In truth, with Doncaster Rovers’ goal difference far inferior thanks mainly to the 6-0 beating they took when Rotherham were in town last month, the Millers should make the last 32 regardless, but victory over Manchester City’s under-21s tonight means they can go through as group winners without the need to wait on Doncaster v Scunthorpe United in a fortnight.
With that freedom in mind, Warne could use this game as most managers use the lightly-regarded competition, and give players the chance to show they should be in his side for Saturday’s big League One game against Sunderland. Nowhere is the competition fiercer than up front.
From having worried out loud what his forward line would look like had Michael Smith been snatched away on deadline day, keeping him and signing Will Grigg has instead created an impressive four-man battery.
Freddie Ladapo came off the bench to score against Milton Keynes Dons at the weekend but 10-goal Smith and four-goal Grigg will be hard to displace.
“They can all score different sorts of goals,” said Warne. “Will isn’t as physical as the others but weirdly he uses his body better than them and his link-up play is good. Maybe I’m looking at him through my honeymoon eyes but he’s just got a little bit of guile we possibly haven’t had but the other lads have got different attributes.”
Making up the quartet is 21-year-old Josh Kayode – yet to score for the club but learning a lot from those around him.
“JJ is unbelievable and in fairness we had more interest in him than any other player at the club and that’s testament to what he did at (on loan) Carlisle (last season),” said Warne.
“JJ’s got real talent and he’s playing with better players. He’s training really hard and trying to emulate Smudge (Smith) in the gym which can’t be a bad thing.
“If he replicates Griggy the way he doesn’t take the net off when he finishes, that will help.”
Last six games: Rotherham United WDWWWW; Manchester City Under-21s LWLDWW
Referee: S Barrott (West Yorkshire)
Last time: Rotherham United 1 Manchester City Under-21s 1, August 17, 2017, Football League Trophy.