Miller Bear played a blinder. But he was no match for Jamie Proctor and his Rotherham United support cast.
The home mascot kept thumping away on his drum in a lack-lustre first half, doing his best to lift the pre-season derby atmosphere between the Millers and Barnsley at AESSEAL New York Stadium.
Then new boy Proctor picked up the beat.
Bang. Bang. Bang.
Game over after an eight-minute hat-trick, which included two stunning finishes, as Rotherham brushed their opponents aside following the break. Men against boys. Reds boss Paul Heckingbottom’s words, not mine.
Now the Millers, overflowing with options, brimming with belief, head towards League One opening day next weekend at Fleetwood Town in buoyant mood, while Barnsley, short on players, devoid of confidence, are in disarray ahead of their first Championship test at Bristol City.
“I think you can see why I wanted Jamie at the club,” Rotherham manager Paul Warne said. “I don’t want to talk about previous strikers, but I think he is quite similar to one (Alex Revell) we used to have.
“What I was mostly positive about - and it is going to make my job harder - is that the subs I put on did really well. All the subs who came on really did give it a good go to try and get into this team. Competition for places is great.”
Proctor, without the goals, was a dangerous, mobile targetman, holding up the ball, linking up play. With the goals, he gave pretty much a complete centre-forward’s performance on his New York debut.
Semi Ajayi and Michael Ihiekwe gave further evidence of a strong, quick, agile centre-half pairing, left-back Ben Purrington suddenly found his form, playing a key role in Proctor’s third goal, right-back Emmanuel was irrepressible and goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell was superb, saving everything the visitors could throw at him and kicking with the accuracy of a playmaker with ball in hand.
Winger Ryan Williams, midfielder Will Vaulks and striker Kieffer Moore were the pick of the subs and can themselves unfortunate if they don’t make Warne’s starting 11 in six days.
For beleaguered Barnsley, only Joe Williams really matched Rotherham for effort and desire.
Even with a McCarthy in the line-up, they couldn’t cope with the way the home side grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck in the second half.
Once, it was mighty Mick at the heart of a defiant backline. Now it’s Jason, the new boy from Southampton at right-back. The former Saint wasn’t the biggest sinner in the visitors’ line-up by a long way, but was part of a side hustled out of their stride by their hard-running hosts.
It’s still early days, and pre-season can count for nothing when the action begins for real, but, right now, the signs look as ominous for the Reds as they do encouraging for the Millers.
Warne was in his trademark tracksuit bottoms and T-shirt. Heckingbottom cut a nattier figure, sporting tan boots, blue chinos and maroon sweater. The look was casual, which was the opposite of his attitude afterwards.
The managers shook hands at the final whistle - Warne with an empathetic, almost sheepish smile, Heckingbottom with a face like stone - and the visiting boss was soon going on the attack with more venom than his players.
“The scoreline says everything,” he said. “Men against boys. If we ‘ve got a team that can’t compete, can’t win headers or tackles, we’re going to get nowhere. We’re a five-a-side team at the minute and five-a-side teams win nothing.”
Last August at Oakwell, it was Rotherham, taking the early steps under Alan Stubbs towards second-tier relegation, who had capitulated in the South Yorkshire showdown and conceded four second-half goals with reply.
The slaughter in reverse at New York wasn’t quite as severe and mattered less as no points were at stake. But the Reds, after shedding so many of their best players since January, were still reeling.
“It highlights everything I’ve been saying, how far away we are and what we need to do. People need to start listening to me,” Heckingbottom added.
“It’s about players. We set out a plan in March and everyone agreed it. We needed 12 players, 13 after Robbo (Marc Roberts) left, and we’re still miles away from that number, miles away from the quality we need.”
In a fairly even opening period, O’Donnell smartly stopped Adam Hammill’s 10th-minute spot-kick, diving low to his right after Emmanuel had clipped Ike Ugbo in the penalty area, and kept out Tom Bradshaw’s fierce shot in time added on.
In between, Purrington fired over from the edge of the area and Jon Taylor was wasteful with a 23rd-minute header and a 38th-minute shot when he had clear sights of goal.
The second half was nearly all Rotherham. Vaulks had twice been foiled by Adam Davies, while Proctor and former Reds man Williams had efforts on goal, before Proctor’s 67th-minute penalty, given for Davies bringing down Williams, was saved only for the frontman to steer home the rebound to notch his fifth goal in five summer matches.
Moments later, Bradshaw, at the back post, somehow steered the ball over the bar from McCarthy’s low cross and the Reds paid a heavy price as Proctor latched on to Williams’ pass to run in on goal in the 73rd minute and beautifully despatch the ball across goal into the far corner.
The finish was just as good two minutes afterwards when great work from Purrington and Vaulks set up the hat-trick strike from 20 yards out.
Vaulks and Stefan Payne traded saved shots before Moore, with Williams again the supplier, tapped in at the back post in the 90th minute.
“I am not getting carried away,” Warne said. “It was a pre-season game and if I’d lost I’d have sat here and said it’s just a game before next week. So I won’t go the other way just because we won.
“If we’d lost heavily, I wouldn’t have taken it as a negative. I know that sounds stupid, but I could have used that as a motivating factor to get under the ribs of the lads about them having something to prove next week.
“When you win, you have to try and bring them down to earth a little bit and not wax lryical too much and not tell them they are all great.
“I thought Jamie was a little bit rusty in the first half and got offside a couple of times, which didn’t please me. I think he has got a bit of a physical presence and works hard and tries to tie up play. I am not sure I will let him take penalties again, but his other two goals were excellent! Strikers are all about confidence.”
There is a good feeling about this bonded Millers bunch. Centre-half Aimen Belaid is likely to leave and played only the final five minutes as the last of Warne’s 10 outfield substitutions. Yet the central defender embraced his manager and also assistant boss Richie Barker at the end as if he’ll be the first name on the teamsheet next week.
Miller Bear had been quiet while Proctor was making sweet music of his own, but sprang back into life in the latter stages.
By then, Proctor and co had well and truly banged the Millers drum.
Goals: Proctor 67, 73, 75, Moore 90 (Rotherham).
Rotherham (4-4-2): O’Donnell; Emmanuel (Dominic Ball 82), Ajayi (Belaid 85), Ihiekwe (82) Purrington (Hinds 82); Taylor (Williams 61), Potter (Newell 71), Frecklington (Vaulks H-T), Forde (Yates 79); David Ball (Moore 58), Proctor (Clarke Harris 76). Subs not used: Price.
Barnsley (4-4-2): Davies; Yiadom (McCarthy H-T), Jackson (Payne 76), MacDonald, Fryers; Hammill (D’Almeida 82), Moncur (Mallan 82), Mowatt, Isgrove (Williams 36); Bradshaw (Pinnock 76), Ugbo (Brown 82). Subs not used: Townsend.
Referee: Mark Haywood (West Yorkshire), replaced by Tom Bramall (South Yorkshire), 32 minutes.
Attendance: 4,234 (1,537).