Manager Paul Warne said many of his fringe players had blown a chance to force their way into his first-team thinking as Rotherham United slipped to a Checkatrade Trophy defeat against Chesterfield.
A Millers second-string line-up fell to a late goal to suffer a 2-1 loss despite dominating the second half in front of AESSEAL New York Stadium’s lowest ever crowd for a competitive fixture.
Warne hailed the debuts of academy prospects Akeem Hinds and Ben Wiles, but said some of senior men had done little to make the side for Saturday’s League One clash at Rochdale.
“The first half was pretty even, but I thought we were pretty poor,” he said.
“I gave people a chance to impress me and, other than Akeem Hinds, in the first 45 minutes, I don’t think anyone did that. I don’t think the first-team lads were at the races.”
Hinds looked quick and unfazed at left-back, and the half-time introduction of midfielder Ben Wiles, 18, the grandson of former Sheffield United centre-half Eddie Colquhoun, saw Rotherham take control before the Spireites’ last-gasp winner.
Diego De Girolamo’s early goal gave Chesterfield the lead, but Will Vaulks brought the home side level in the 71st minute.
Jak McCourt’s 89th-minute intervention earned the League Two Spireites all three points in this group-stage encounter.
The first half was uninspiring, with Rotherham making little headway against a hard-working outfit containing several first-teamers eager to impress new manager Jack Lester.
The Millers improved after the introduction of substitutes Wiles, David Ball and Joe Newell and were camped in Spireites territory until the visitors broke and McCourt applied a deft headed finish to Jordan Flores’ left-wing cross.
“In the second half we were significantly better and once we equalised I thought we were the only team going to win” Warne said.
“There was a 25-minute period in the second half where they couldn’t get out of their half, but we got caught with a sucker-punch.
“Unfortunately, if you don’t take your chances you are not going to win.
“Bally and Newell gave us that bit of class we had been lacking and I thought young Ben did really well.”
The biggest culprit for Rotherham was Jonson Clarke-Harris.
The impressive Wiles did well to set up the striker in the 59th minute, but Clarke-Harris could only tamely toe-poke a 59th-minute effort straight at Joe Anyon.
Chesterfield had taken an eighth-minute lead as Joe Rowley’s ball forward deflected into the path of De Girolamo who lobbed Richard O’Donnell from just outside the penalty area.
Neither goalkeeper had a save to make for the rest of a half short on quality and incident.
A flat occasion was also lacking fans, with the North Stand kop closed and only a couple of hundred Chesterfield followers in the way end.
The Spireites, with veteran centre-half Ian Evatt the most effective performer on the pitch, lacked for nothing in effort and took an encouraging step forward after their miserable run in the league.
The Millers were level with 19 minutes to go as Josh Emmanuel crossed, Newell knocked the ball back and Vaulks struck emphatically from around six yards.
Then Ball, under pressure and off balance, bent a shot the wrong side of the post in the 78th minute.
With Rotherham doing nearly all the pressing, Chesterfield broke away in the 89th minute and McCourt won the tie for Lester’s men.
“I’m not too downbeat,” said Warne. “There are some positives.
“I have no injuries from the game and those who played have a match under their belt.”
Goals: De Girolamo 8, McCourt 89 (Chesterfield); Vaulks 71 (Rotherham).
Rotherham (4-4-2): O’Donnell; Emmanuel, Ajayi, Onariase, Hinds; Bray (Newell 65), Vaulks, Towell (Wiles H-T), Forde; Clarke-Harris (Ball 65), Yates. Subs not used: Bilboe, Mattock, Murr, Kayode.
Chesterfield (4-4-2): Anyon; Barry, Wiseman, Evatt, Kellett; Rowley (Sinnott 57), McCourt, Weir, Flores; De Girolamo (Dennis 71), O’Grady. Subs not used: Jones, Mitchell, Ugwu.
Referee: Darren Handley (Lancashire).
Attendance: 2,043 (227).