There was little to choose between these derby rivals in the first half, Rotherham, on a high after successive promotions and only a week away from the Championship against Rovers, relegated to League One last season and still recovering from the bombshell of the John Ryan/Louis Tomlinson takeover collapse.
After the break, though, for 35 minutes this match was heading in only One Direction …
The Millers dominated proceedings, went into a 2-0 lead and could have been five or so goals to the good before the home side staged a late rally.
Ironically, much of that was down to a player who wasn’t even on the pitch.
The beanpole defender, back after a year of injury hell, had led Rovers’ first-half resistance, to the delight of the Keepmoat faithful. He headed everything away, he made strong challenges, he organised, he talked, he inspired.
Rovers supporters know his importance to the cause. He warmed up. Appreciative applause. His first aerial challenge against the dangerous Jordan Bowery was won. Big cheer. He limped after a fall in the 43rd minute but was quickly back in his stride. Relied ovation.
The Keepmoat crowd would probably have clapped if he’d stopped to adjust his socks.
He was kept off at half-time and Rovers folded in the face of the Millers’ onslaught. How Paul Dickov’s team need him for their league campaign.
Just a minute into the second period, Matt Derbyshire - having wrongly had a first-half goal ruled out for offside - was denied by the flag again. Bowery delicately lobbed Rovers keeper Jed Steer and the ball looked to be going in before Derbyshire arrived to make sure with his head. The ire of the impressive Millers away following was aimed at the assistant referee and his raised arm; Bowery’s was probably towards his teammate for denying him his first Rotherham goal against league opposition.
Bowery was then played in by Ryan Hall only for Steer to produce a good save, before Derbyshire, full of quiet stealth and cunning all afternoon, finally claimed a goal that counted, guiding in a close-range volley after a Ben Pringle delivery from the left.
Hall scored the second five minutes later after a move which had quality running through it.
Derbyshire picked up the ball on the left and played a lovely-weighted ball to Lee Frecklington who sprinted to the byline and pulled back for Hall to make a difficult half-volleyed effort from the edge of the area look emphatically easy.
Eyebrows were raised in June when Millers boss Steve Evans picked up the former Leeds United winger despite a troubled past. But Hall, realising this might be his last big chance, has worked as hard as anyone in pre-season and at times looked a class act here with his close control and probing delivery. The club are working on his conditioning and if he sheds a couple of pounds in weight he could be adding lots of pounds to his value.
The 2-0 goal cushion brought a raft of substitutions from Rotherham but the traffic continued one way as Rovers backed off and gave the visitors time to play.
Millers No 2 Paul Raynor said: “Once we settled into the game we had the majority of possession and certainly the majority of the chances, so we’re delighted.
“It was a typical Matt Derbyshire finish. We’ve been seeing him do that for Blackburn, Olympiakos and other clubs over the years. He’s a real predator in the box and on another day he could have had a hat-trick.
“You have to give credit to Jordan Bowery today. That’s the best performance he’s put in. He’s beginning to learn how we want to utilise him and use that pace and power. He certainly put in a good performance and it’s a shame he couldn’t apply the finish today and get himself a goal because he certainly deserved one.”
Derbyshire shot after good play by Bowery, Kirk Broadfoot’s power header brought a superb reaction from Steer and Bowery guided the ball over the bar when it looked easier to score.
When home sub Alex Peterson took possession on the right and then turned back towards his own half rather than attack the inviting space in front of him, it brought howls of anguish from the stands and summed up a difficult half-hour for Rovers.
To their credit, they snatched an unlikely goal nine minutes from time and suddenly the game was as even again as it had been in the first half.
Sub Curtis Main beat the offside trap and I thought his perfect control before a clever dinked finish over Scott Loach involved his arm. But there were no real protests so I’ll stand corrected. Good goal.
Rotherham were worthy of their win and have built up well through pre-season to Saturday’s Championship opener at Derby County.
Rovers’ first-half display gave reason for optimism. Jones was Jones and in Nathan Tyson they look to have found a lightning-quick striker with the strength and skill to cause all kinds of problems in League One.
He was inches away from connecting with a flying header in front of goal in the opening exchanges and put a thumping effort from distance just wide in the 28th minute, just after Paul Keegan’s header from a Jamie Coppinger cross was saved by Adam Collin.
He should have been awarded a penalty four minutes later when his speed caused problems for the otherwise impressive Craig Morgan and the Rotherham skipper tugged him down just inside the area.
Seconds later at the other end Derbyshire’s effort, which video replays later showed was legitimate, was ruled out.
Not the best minute in the officiating team’s history.
Chelsea teenager John Swift, signed only on Friday a season-long loan from Stamford Bridge, was given a half-hour outing and wasted no time in showing that, once he’s integrated into the Millers’ way of things, Evans might just have a find on his hands.
Swift of name and fleet of foot, the 19-year-old was direct, keen to make things happen going forward and, with a sturdy frame and low centre of gravity, was a hard player to knock off the ball.
So the pre-season posturing is about over. Rovers have finished their friendlies and Rotherham have just tomorrow’s visit of Leicester City to negotiate.
Now two feisty, battling bosses from Scotland have the real business to focus on.
Dickov’s work in the transfer market, in the face of adversity, might just place them in the upper regions of L1.
Evans’ squad has more talent than some people think. Plus, he’ll have them champing at the bit to prove their credentials in among the better players and more sophisticated tactics of the second tier, and they’ll yield to nobody in terms of desire, commitment and workrate.
Both these 100 per cent competitors will give it a right old go, to borrow from the Tomlinson songbook, One Way Or Another.
Goals: Derbyshire 51, Hall 56 (Rotherham); Main 81 (Rovers).
Doncaster Rovers: Steer, Wabara (Lund 67), Evina, Furman, Jones (Wakefield H-T), Bennett (Forrester H-T), Robinson (Main H-T), McCullough, Tyson (Peterson 72), Keegan, Coppinger. Subs not used: Trialist, Whitehouse, De Val, Middleton.
Rotherham United: Collin (Loach 57), Brindley (Wood 57), Morgan (Arnason 57), Broadfoot, Skarz (Sadler 57), Hall (Swift 57), Frecklington (Newton 57), Green (Tidser 57), Pringle (Milsom 75), Bowery, Derbyshire (Yates 75). Subs not used: Revell, Agard.
Referee: Mark Haywood (West Yorkshire).