Carlton Town 1-3 Stratford Town (FA Cup First Qualifying Round)
It truly was a game of two halves as Stratford Town avoided an FA Cup upset with a 3-1 win at Carlton Town.
The Millers led 1-0 at halftime in this First Round Qualifying tie and might arguably have merited a bigger lead. But a much-improved performance from the step 3 visitors in the second half, coupled with yet another penalty miss from the Millers, saw the Southern Premier League Central side through to the next round. Ultimately Carlton could have no complaints but there will be some frustration at what was a missed opportunity to progress further.
Carlton managers Tommy Brookbanks and Mark Harvey made three changes from the side which had won at Daventry last time out. Out went Kieran Preston (ineligible), Tom Maddison (injured) and Jacob Sturgess. In came Jack Steggles, Tyler Johal and Khyle Sargent.
Whether the Bards were complacent or whether Carlton simply started better wasn’t clear, but for the first 30 minutes it was the home side who looked the higher ranked team, such was their dominance.
In just the fourth minute Aaron Opoku broke down the left hand side and surged into the area. His cross towards Sargent and Tyler Blake lacked power but was still almost turned into his own net by Jordan Williams with goalkeeper Liam O’Brien making a fine save.
Moments later Nat Watson sent Blake clear with a lovely through ball but his attempted chip seemed to be scuffed and flew harmlessly over the bar.
Steggles then played a clearance to Blake whose header put Opoku away on the left. His fizzed cross was missed by everyone and was cleared.
Stratford had offered little up to this point but a quick break on the right led to a shot from Jaanai Gordon which Steggles did well to palm to safety. Early substitute Jack Self then fired well wide from a good position.
Carlton got the goal their pressure deserved on 26 minutes and what a goal it was. Watson played a lovely ball to send Blake away on the right. He darted into the area before looking up and pulling the ball back to Niall Davie just outside the area. Davie hit the sweetest of first time left foot drives from the edge of the box high into the sop corner beyond the reach of O’Brien.
The goal seemed to wake Stratford from their slumbers. Wing back Ahmed Obeng had been Stratford’s only real threat in the early stages and he advanced down the right only to be denied by a fine Dan Brown tackle. That was followed by a decent move when Will Grocott was denied by a combination of Lawrence Gorman and Steggles.
With half time approaching Stratford pushed forward and this time it was Toby Moore who blocked a Grocott effort.
As the second half started The Millers had, up to that point, conceded just two goals in 585 minutes of football. However, Stratford soon punctured that statistic with an equaliser within the first minute of the second period when Daniel Vann headed home unmarked from a corner.
Carlton responded well and immediately pushed forward. Then came the pivotal moments of the game. The Millers were awarded a penalty for handball by James Fry but, with regular penalty taker Maddison absent, it was Nat Watson who stepped up to the spot. He hit the penalty well enough but O’Brien guessed correctly and saved the effort, Carlton’s third missed penalty in four attempts this season.
Stratford were clearly boosted by the save and by 61 minutes they were ahead, when Gordon’s shot was deflected past Steggles by Johal’s attempted clearance.
From then on it seemed as if the stuffing had been knocked out of the team and the very decent home attendance and despite their best efforts, Carlton failed to create any real chances.
It was the visitors who had wrestled control of the game and they conformed the win nine minutes from time when Grocott’s free kick from 20 yards wrong-footed Steggles and found the corner of the net.
Substitute Louis Czerwak had a late effort for the Millers saved by O’Brien but the Bards saw out the remainder of the game comfortably to secure their place in the next round.
Carlton Town: Steggles, Gorman, Johal (Omotola 74), Brown, Moore, Holmes, Watson, Sargent (Matthews 69), Opoku, Blake, Davie (Czerwak 69).
*Article provided by Sky Blue Miller.
*Main image @StratfordTownFC the away team were too strong on the day for Carlton.