A goal on the stroke of half-time from Aaron Opoku gave Carlton Town a much needed 1-0 away win at Sutton Coldfield Town.
The Millers still remain seven points adrift of the playoffs with only six games remaining but this was a much-improved performance and only a second away win since October to the delight of the travelling support.
Mark Harvey and Tommy Brookbanks made two changes to the side which had lost against Yaxley last time out. In came Khyle Sargent and Opoku in place of the injured Niall Davie and the absent Tom Maddison.
On a gloriously sunny afternoon Carlton began on the front foot and played some lovely passing football in the opening period of the game without really threatening the Royals goal.
Indeed, it was Sutton who had the first real chance of the game when Leo Brown ran through on goal on 14 minutes but Shaun Rowley was quick off his line and the striker hit his effort high over the bar.
Martin Ball then played a superb pass to send Aaron O’Connor away. O’Connor looked certain to score before being barged to the ground by James Beresford. It looked a stonewall penalty but the referee waved away the claims to the amazement of the travelling contingent.
Opoku then forced Beresford into a hurried clearance which struck the impressive Sargent and rebounded just wide of target.
The Millers should have taken the lead just after the half-hour when an unmarked Ball headed a Nat Watson corner against the top of the crossbar.
Alex Howes was a constant threat and O’Connor was keeping the home defence busy, and the goal that always looked like coming finally arrived in the last minute of the first half. Holmes slipped the ball to Howes who then fed Opoku on the left hand side with a lovely pass. The Millers had had problems all afternoon keeping the right side of a well-worked offside trap but Opoku advanced on goal and beat keeper Jonathan Brown at his near post with what looked like the help of a possible deflection.
The Royals began the second half much better and Brett Lloyd and Leo Brown both went close with efforts that flew across the face of goal, the latter’s shot very close indeed.
But Carlton kept the home side at bay, not least due to some decisive goalkeeping from Shaun Rowley and some fine defensive work from the whole defence, particularly Dan Brown who made a couple of key interceptions.
Indeed, after the opening 15 minutes Carlton regained their control of the game and a fine passing move involving Watson, Holmes and O’Connor led to the latter drawing an excellent save from Brown.
Lawrence Gorman was then called upon to cut out a Sutton attack and he and Opoku combined to give Howes another chance, but Jonathan Brown saved comfortably.
Howes looked certain to double Carlton’s lead after another Opoku cross, but a block from Beresford kept the Sutton deficit at one goal.
Still Carlton pushed forward and a wonderful move from Sargent, Howes, Gorman, O’Connor and Opoku saw Howes hit the base of the post from a narrow angle on the right.
Howes then advanced into the area and sent the ball across the face of goal only for the home defence to clear.
Daniel Fletcher and Gorman kept the Sutton wide players quiet and although there were a couple of deep crosses late in the game, Rowley dealt with them confidently and the Millers saw out the final minute of the game to secure a fine away win. They left the field to merited applause from the decent travelling support in the West Midlands.
Carlton Town: S Rowley, L Gorman, D Fletcher, M Ball, D Brown, J Holmes, N Watson, K Sargent, A Opoku, A O’Connor (T Blake 78), A Howes. Unused substitutes: N Towle, L Czerwak, D Elliott, D Flint
Goals: A Opuku 45
Carlton Town Supporters Club MOTM – Dan Brown