NPL First Division East – January 13 2024
Carlton Town left it late but a last gasp Khyle Sargent header made it back-to-back league wins as the Millers continue to climb the table.
Alex Hardwick’s second half penalty was cancelled out by an Alex Hernandez strike and a frustrating draw was looking likely until Sargent stepped up.
Carlton, looking to build on their superb away win in the last league match at North Ferriby, were forced into several changes following the damaging midweek loss to Basford United in the Notts Senior Cup. Nykah Liburd-Hines, who had impressed in pre-season at Stoke Lane, returned to the club on Thursday and made his debut between the sticks in place of the injured Felix Annan. Michael Ford replaced captain Niall Davie who was only fit enough for the bench and Niall Hylton started in place of Lamin Manneh whose hamstring injury saw him miss out altogether. Dan Brown also made his full return from injury, with Peter Dearle dropping to the bench.
Winterton came into the game bottom of the league albeit on goal difference. With just one win in their last ten games, that against fellow strugglers Grantham Town, Rangers were in the dogfight for survival. Draws against high flying Consett and, most recently, Hebburn however provided some kernel of hope.
Carlton started swiftly and dominated the early exchanges. After just the first five minutes, Hylton and Alex Hardwick had both seen the whites of Nathan Popple’s eyes in the Winterton goal without troubling the stopper. As the confidence grew, the home side started to pin Rangers back. A nice probing move involving David Adegbola and Ryan Ebanks down the right initially before being recycled through Ford in the middle to Hylton on the left whose dangerous cross was well cleared was reflective of much of the early minutes. The resulting Durow long throw didn’t trouble the Winterton goal however.
For all the possession and openings, Carlton struggled to create clear cut chances throughout the first half and in searching for those openings the formation started to lapse as Winterton continually had swathes of room down the Carlton left but failed to capitalise. Hardwick, Alex Howes, Adegbola and Hylton continually linked up and caused problems. Hardwick, this time running free on the right, fired a ball into the box frustratingly behind Adegbola and as Durow arrived on the left to recover the play, his cross was over hit.
The Millers were by now camped in the Rangers final third and Ford, who merited his starting place, played a dangerous ball into the box and a bobble off Jamie Ture landed with Hylton whose instinctive snapshot was just wide. Ebanks and Sargent linked up well to release Hardwick but the striker’s effort was blazed well over.
Once more Adegbola, who was giving the Rangers back line nightmares, received the ball on the edge of the box. His shot was well blocked and whilst recovering possession Howes was brought down for a free kick in a decent position. Sargent’s effort though, whilst on target was tame.
From the right side, Durow retrieved the ball for another long throw but instead went short to Adegbola who played it back to Durow and the left back delivered a delightful cross to Hardwick, the frontman in space six yards out. He delayed pulling the trigger though and Scott Matthews was able to dive in and clear when a goal looked the most likely outcome. Another excellent chance fell moments later as Adegbola, again bullied and bossed his way past Clay Bryant and was able to wrap his foot around the ball and deliver a great cross which Hylton met at the front post. His header was on target and powerful but straight at Popple. Adegbola also found the target shortly after, this time on the inside left position but despite being only eight yards out his shot was easily gathered.
Up to this point any Winterton attack had been smothered by Sargent and Ford in central midfield or Dean Freeman and Brown behind them but eventually, as a few Millers fans might have feared, one ball got through. A meek clearance from Popple was missed by everyone in a crowded central area and Bailey Adamson latched onto the ball, bearing down on goal but dragged his shot across the Carlton goal with only Libuyrd-Hines to beat.
The second half began and Carlton looked immediately to exploit the wide positions and the ever-dangerous Hylton and Adegbola. It was under pressure from Hardwick though that Bryant was adjudged to have played a back pass to Popple but Hardwick and Sargent contrived to create little more than a confused mess from the indirect free kick, a real wasted opportunity.
Hardwick though was undeterred and once again threatened the goal. He was only foiled by a clumsy challenge by Ture and the referee had little option than to award the penalty which Hardwick dispatched himself sending the goalkeeper the wrong way to the relief and delight of the boisterous crowd behind the goal.
Winterton now had to try and advance and to their credit they did. Over the following ten minutes the visitors impressed themselves on the game dominating territory and possession. Racking passes from right to left and back again from Paul Grimes tested the Carlton back line and increasingly Freeman and Brown and Liburd-Hines were called upon albeit for half chances only.
On the break this time and finding favour from the referee and his assistant following a clumsy coming together with Lee Ridley, Hardwick turned provider and crossed to Adegbola whose shot was parried by Popple but trickled towards the open goal. Those behind the goal were convinced the ball was well over the line before being cleared but the volume of bodies in the vicinity possibly prevented any of the officials getting a clear view and no goal was awarded.
Alex Hernandez joined the fray for Rangers having joined just the day prior from York City and within two minutes he was on the score sheet. Carlton allowed too much time around the box and despite a good save from Liburd-Hines initially it was Hernandez who pounced first to level the game.
Hylton and Ford, who had both had good games, made way for Niall Davie, whose appearance was welcome and perhaps unexpected by those who saw him leave the pitch as he did midweek, and Lawrence Stewart-Gorman respectively as the home side attempted to retrieve the situation. It was Winterton who nearly took the lead though as an excellent left side cross from Will Sutton was met by Adamson but his header was cleared from under the bar by Freeman.
In a testament to both sides the game stretched now and spaces were opening up as they searched for a winner. Adegbola’s right side cross was awkwardly and dangerously deflected towards goal by Bryant but he was indebted to his goalkeeper as Popple made a smart near post stop. From the resulting Howes corner Hardwick headed agonisingly wide.
Again, Carlton attacked down the right and the ball fell to Davie, twelve yards out but again, the keeper wasn’t tested as the minutes ebbed away. Noh Abraha, drafted in by the Millers from Notts County in midweek, replaced Howes for the closing moments and looked lively and created a decent chance for himself finding space twenty five yards out. His shot was well struck and on target but Popple was equal to it.
As the board went up for five additional minutes the sense that this could be a missed opportunity started to creep around the Millers faithful but they kept chanting and willing their team forward. It was perhaps somewhat befitting that the pre match interview in the Howard Mitchell bar had been with Gary from Proper Football. He spoke of what football at this level means to those who follow it. That it’s more than the money which directs the game at the top end of the pyramid. Football at this level is a rollercoaster and equal parts frustration, relief, jeopardy and, on this occasion, unbridled joy.
Durow, superb all game drove forward for a final, lung busting time. He exchanged passes with Davie and crossed. The cross was high into the box and almost crept under the bar but Popple was able to claw it away. A final throw of the dice, one last chance. Stewart-Gorman took the corner and arrowed it flat towards the penalty spot. Sargent, wearing the captain’s armband, met the cross with a sublime header, perfectly directed inside the slimmest of gaps at the Rangers near post and into the net. A cue for cacophonous, chaotic, wonderful jubilation behind the goal. It was virtually the last touch of the game. The one sour note was a red card shown to Durow after the final whistle in an altercation with opposing coaching staff apparently.
Carlton have little time to recover, but recover they must as the league leaders, Stockton Town visit the Bill Stokeld on Tuesday.
Carlton Town: N Liburd-Hines, R Ebanks, L Durow, D Brown, D Freeman, M Ford (L Gorman 76), D Adegbola, K Sargent, A Hardwick, A Howes (N Abraha 84), N Hylton (N Davie 72). Unused Subs: P Dearle
Goals: A Hardwick 51 pen, K Sargent 90+6; Alex Henandez 63
Carlton Town Supporters Club MOTM: Khyle Sargent