Jack Steggles saved twice in a penalty shoot out as Carlton Town narrowly overcame a spirited Gedling Miners Welfare in the Notts Senior Cup.
This quarter-final tie had to be played at Radford’s Selhurst St ground due to the continued waterlogging of Stoke Lane and it looked to be going to the way of the East Midlands Counties side as they led through Josh Thornton’s first half header with just two minutes remaining.
But Aaron Opoku levelled for the Millers from the penalty spot and after a goalless extra 30 minutes it was ultimately Carlton who prevailed in the shoot-out.
It was a touch harsh on Miners who seemed to have dealt with all that Carlton could throw at them but the Millers had the vast majority of possession and had enough chances, particularly in the first half, to have put this game out of sight long before the dramatic end.
Carlton made three changes to the side which won at Wisbech 17 days earlier in their last game. Out went Jacob Sturgess plus the injured pair of Danny Elliott and captain Tom Maddison. In came Dan Brown, Eli Bako and Tyler Johal.
Gedling featured a host of ex-Carlton players, including former player of the year Thornton and Stoke Lane legend Dean Gent, for the first competitive meeting between these close neighbours in 10 years.
The pitch was a touch slippery but Radford had done really well to get the game on at all and Carlton started much the better. In the opening 30 minutes they swarmed all over the Gedling goal and it seemed only a matter of time before they scored.
Oliver Clark had the first effort, a fierce drive over the bar on five minutes, and when the same player found Johal in a wide position, his cross was fired just wide by Aaron Opoku.
Opoku then advanced down the left before pulling back to Niall Davie unmarked just eight yards from goal but the wide man lifted his shot high over the bar from a glorious position.
Gedling’s only real chance of that first 30 minutes came following a fine move but Joe Meakin hit his shot high and wide.
Opoku then went closest to scoring on the half hour. He simply ran at the Gedling defence on the left, bamboozled another ex-Miller Felix Hogg and fired across goalkeeper Keeton Sharpe only to strike the foot of the post. The rebound fell to Tyler Blake but he couldn’t get enough purchase on his shot and Sharpe was grateful to smother the effort.
With the half all but over Daniel Fletcher brought down Thornton near the Carlton left corner flag. Ross McCaughey delivered an absolute peach of a free kick to the near post and Thornton evaded his marker to head the visitors in front.
Carlton almost levelled straight away but Opoku just missed the ball after Clark had headed on a Davie free kick.
In the second half Carlton kept the majority of possession but Miners looked increasingly comfortable as the game progressed. Indeed, they had the first real chance of the half with Jimmy Spiers volleying just wide of target.
Davie and Bako combined to create a chance for Opoku but although his shot beat Sharpe, it never had enough power and was easily cleared.
Carlton brought on Sturgess and Kyle Stovell to pep up the attack. The next chance fell to Blake who reacted quickest to a goal kick that was headed straight back at Sharpe, but the striker lifted his attempted lob over the bar.
Blake then played a clever ball to Opoku who whipped over a dangerous cross from the left but no-one was there to convert.
Gent and Hogg were looking ever-more impressive at the back as Carlton desperately sought a way back into the game. The Millers brought on Daryl Thomas as a final throw of the dice but salvation came in an unlikely form.
With the game in the last three minutes of normal time, a fierce Dan Brown shot struck Gent on his right arm and the referee awarded a penalty. It looked harsh at the time – Gent was only a couple of yards away from Brown – but the referee was in a good position and said the defender’s arm was outstretched, as indeed later photographic evidence confirmed.
With regular penalty taker Maddison out it was left to Opoku to take the spot kick and he made no mistake, blasting the ball past Sharpe.
There were five minutes additional time and Carlton had three chances to win the game. Thomas ran onto a Steggles clearance, rounded Sharpe but fired wide from a narrow angle.
Then the same player fired just wide from a Davie cross.
With the final action of the 90 minutes Opoku headed a Davie corner towards the corner of the goal only to see Charlie Roberts clear off the line.
Extra time it was, just as it had been when Carlton beat Bingham in the previous round.
Davie had the first chance, drawing a decent save from Sharpe with a low angled drive, before Hogg went desperately close for Gedling, heading just over the bar from a Thornton corner with Steggles beaten.
Gent made a superb headed clearance from a dangerous Davie corner and Carlton were camped inside the Gedling half but unable to really test Sharpe before time ran out and penalties it was.
Carlton went first and Sharpe saved Davie’s effort to give Miners an early advantage, but Steggles saved Gedling’s second penalty from McCaughey, diving to his left and so after two penalties each it was 1-1.
Each side scored their remaining three penalties to bring on sudden death. Brown then coolly slotted home for Carlton, sending Sharpe the wrong way, and that was followed by Steggles diving to his right to save Hogg’s effort and secure a semi-final berth for the Millers.
It was a fiercely competitive game in front a crowd that seemed somewhat more than the official attendance of 47 and the Millers were grateful that they had just about managed to see off a spirited Gedling team.
Carlton Town: Steggles, Brown, Fletcher (Thomas 84), Ball, Moore, Bako (Sturgess 63), Johal (Stovell 63 (Robinson 91)), Clark, Opoku, Blake, Davie. Unused substitutes: McDonald
Goals: Opoku 88 (pen); Josh Thornton 42
Carlton – Davie (miss), Clarke, Thomas, Opoku, Blake, Brown
Gedling MW – Luke Smith, Ross McCaughey (miss), Courtney Hastings, Kieran Harris, Josh Thornton, Felix Hogg (miss)
Carlton Town Supporters Club MOTM: Aaron Opoku