The result was all the more surprising as prior to the match only Grantham and Ilkeston had conceded less goals than the Blues, with the side from Staffordshire having conceded barely a goal a game before their trip to the Bill.
It’s also fair to say that Leek performed very well in the first 45 minutes, playing into a fierce head wind and only turning round 2-1 down. But a stunning second half showing by the Millers saw Les McJannet
’s men record five further unanswered goals.
McJannet was without Rob Darkin
and Ryan Goward, both suspended, so Matt Millns and Terry Hawkridge returned to the starting eleven. There was a surprise on the bench with Anthony Griffith Junior back at the club 18 months after following Tommy Brookbanks to Hucknall. Striker Rob Gill, an unused substitute in the defeat against Newcastle last time out, had moved on to Rainworth. And watching the match were former Carlton men Massiah McDonald and Curtis Shaw, both of whom left earlier this season.
Carlton had an extremely strong wind at their backs in the first period and started the sharper. Hawkridge played a neat ball through to Ian Brown on 5 minutes, with the striker chipping just over Leek goalkeeper Joe McCormack’s goal.
On 13 minutes Alistair Asher hit a deep cross from the right which was headed just over by Ashley Grayson, and moments later Reuben Wiggins-Thomas advanced down the right and put the ball across the face of goal but Leek were able to clear.
The visitors then took the lead on 17 minutes. Danny Marshall could only clear a right wing cross as far as Ben Nixon who took full advantage and crashed home from close range.
The Millers’ response was almost immediate. Hawkridge floated a free kick to the back post which Ashley Kitchen did extremely well to keep in play. His cross was forced over the line by Wiggins-Thomas after McCormack failed to hold it.
Although Leek were having problems getting the ball out of their half at times because of the wind, when they got the ball on the floor they continued to look dangerous and the impressive James McCarthy brought a superb save from Marshall after a tricky run and shot on 23 minutes.
Carlton claimed a penalty shortly afterwards after Daniel Fletcher was brought down in the area but the referee wasn’t interested.
Theo Smith then picked up the ball inside the Leek half, beat the left back with ease and strode into the area before hitting a fierce drive which rattled McCormack’s crossbar before flying to safety.
The Millers took a deserved lead minutes later with a fine goal. Ashley Grayson’s cross was cleared as far as Hawkridge. He laid the ball off to Asher whose excellent centre saw Ian Brown rise highest and plant a delicious header beyond McCormack and into the net.
That in fact led to Leek’s best period of the game as they belied the strong wind and forced Carlton back repeatedly in the closing 15 minutes of the half. McCarthy won the ball in midfield, advanced forward and then played an excellent pass right to full back Tim Sanders. With a clear sight of goal, Sanders could only blast his shot high over the cross bar to his obvious disappointment.
Worse was to follow for the visitors as once again McCarthy won possession and this time went alone, drawing Marshall and slipping the ball both him and the far post when a goal looked certain.
And with 43 minutes on the clock, a well worked throw-in saw George Ray’s header hit Marshall’s cross bar and go safely over.
At half-time the thoughts of most in the ground were whether or not the Millers would be able to withstand the wind-assisted pressure the second half was bound to bring. And indeed, Leek had a corner within 10 seconds of the restart from which they almost scored, before the Millers scrambled the ball away.
However, it was clear even then that Carlton were going to be forced to play the ball on he floor, given the wind, and that is generally something which suits the style of McJannet’s players.
Marshall had a couple of tricky moments dealing with back passes in the conditions which led to some taunts from the visiting fans, but it has to be said that he responded magnificently, as did the Carlton ultras behind the goal who were unstinting in their second half support.
Hawkridge brought a tremendous save from McCarthy on the hour as the Millers looked for a third goal, but minutes later the keeper was rooted to the spot as Matt Millns headed home Hawkridge’s corner despite the efforts of Sanders on the line.
Smith then attacked down the right and crossed to Brown but the ball was cleared before the same duo combined on 67 minutes to make it 4-1, Brown stealing in ahead of his marker to convert Smith’s driven cross.
By now, it looked as if the Millers could score at will, but Leek still pushed forward themselves, and Marshall produced an excellent save from a close range header after a good run and cross.
Carlton responded by scoring their fifth. Once again Smith was involved, as his cross was met by Wiggins-Thomas at the edge of the box. The striker took his time before cracking a shot which took a deflection and wrong-footed McCormack. Wiggins-Thomas injured himself in the process and was replaced by Griffith Junior, who got into the action almost immediately, bring a save from the keeper after a 25 yard effort.
Marshall then made his best save of the afternoon, twisting to push wide what looked a certain goal by Matt Hadrell, before substitute Ricky Gardner hit the side netting on the right.
With the game in the final minute of normal time, Carlton made it six. A corner was cleared as far as Fletcher, whose neat ball to Hawkridge resulted in a cross from the right which was steered home delightfully by the head of Ashley Grayson.
And there was still time for a seventh, in the third minute of stoppage time, when a lovely combination of passes down the left involving Gardner and Grayson saw the ball played into substitute Sam McVicar who swivelled neatly and cracked home from 15 yards to score his first goal since arriving from Loughborough.
Carlton Town: Marshall, Asher, Fletcher, Kitchen, Millns, Hall, A Grayson, Smith (Gardner 75), Hawkridge, Brown (McVicar 69), Wiggins-Thomas (Griffith Junior 70). Unused substitutes: N Grayson, Thornton.
Goals: Wiggins-Thomas 19, 70, Brown 31, 67, Millns 62, A Grayson 90, McVicar 90.
Carlton Town Supporters Club MOTM – Reuben Wiggins-Thomas