The Millers are going to Wembley ... on-the-whistle report: Hartlepool United 2 Rotherham United 2 (5-4 on penalties)

The Millers are going to Wembley ... on-the-whistle report: Hartlepool United 2 Rotherham United 2 (5-4 on penalties)

By Paul Davis | 09/03/2022

The Millers are going to Wembley ... on-the-whistle report: Hartlepool United 2 Rotherham United 2 (5-4 on penalties)
Tolaji Bola in action at Hartlepool. Picture by Jim Brailsford

ROTHERHAM booked their place at Wembley as they triumphed on penalties at Hartlepool United in the last four of the EFL Trophy tonight.

A thrilling clash had ended 2-2 before Mickel Miller stepped up to fire home the decisive spot-kick to win the shoot-out 5-4 for the Millers.

The League One leaders will now play Sutton United, from a division below, in the final at the national stadium on April 3.

Ben Wiles had his penalty saved but Michael Smith, Shane Ferguson, Dan Barlaser and Angus MacDonald all scored their before Miller's moment of glory.

Earlier, Smith had taken his tally for the season to 24 as he twice headed equalisers against League Two opponents who gave their all in a clash that could have gone either way.

The match was a sell-out and there was an electric atmosphere inside Victoria Park.

Nearly 700 Millers fans had travelled up the A1 and they saw their side come close to taking a fourth-minute lead as Smith delivered a pinpoint cross from the right and Tolaji Bola's first-time shot was kept out by Ben Killip.

Three minutes later Bola was almost in again but couldn't find the target when he was picked out by Dan Barlaser's delivery.

At the other end, Luke Molyneux tested Viktor Johansson at the Millers keeper's near post and then flashed an effort wide.

The home side took the lead just before the half-hour mark when David Ferguson whipped a free-kick to the front-post and Joe Grey's header went in off the post.

Three Pools players were standing in offside positions but the scorer was onside as the ball was played in.

Rotherham's evening grew worse when Jamie Lindsay, who'd needed an injection in his shoulder to play, had to go off.

The Millers' complement of centre-forwards were ravaged by injuries so there had been an adjustment in formation from the 3-5-2 system that has served them so well this season to 3-5-1-1, with midfielder Wiles pushed up to play just off Smith.

That lasted only as long as Lindsay's departure as Wiles dropped back and Mickel Miller came on to partner Smith.

Hartlepool's season hinged on this game as they are mid-table in the fourth tier with no prospect of going up and no fears about suffering a drop back into the National League.

They had seen off League One opposition in the form of Sheffield Wednesday, Bolton Wanderers and Charlton Athletic on their way to reaching the last four and were in the mood to do it again.

The visitors were being outplayed and it needed a superb Johansson save to prevent them falling further behind before the break. Molyneux connected with Nicky Featherstone's free-kick but the Swede's flying stop kept his team in the contest.

Rotherham had been forced into selecting key man Smith up front when they would have preferred to have rested him for Saturday's league trip to Wycombe Wanderers because Freddie Ladapo, Will Grigg, Josh Kayode and Georgie Kelly were all ruled out by assorted issues.

Elsewhere, they made nine changes to the side that had started against MK Dons last Saturday and there was a first appearance since a January hamstring pull for centre-half Rarmani Edmonds-Green.

The Millers made changes at the break and immediately looked a more dangerous proposition.

It needed only four minutes from the restart for the leveller to come as Barlaser sent in a free-kick that had been won brilliantly by Miller who beat two men all ends up and Smith's head did the rest right in front of the travelling supporters.

It looked like the contest was turning but back came the home side and they went ahead again on 55 minutes when Michael Ihiekwe's attempted clearance just helped Molyneux's shot find the net after a Hartlepool breakaway.

Barlaser hit the bar with a thumping shot and then the pulsating tie took another twist eight minutes later when Smith rose in front of goal again.

This time substitute Chiedozie Ogbene - playing centrally with Smith as Miller went to wing-back - was the supplier but the outcome was the same as Rotherham's talisman buried another header.

Maybe Omar Bogle needed lessons from him because the opposition striker headed a sitter wide a few minutes later after Johansson had done well to parry Molyneux's effort.

Smith was inches away from a hat-trick as he lobbed just wide after a stunning Barlaser pass had sent him in on goal while Tom Crawford passed up a golden chance for Pools, lifting Bogle's supply way too high.

As time began to run out, Ogbene had a shot saved and Smith was denied on the follow-up by Timi Odusina's block before another sub, Rathbone, tried his luck and was foiled by Killip.

Ihiekwe's stoppage-time header brought a game-saving, on-the-line intervention from the Pools keeper and so a contest of high drama was decided by the even higher drama of a shoot-out.

Hartlepool (4-2-3-1): Ben Killip; Jamie Sterry, Neil Byrne, Timi Odusina, David Ferguson; Nicky Featherstone, Mark Shelton; Luke Molyneux, Tom Crawford, Joe Grey (Marcus Carver 85); Omar Bogle. Subs not used: Nicholas Bilokapic, Zaine Francis-Angol, Garry Liddle, Martin Smith, Gavan Holohan, Isaac Fletcher.

Rotherham (3-5-1-1): Viktor Johansson; Rarmani Edmonds-Green, Richard Wood (Michael Ihiekwe H-T), Angus MacDonald; Jordi Osei-Tutu (Shane Ferguson 90+5), Jamie Lindsay (Mickel Miller 35), Dan Barlaser, Hakeem Odoffin (Ollie Rathbone H-T), Tolaji Bola (Chiedozie Ogbene 60); Ben Wiles; Michael Smith. Subs not used: Josh Vickers, Joe Mattock.

Goals: Grey 29, Molyneux 55 (Hartlepool); Smith 49, 63 (Rotherham).

Referee: Robert Madley (West Yorkshire).

Attendance: 7,532 (657).