LATE DRAMA SEES MILLERS SNATCH SECOND
Carlton Town clinched the runners-up spot in the First Division South following an extraordinary last five minutes in a 3-0 win over Goole at Stoke Lane.
Needing to win the match and have Ilkeston lose at Grantham and overturn a four goal deficit in goal difference, there was little likelihood of such an outcome as the clock reached 85 minutes with the Millers 1-0 ahead and the Robins drawing 1-1. But late strikes from Tris Whitman and Sam MacVicar coupled with Tony Battersby’s injury time winner for the Gingerbreads saw the Millers finish above the Robins on goals scored and ensure home advantage throughout the play-offs.
Les McJannet had made changes to his side with perhaps one eye on Wednesday’s play-off semi-final. Anton Foster, Anthony Griffith Junior and Adam Kimberley returned to the starting eleven with Nick Hall, Joe Naylor and MacVicar on the bench.
In a slow start to a match played in windy conditions, Goole carried the early threat and after Daniel Fletcher made an important block, Andy Richmond was on hand to punch away a corner under some pressure.
Reuben Wiggins-Thomas then put over an excellent cross with Tom Johnson nipping in ahead of Griffith Junior to clear.
Carlton’s defence looked very solid and Goole were struggling to create anything going forward, but the Millers too were finding chances hard to come by. Terry Hawkridge crossed well from the left for Wiggins-Thomas, whose header was saved at point blank range by Ryan Pugh in the Vikings goal.
Goole then had their best chance as Richmond dived a fraction too early for a free kick which bobbled and which he could only palm away. With the visitors looking set to score the goalkeeper made a superb recovery, blocking the follow-up shot.
Wiggins-Thomas was at the heart of most of the Millers first half forward play and he once again brought a fine save out of Pugh as the half drew to a close.
Carlton needed two goals to make it 100 league goals for the season and as the second half began that was the height of most Millers fans expectations, with the news that Ilkeston were drawing 1-1 at Grantham.
Wiggins-Thomas against brought a fine save from Pugh after some good control and a fierce shot, and the striker created the opening goal minutes later after he was brought down by Scott Hellewell. Griffith Junior calmly stroked home the resultant penalty.
On the hour Wiggins-Thomas beat the offside trap and Pugh rushed out of his goal to punch away. He looked some way out of his penalty area at the time but the linesman gave him the benefit of the doubt and the game continued. In the aftermath Wiggins-Thomas cut into the box and brought another, this time legitimate, save from the Vikings keeper.
With the game entering the final 15 minutes McJannet brought on MacVicar and Whitman. MacVicar’s introduction brought immediate results as his cross from the right was cleared by Johnson with Josh Thornton inches away from converting.
Carlton then scored their 100th league goal of the campaign and it was fans favourite and Carlton returnee Whitman who notched it. MacVicar headed on a through ball and Whitman controlled on the left side of the area, rounded the goalkeeper and coolly slotted home at an angle with covering defenders unable to block the shot.
The drama wasn’t over as Carlton pressed forward again and MacVicar found himself clean through after a slip in the Goole defence. He drew Pugh, calmly sidestepped him and walked the ball into the empty net to scenes of delight on the terraces.
With the game in the final minute of injury time Hawkridge played Whitman through and the striker beat his man but fired just wide from an angle. But the biggest cheer following the final whistle was reserved for the news that the Gingerbreads had just scored and the Millers finished the league season second in the table, their highest-ever finish.
As the results came in Carlton discovered their play-off opponents on Wednesday evening would be Leek Town and the drama isn’t over yet.
Carlton Town: Richmond, Asher, Fletcher, Darkin, Kitchen, Foster, Kimberley (Hall 68), Thornton, Hawkridge, Griffith Junior (Whitman 80), Wiggins-Thomas (MacVicar 74). Unused substitutes: Naylor, Millns.
Goals: Griffith Junior 53 pen, Whitman 86, MacVicar 89.
Carlton Town Supporters Club MOTM: Rob Darkin.