GIVEN the events of February, David Wagner probably had an inkling that last night’s cup tie would not be straightforward.
It was on Valentine’s Day that Rotherham United belied their lowly Championship status to almost throw a serious spanner in the works of Huddersfield Town’s relentless promotion bandwagon before a dramatic stoppage-time intervention from Tommy Smith earned the Terriers a priceless 3-2 win.
Over six months on and the two teams now find themselves two divisions apart, but the Millers, once again, punched above their weight and hinted at another surprise.
Ultimately it was the Premier League outfit who booked their berth in round three for this morning’s crazily-timed draw in far-flung Beijing, of all places, but do not let it be said that they had it their own way.
Ahead at the interval following a goal after just 62 seconds from Semi Ajayi, the Millers showed far more competitiveness, spirit and relish for the fight that a meek Newcastle United outfit managed against Town three days earlier.
Two quick-fire goals early in the second half from Philip Billing, who netted from the spot after a shirt tug on Laurent Delpoitre, and Joe Lolley may have ensured progression for the hosts.
But Millers manager Paul Warne was afforded plenty to enthuse about after the final whistle, in contrast to the weekend when he was incandescent with rage after an error-strewn loss at Peterborough United.
Despite trailing, the Millers simply refused to give up, with their late endeavour seeing a header from Will Vaulks ruled out for an infringement on Michael Hefele and substitute Jonson Clarke-Harris then missing a stoppage-time rebound with the goal gaping after Joel Coleman superbly kept out Keiffer Moore’s point-blank shot.
Earlier, Coleman earned his keep with a miraculous save just past the hour mark to somehow keep out Moore’s close-range effort on the goalline, after the striker slid in following Jon Taylor’s low cross and was preparing to wheel away in celebration.
But it was not to be, with everything currently going for Town, who paraded new signing Abdelhamid Sabiri on the pitch at half-time following his arrival from Nurnberg.
After conceding just 20 seconds into their tie at Shrewsbury in their exit from this competition last August, Town did not fare much better this time around and were again punished for a slipshod start.
The surprise beneficiary was Ajayi, with the clock going round for him in footballing terms in double-quick time following his costly weekend faux pas at London Road.
The big defender nipped in front of Coleman to nod home following Anthony Forde’s teasing centre for just his second club in professional football – with his first ironically arriving for the Millers in their reverse to Town in the winter.
It provided the visitors with something tangible to hang onto and while Town gorged on possession for significant chunks of the first period, goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell was protected pretty well.
The muscular frame of debutant Delpoitre represented one obvious problem for the visiting rearguard, but the powerhouse forward was restricted to just one decent chance when his low shot was deflected wide.
Elements of the hosts’ build-up possessed promise, with Meltham lad Jordan Williams – one of three Town players making their bow along with Scott Malone and Delpoitre – showing up particularly well, but the ticks in the box elsewhere were not plentiful.
The Millers’ biggest scare arrived shortly before the break with captain-for-the-night Christopher Schindler, the sole survivor from the weekend starting line-up, seeing his header float just wide following Lolley’s centre.
After fronting up in a disciplined first-half showing, the Millers fielded early second-half pressure and the hosts were handed a lifeline on 52 minutes following a foul on Delpoitre and interval substitute Billing showed no mercy with a clinical penalty, low to O’Donnell’s left.
Town wrestled the initiative and a neat move down the left ended with Kasey Palmer supplying Lolley, who stroked the ball home from eight yards out.
But instead of kicking on, it was the visitors who refused to go away and made for a distinctly nervy finale for the hosts, who were relieved to hear the final whistle.
Huddersfield Town: Coleman; J Williams, Hefele, Schindler (Billing 46), Malone; D Williams, Whitehead, Quaner, Palmer (Kachunga 74), Lolley (Ince 81); Delpoitre. Substitutes unused: Lossl, Smith, Mounie, Zanka.
Rotherham United: O’Donnell; Cummings, Ajayi, Wood, Purrington; Dominic Ball (Bray 81), Vaulks; Forde, David Ball (Clarke-Harris 64), Taylor; Proctor (Moore 46). Substitutes unused: Bilboe, Emmanuel, Mattock, R Williams.
Referee: P Bankes (Merseyside).