeatable away from home and one who have looked strong in their new home, Steve Evans' pre-match 'tie of the round' billing was perhaps justified. Unfortunately, Notts' maiden trip to the New York Stadium yesterday never really threatened to live up to the tax evading Rotherham manager's billing.
It was a good day, though. Of all the new build stadiums, Rotherham United certainly boast the most impressive. It isn't doesn't quite have the "iconic" and "unique" feel that chairman Tony Stewart boasted of, but it is certainly architecturally far more interesting than many of its counterparts - particularly from the outside. Think of it as the Keepmoat Stadium with a sloping roof and some cool lights on the outside wall. The location, though, is what makes it perfect. Three and a half hours to wander round Rotherham sampling a handful of pubs was excellent, until we ended up in Liquid, nearest to the ground, where trying to get served was like trying to wait for Jesus to come back.
The atmosphere of the place, however, was disappointing. At no point did either set of fans get close to the sort of intense, passionate atmosphere that you'd hope for in a local derby cup tie. There were reasons for this - the few Rotherham fans who seemed interested were at the far end, the ground was far more sparsely populated than the Millers seemed to indicate it would be, whilst it really was freezing. Notts were louder during the opening exchanges though - with good reason. Monopolising the ball from kick off, Keith Curle's side attacked with pace and purpose, winning a corner when Julian Kelly burst beyond his full back. The resulting Alan Sheehan delivery was then headed onto the angle of post and bar by Yoann Arquin, with the man on the line beaten. Next to come close was Jeff Hughes, who latched on to the ball after a neat passing move, but dragged his shot wide of the greying Andy Warrington's net from the edge of the area.
Rotherham could barely get a kick as Notts continued to attack, with Francois Zoko getting away down the left and cutting inside to force Warrington into a comfortable save. Notts really should've had the lead soon after, when Sheehan whipped in a deep free kick after Rotherham conceded the latest in a seriest of cynical fouls to try and gain a foothold in the game. The delivery was met by Hughes, but he headed wider when unmarked six yards out. Notts didn't have to dwell on this for long, though, as they went ahead through a world class strike from Yoann Arquin. Notts regained possession after a Rotherham attacked had seen Bartosz Bialkowski called into action for the first time to beat away a Michael O'Connor shot and slickly played it wide to Sheehan. He looked up and swung a cross-field ball to Arquin, just inside the area on the far side. Without breaking sweat, the Frenchman lazily hung a leg out and smashed the ball back across Warrington in one fluid movement to score what will be one of the finest goals of the entire tournament.
Unfortunately, going ahead seemed to ruin Notts' afternoon. Rotherham immediately looked brighter and blonde-haired former Ilkeston man Ben Pringle saw his fine right wing cross evade all of his teammates in the middle. With this in mind, Rotherham's best player chose to do things for himself when they next attacked. Alan Judge sold the shaky Gavin Mahon short on the half way line, allowing Nardiello to pinch the ball and released O'Connor. He intelligently waited for Pringle, who swept the ball past Bialkowski from the edge of the box under pressure from Gary Liddle. This really had the home side believing, and they should've been ahead moments later when Mark Bradley arrived unmarked at the far post, but could only get his chest to O'Connor centre and saw it clip the post before bouncing away.
Looking back at that first half, I may actually have been a little harsh in my criticism of the game, but the majority of that disappointment stems from a second a half in which nothing of any real note happened. With André Boucaud injured, Notts struggled horribly to hold onto the ball, something that became evident once they became more conservative having taken the lead. Mahon simply didn't come close to filling the Trinidadian's boots and this led the game down a frustrating path - Notts would give the ball away in midfield and Rotherham would quickly launch it towards the head of big frontman Alex Revell. The former Brighton and Leyton Orient forward won everything, but not once did any of his teammates look like they may get onto the end of one of his flick-ins. That pattern repeated for almost the entire half, with the game fizzling out into unwatchable tedium.
O'Connor crashed a shot miles wide for Rotherham from long range, whilst Judge tried to pass the ball into the corner from twenty five yards but succeeded only in passing it to Warrington's midriff. A chance was only ever going to come from a mistake, which it did when Mahon was robbed on the edge of his own box. Fortunately for Notts, the pass forced Nardiello wide to an angle from which he was never going to beat Bialkowski. This error saw Mahon hauled off by Keith Curle, with the energetic Joss Labadie coming on in his place. Notts continued to struggle with so many players out and nothing to change the game from the bench, however, and Rotherham looked the more likely side to score late on. That said, they didn't create much, save for Nardiello smashing into the Notts fans with a snap shot after O'Connor scuffed an effort into the ground. That was that, then, and the two will meet again on Tuesday week for the excitement of a trip to Aldershot. In truth, it was the right outcome - neither side did anywhere near enough to win the game and little to warm the fans in the cold December weather.