It’s the hope that kills you, they say. That’s certainly how it felt as Carlton Town surrendered a two goal lead to lose 3-2 at promotion-chasing Alvechurch.
Not many would have given the Millers much of a chance of picking up anything from this late-season trip to Worcestershire. Church remain the only side capable of catching leaders Basford Utd (on paper at least) and are firmly in the second automatic promotion spot.
Carlton meanwhile still need three points to be mathematically safe and are in the middle of a ridiculous 12 games in 24 days to complete the season on time.
Nevertheless, Wayne Scott’s side arrived at Lye Meadow on the back of three games unbeaten including a comeback win against Newcastle last time out. Their fighting spirit was evident in those matches and was on display for this game as well.
Scott made three changes from the Castle game, with Kane Baldwin, Kaylum Mitchell and Tyler Blake replacing Niall Davie, Daniel Fletcher (both absent) and Jordan Wilson.
Jack Steggles was on hand to save as early as the second minute from a Yusifu Ceesay free kick as Church started on the front foot.
The Millers responded and the opening 15 minutes were fairly even. Carlton’s best move in that spell saw Riece Bertram, Luis Danquah and Tyler Blake combine to feed Ben Hutchinson, whose deft chip was just beyond Mitchell.
The home side began putting the Millers under increasing pressure on a sticky pitch which had nevertheless drained reasonably well but was fairly clogged up in the goalmouths. The drainage may have something to do with the Gresley-esque slope which ran from side to side.
The Millers did go on to shock the home side by going ahead on 40 minutes. Blake fed Mamoke Akaunu on the left. He held off two challenges and fired low into the corner of the net from the edge of the box to send the six travelling supporters into raptures.
If Church felt hard done by, they could have no complaints when Carlton doubled their lead six minutes into the second half. Goalkeeper Charlie Price had already made one fine save from Mitchell at the start of the half.
When a fairly innocuous ball was played into the Church area, captain Ashley Carter missed his kick and Blake pounced, firing home past Price from 10 yards.
Church, to their credit, just kept going forward and Carlton, to their credit, kept putting their bodies on the line to keep them out.
Church finally forced cracks in the Carlton defence and pulled the first goal back on 76 minutes.
A ball played in from the left was only half cleared and March bundled his way through some fairly weak challenges to fire home.
Five minutes later the home side were level as Waite headed home unmarked from six yards.
The question for the Millers now was whether they could salvage a point, but the answer was negative. With two minutes remaining the otherwise excellent Darol Lucas brought down Suane and Tom Turton fired home the spot kick.
It was difficult to argue that Alvechurch didn’t merit the win on the balance of play, but it was ever so harsh on a fine battling performance from Scott’s side.
Carlton Town: Steggles, Lucas, Danquah, Bertram, Baldwin, Walker, Mitchell, Elliott, Blake (Wilson 57), Hutchinson, Akaunu (Pepe 83). Unused substitutes: Mutibvu, Wallace