A brace from Tyler Johal and goals from Aaron Opoku and Oliver Clark saw Carlton Town to a 4-2 win in an entertaining Boxing Day clash at Ilkeston Town.
The win was Carlton’s first in five and saw the Millers leapfrog their hosts into the playoff places in the First Division South-East table. It was fully merited following an excellent display full of inventive but controlled pass-and-move football to thrill the sizeable travelling support in a superb crowd of 468.
Managers Tommy Brookbanks and Mark Harvey made three changes to the side which lost at Belper Town last time out. In came Dan Brown, Danny Elliott and Johal in place of Oliver Robinson, Eli Baku and Tyler Blake. Baku and Robinson were on the bench while Blake was unavailable following a recent operation but was one of those at the New Manor Ground (surely the best ground in the division) cheering on the Millers.
Ilkeston started with ex-Millers Fabian Smith and Jamie Walker and also had another former Carlton player, Jermaine Hollis, on the bench.
With Blake not playing, Carlton adopted a 4-5-1 formation with Niall Davie playing wide right, Johal playing on the left in front of Daniel Fletcher and Clark, Tom Maddison and Elliott in the centre of midfield.
In an even start on a fine playing surface Carlton had the first opportunity when Clark headed goalwards from a Johal corner, only to be denied by a fine block from Dean Freeman.
The Robins responded and a cross whipped in from the right flew across the face of goal with no one able to add a finishing touch.
The home side took the lead on 21 minutes. Centre-half Freeman had been deployed to launch long-throw after long-throw into the Carlton area. The latest such example was cleared back to him and he then delivered a wonderful cross at pace to the near post which was begging to be headed home. Kieran Wells duly obliged to the delight of the home fans behind the goal.
Carlton retained their composure and Opoku fed Davie who fired just wide from 20 yards.
The Millers were moving the ball nicely in midfield and when Opoku advanced into the area on the right hand side he whipped over a cross which was just behind Johal who would otherwise have had a golden chance to score.
Despite all their good play, Carlton had failed to seriously test home goalkeeper Ross Durant but that all changed in an outstanding eight minute spell for the visitors before half time. Opoku ran into the area before being brought down by Richard Wyman. The referee pointed to the penalty spot and up stepped Tom Maddison. The captain hit the post with his spot-kick, his first miss of the season, but it mattered not as Johal followed up and calmly side-footed the rebound into the net.
Within 60 seconds the Millers were ahead. Davie sent a free kick into the area, Opoku flicked on and Johal headed home at the back post.
If the visiting support were ecstatic about the turnaround they were in dreamland as Carlton continued to pour forward and scored the goal of the game on the stroke of half time.
Goalkeeper Jack Steggles punched an Ilkeston cross expertly to the feet of Opoku on the half way line. He played two one-twos with Davie, the second of which sent Opoku clear on the right. He still had plenty to do as he cut into the area but when Durrant came out to meet him he calmly lifted the ball over the keeper and into the net.
Ilkeston reduced the arrears three minutes into the second half when Freeman forced the ball home after Carlton failed to clear a corner.
Two minutes later they should have levelled when Wells put a free header over the bar.
Carlton though weathered the storm and imposed themselves once again upon the game with calm passing and moving and resilient defence, with Martin Ball and Toby Moore dealing comfortably with the aerial bombardment and Brown and Fletcher covering any attacks down the flanks.
Elliott, Maddison and particularly Clark were effective in the midfield in winning possession and, importantly, being creative with the ball and Davie and Johal were a constant threat in the wide positions. Johal fired just over from the edge of the box after a fine ball from Clark before Carlton sealed the win on 69 minutes. A Davie corner was headed into the net by Clark with the goalkeeper unsighted and the entire Carlton team went to celebrate with the jubilant and vocal travelling support, which included chairman Mick Garton behind the goal.
The Millers went for more goals, replacing Elliott with striker Mamoke Akaunu and he ran magnificently into the area before teeing up Davie whose shot drew a decent save from Durrant.
Ilkeston had a final effort in added time, with Kieron Fenton firing a free kick over the bar, but this was Carlton’s day and they fully deserved their first ever win at the New Manor Ground. The entire squad came across to the visiting supporters after the match to thank them for their support and those thanks were of course reciprocated twice over for the display the players had put on. It was a fine way to end 2019 for those in yellow and blue, or indeed the away kit of black and white!
Carlton Town: Steggles, Brown, Fletcher, Ball, Moore, Maddison, Elliott (Akaunu 71), Clark, Opoku, Davie, Johal. Unused substitute: Baku, Robinson, Thomas, K Wilson.
Goals: Johal 38, 39, Opoku 45, Clark 69; Kieran Wells 21, Dean Freeman 48
Carlton Town Supporters Club MOTM: Tyler Johal