Nat Watson’s first goal for Carlton Town saw the Millers through a hard-fought FA Cup replay with Maltby Main at Stoke Lane.
Watson struck in just the third minute to settle this Preliminary Round replay and earn the Millers a home game with Stratford Town in the next round. On balance, the Millers merited the win, but over two games this was a closely fought affair and the Miners more than demonstrated why they currently sit top of the Northern Counties East League.
Managers Tommy Brookbanks and Mark Harvey selected the same side which had drawn at Maltby three days earlier. The same five substitutes where also named and they were joined by Danny Elliott and Martin Ball given the seven allowed in the FA Cup.
Maltby made one change to their starting eleven with Bradley Morton replacing Jonathan Hill. That meant Liam Marsden made a return to the ground where he made four appearances in 2012-13.
Carlton made the perfect start and were ahead on three minutes. Watson slipped a ball through to Aaron Opoku that caught the visitors napping. Opoku went through on goal but was denied by an excellent save from Hugo Warhurst. The ball rebounded to the edge of the penalty area where Watson displayed some lovely control, adjusting his body and firing a half-volley into the roof of the net beyond the reach of Warhurst.
That goal should have settled any Carlton nerves and shortly afterwards Watson controlled a long Jack Steggles pass and crossed to Opoku, whose header was comfortably saved by Warhurst.
By this stage however the Miners had recovered their composure and started to enjoy more possession in midfield, moving the ball to wide positions without being able to seriously breach the Carlton defence. The nearest Maltby came to a goal in the first half was on 21 minutes when a long throw from the right bounced over everyone, arriving at the head of Connor Cutts at the far post but his header lacked power and Steggles saved easily.
Niall Davie saw one effort fly just wide and James Matthews hit an audacious 25-yard volley just over the bar as the game became somewhat of a midfield stalemate before half time.
Carlton brought on Khyle Sargent for Matthews at the interval and his introduction had an immediate effect. Within a minute of the restart he had won the ball in midfield and slipped a lovely pass to Opoku whose run on goal was well blocked.
Sargent then picked up the ball on the edge of the box and hit a powerful drive that beat Warhurst but crashed against the crossbar.
The Millers were then presented with a glorious chance to double the lead when they were awarded a penalty. Sargent darted onto what looked like an underhit pass in midfield, rounded Warhurst and looked set to score before being bundled over by the goalkeeper.
Opoku stepped up to take the spot kick, having fired wide from a penalty in the first game. He could only look on in anguish as Warhurst dived to his right and saved the penalty.
Opoku certainly didn’t let the miss get to him as he continued to cause problems for the Main defence. One run down the right hand side saw him cut into the area before unleashing a fierce drive that drew another excellent save from Warhurst.
Davie was then brought down cynically on the half way line as he was about to run clean through and the resultant free kick led to a Toby Moore header that was well-held by Warhurst.
Opoku then picked up a knock in a 50-50 challenge with Warhurst and seemed to be affected for the rest of the game. His importance to the team is such that there was no question of taking him off with the match so delicately poised.
As the game wore one Maltby pushed forward. The Millers defence held firm, with Moore and Dan Brown particularly impressive in the middle and Lawrence Gorman and Tyler Johal keeping the wide men at bay.
Most of Maltby’s attacks focussed on their right and it was from this position that they came desperately close to scoring with eight minutes remaining. Substitute Brandon Whitfield, scorer of their equaliser in the first game, advanced into the area and hit a powerful drive which produced a marvellous save from Steggles.
The loose ball looked set to be converted by Thomas Whiting but Steggles was able to get his body over the ball and block the effort. In a melee that ensued involving most of the 22 players on the pitch, Steggles was kicked in the arm, Toby Moore was pushed into the net and the referee showed a red card to Maltby’s Jamie Austin and a yellow card to Alex Hardwick.
Still Maltby didn’t give up and with the game in added time they won a corner. Warhurst went up for it and was close to scoring with a header that went just wide and may even have hit the post. The Millers though were able to see out the rest of the game and secure their place in the First Round Qualifying.
Carlton Town: J Steggles, L Gorman, T Johal, D Brown, T Moore, J Holmes (T Maddison 76), N Watson, J Matthews (K Sargent 46), A Opoku, T Blake, N Davie (L Czerwak 67). Unused substitutes: J Sturgess, D Thomas, M Ball, D Elliott
Goals: Watson 3
Carlton Town Supporters Club MOTM – Nat Watson