Carlton Town surrendered a half time lead to go down 2-1 to title chasing Leek Town at Stoke Lane.
Aaron Opoku had given the Millers an early lead but in monsoon-like conditions goals from Daniel Trickett-Smith and Leon Ashman gave the Blues a victory their second-half performance merited. But for some fine goalkeeping by Jack Steggles the eventual margin of victory might have been greater.
Carlton will be somewhat frustrated having created some good opportunities in the first half and gifted the equalising goal to Leek with some sloppy play. Nevertheless, given the extent of the injury list at Stoke Lane, anything out of this game would have been a bonus and the Millers have to regroup and look to pick up points over the next few games.
Captain Tom Maddison, Daniel Fletcher and Tyler Johal returned from injury as part of five changes to the side which lost at Evesham last time out. Also into the side came Jack Gibson and there was a second Carlton debut for Josh Rae who returned to the club after three years away in midweek.
The Millers got off to the perfect start on jus eight minutes when Opoku ran onto a clever flick from Gibson, outpaced Leek captain Darren Chadwick and fired low past Daniel Roberts from the edge of the box. Roberts seemed to be caught unawares and Chadwick was immediately replaced due to injury.
Even at this early stage it was raining heavily and the grass was long due to the recent weather meaning it couldn’t be cut. As a result it was difficult for both sides to move the ball quickly.
Leek’s first real chance came on 15 minutes when Tim Grice headed straight at Steggles but although the visitors enjoyed plenty of possession, the Carlton defence kept them at bay reasonably comfortably.
Maddison and Rae were looking composed in midfield with Toby Moore and Lawrence Gorman dealing with the attacks down the middle.
Steggles did well to hold a cross on 40 minutes which followed a scramble in the Carlton penalty area but it was the Millers who had chances to extend their lead just before half time. Fisr Niall Davie hit a fierce shot which was well held by Roberts before Rae played a lovely ball into Opoku in the area. He fired low to the near post, Roberts parried but there was no-one anticipating the loose ball and the chance went.
The second half began in the same relentless rain but Leek had clearly been given some half time words as they attacked from the start. Dan Brown, impressive throughout, made a superb clearance from a dangerous cross but the visitors didn’t have to wait long for an equaliser. Carlton had a throw-in at left midfield but threw the ball straight to a Leek player. A quick pass saw William Reeves advance unchallenged. He had chances to shoot but instead slipped the ball to Trickett-Smith who fired low into the corner past Steggles.
Forward came Leek and Steggles made a superb save to deny Grice before Carlton survived a series of corners.
It was from a corner on 69 minutes that Leek scored what turned out to be the winner, which Leon Ashman heading home at the far post with the only challenge coming from his own player. A clash of heads with Oliver Harrison saw a lengthy delay before the re-start.
The incessant rain saw a large puddle develop in Steggles goalmouth and several areas of standing water on the clubhouse side of the ground nearest to the stand. Had the pitch been in that condition at the start it is likely the game would not have started but as it was both sides were determined to finish.
Leek continued to move the ball well despite the conditions and create openings and they dominated the midfield to the extent that Carlton struggled to get into the Leek half. The Millers didn’t seriously threaten the Leek goal in the remaining 20 minutes or so of the game before the referee drew proceedings to a close.
Carlton Town: Steggles, Brown, Fletcher (Daft 73), Gorman, Moore, Maddison, Rae, Davie, Opoku, Johal (Whitton 58), Gibson (Thomas 73). Unused substitutes: Sturgess, Randall
Goals: Opoku 8; Daniel Trickett-Smith 54, Leon Ashman 69
Carlton Town Supporters Club MOTM – Josh Rae