THE rows of empty red seats in two unopened stands said everything about the status of the EFL Trophy when it's still in its group stages.
The East Stand at AESSEAL New York Stadium was relatively full and there was a gaggle of noisy Mancunian followers in the away end but the Kop remained unoccupied and only corporate guests were populating the West Stand.
The last thing Paul Warne needed just a few days into Rotherham United's League One campaign was a cup clash against the kids of Manchester United.
The manager made eight changes to the side that had passed their opening-day test at AFC Wimbledon last Saturday, keeping as many of his men as possible fresh for this weekend's home clash with Lincoln City.
The Millers deservedly lost to two goals in a four-minute spell midway through the second half as Manchester's craft and ingenuity eventually told.
"I'm a little bit disappointed," said Warne who took a long time to emerge from the changing room as he addressed his players afterwards. "We played against a really good team, obviously.
"We'd made a lot of changes. We tried to win the game. We had enough chances in the first half to possibly take the lead but they were significantly stronger than us in the second half.
"Our final pass wasn't good enough for us to create enough chances to win a football match. I had a good chat with the lads."
Matt Olosunde, Dan Barlaser and Freddie Ladapo were the only survivors from the Dons encounter and Ladapo could have scored a first-half hat-trick
Rotherham goalkeeper Lewis Price was called into action in the eighth minute, saving smartly from Tahith Chong who was through on goal.
Two minutes later, Ladapo, a twisting, turning threat at the other end, asked questions of Matej Kovar with a thumping shot.
The visitors were quick, nimble and attacked with flair and speed. The Millers' superior strength didn't go down well with referee Graham Salisbury who angered supporters and interrupted the flow of the game by awarding foul after foul.
In an even first half, there were chances for both sides, with Ladapo twice more bringing stops from Kovar and Jamie Lindsay lifting the ball over the bar from close range.
The contest was taking place tonight rather than in September because of the Red Devils' under-21 international commitments next month.
There is something wrong when a squad of senior professionals have to adjust their schedules to accommodate youngsters yet to make their way in the sport.
The visitors could have taken the lead in the opening stages of the second half but three times missed the target.
Yet the Millers fashioned the clearest opportunity so far, in the 58th minute, as Olosunde crossed, Jamie Proctor controlled and fed Carlton Morris and the burly striker brought a fine stop from Kovar.
Price produced his second good save of the evening to thwart Largie Ramazani but was powerless in the 69th minute when Ethan Laird thumped home an angled shot.
Morris's miss was looking even more costly just four minutes later, Ramazani cutting inside from the left to fire home a low shot in front of the 435-strong away contingent in a crowd of 3,105.
"The timing of the game wasn't ideal," Warne said. "We were given only a couple of fixture dates to choose from and this was better than the other one. That's no excuse, though. We could have been better tonight, particularly in front of our own fans."
Only the post saved the Millers from a heavier defeat after Dylan Levitt's shot had beaten Price in the 88th minute and the match ended as it had started, with the home keeper saving well when Chong had a clear sight of goal.
This was a game Rotherham didn't want at a time that didn't suit.
Warne would have preferred to savour the feel-good factor of last weekend's win for longer and focus without interruption on Lincoln.
At least the Millers left the stadium with no new major injury concerns, although midfielder Dan Barlaser did take a kick on his ankle.
Now on to Saturday, a crowd almost four times the size and a clash that really matters.
Rotherham (4-3-3): Lewis Price 7; Matt Olosunde 7, Jake Cooper 6, Richard Wood 6, Akeem Hinds 6; Jamie Lindsay 5 (Shaun MacDonald 68, 6), Dan Barlaser 6 (Matt Crooks H-T, 6), Ben Wiles 6; Freddie Ladapo 6 (Michael Smith 54, 5), Jamie Proctor 5, Carlton Morris 6. Subs not used: Laurence Bilboe, Clark Robertson, Michael Ihiekwe.
Manchester United (4-2-1-3): Matej Kovar 7; Ethan Laird 8, Lee O'Connor 7, Di'Shon Bernard 7, Brandon Williams 7; Dylan Levitt 7, James Garner 7; Angel Gomes 8; Largie Ramazani 8, D'Mani Mellor 7, Tahith Chong 7. Subs not used: Alex Fojticek, Luca Ercolani, Arnaud Puigmal, Ethan Galbraith, George Tanner, Aliou Traore, Dion McGhee.
Goals: Laird 69, Ramazani 73 (Manchester United).
Referee: Graham Salisbury (Lancashire).
Attendance: 3,105 (435).
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