Millers’ star Carlos Meakin gratefully accepted both chances gifted to him by Barnsley referee Ryan Newman in the 58th and 86th minutes, to restore his side to the top spot in Division One South that fellow newcomers Ilkeston had taken from them 24 hours earlier.
Both home skipper Steve Kennedy and Ricky Hanson
clearly appeared to have won the ball cleanly with excellently timed challenges some 30 yards out, but Mr Newman saw it differently, penalised both, and keeper Gavin Saxby got nowhere near either of Meakin’s two low drives, into opposite sides of the net.
It may have been a disappointing way to lose, but New Mills were undoubtedly the better side on the night and went home deserved winners to relish the prospect of an early return home FA Cup fixture on Saturday week.
As at Belper on Saturday, the Wrens’ defence came under heavy pressure from the Millers’ attractive pass and move game in the first half, but they held out to turn round with the score sheet still unblemished.
A change of shape saw Rainworth make more of a contest of it after the interval, but they again still lacked a cutting edge. And Ben Proctor, who looked distinctly dodgy in the visitors’ goal dealing with routine stuff, was never really tested by anything above routine.
With Sean Cann fit again he was restored to the Wrens’ front line allowing Lavell White to move wide, and George Zuerner switched to central midfield for his home debut after figuring on the flank at Belper, Joe Ward making way.
The Wrens fans have become accustomed to seeing their defence perform heroics on their travels to Grantham and Belper so far, and it looked much the same on home territory against the Millers.
The down side, though, is that having defended in such depth, there has been no reliable outlet, and as quickly as the ball is won and cleared, back it comes again.
The defence certainly had their hands full in the first half, with New Mills playing the best football of any opponent so far this campaign, yet it was Rainworth who had the first half-chance in the eighth minute, when Ian Clarke’s 23-yard direct free kick flew inches wide.
But Rainworth had a scare in the 13th minute. Saxby missed his punch onto Clive Brown’s cross aimed for Ashley Stott, the ball being scrambled behind for a corner.
The again impressive Cameron Fearon raised home hopes with a pinpoint crossfield pass to Cann, who put White into the box, but he was unable to find space for the shot and impatiently curled his effort wide.
It was a brief respite, but despite all their fleuent attacking play, with Luke Horrocks in particular always dangerous on the flank, New Mills still struggled to break down a resilient home defence in which skipper Kennedy led by example.
Rainworth did have a glimpse of possibilities when they saw Proctor spill Fearon’s angled cross under pressure from Zuerner in the 32nd minute, but the new boy’s best efforts could not find him the finishing touch.
But the visitors almost grabbed the lead six minutes later, neat interplay by Horrocks and Meakin setting up Daniel Douglas-Pringle who, to the relief of the home fans, aimed wide of the target.
Having played second fiddle throughout the opening half Rainworth changed their shape for the second period, with Lee Briggs replacing Carter and pushing forward more on the left.
It seemed to be working, with the Wrens now competing on much more even terms. But they were dealt a cruel blow in the 58th minute. Kennedy’s excellent ball-winning challenge was harshly penalised and Meakin drilled the resulting free kick low to Saxby’s right.
Rainworth immediately sent on Lee Cooksey for Mitchell, and Cooksey had been on the field for only a couple of minutes before he blew a glorious chance to equalise. Cann embarked on a superb run into the area, and although he guided his finish off target it fell to Cooksey at the back post, only for the substitute to miscue with a clear opening.
Fearon came up with the best challenge of the match on Douglas-Pringle on the edge of the area in the 69th minute on the edge of the area. Even Mr Newman agreed that one was fair, but the official’s overworked whistle was to his lips again when Hanson made an equally fine challenge in the 86th minute, to the annoyance and frustration of the home fans.
There was an air of inevitability. It was in a similar position to the earlier one which led to the opening goal, Meakin lined it up again, and picked his spot, this time to Saxby’s right, and the keeper remained rooted as the ball found its way into the net and ended any home hopes of saving the match.
RAINWORTH: Saxby, Fearon, Carter (Briggs ht), Timons, Kennedy, Zuerner, Hanson, Clarke (Mayman 79), Mitchell (Cooksey 58), Cann, White. Subs not used: Gee-Pemberton, Wood.
NEW MILLS: Proctor, Bowler, Gorman, Barras, Brown, Grandison (Carey 72), Meakin, Young, Douglas-Pringle (Monaghan 87), Stott, Horrocks. Subs not used: Pickering, Edridge, Taylor.
REFEREE: Ryan Newman of Barnsley.
GOALS: New Mills—Meakin 58, 86.
MEN OF THE MATCH: Rainworth—Steve Kennedy. New Mills—Luke Horrocks.