Play off places at any level of football keenly contested.

A journey to Carlton in East Nottingham to see what looked like a fascinating encounter between the Northern Premier Leagues Midland Divisions 5th and 6th teams. If Belper Town won it meant that they would almost book their place in the play offs but if the home team could prevail they would be only 4 points behind and still in the hunt.

The ground is reached from a turning off the A612 dual carriageway oposite a large out of town retail park. You immediately can pull into a large car park and walk across it to the turnstile. It was a bit disconcerting to be greeted by two security guards but there must be a reason.

Carlton Town have only been at the Bill Stokeld stadium for 30 years and are steadily improving the facilities. There is a small seated area behind one goal otherwise there is flat standing around the rest of the ground. On one side there is a brick changing room with a small kiosk selling hot drinks and snacks. On the same side there are some portakabins that have been made into a club house and a few other rooms. During the coming closed season plans are in place to create some tiered standing behind the goal.

It was a sunny day with a few threatening black clouds which was spoilt by the cool strong wind that blew down the ground towards the stand which chilled the air below the 10 degrees that were registered on the car. It needed a scarf, gloves and hat to feel comfortable.

The pitch here was flat but had some undulating patches which were partly hidden by a good grass cover.

Sat a few seats away from me was a man noting down all kinds of patterns and numbers on an A4 sheet. I had to ask what he was doing and he told me that he was from Stamford FC, who have already qualified for the play offs, and they were sending people to visit all potential rivals for the next few games. This showed me the dedication of team seven at this level to try to gain any advantage to progress up the pyramid system. Good luck to Stamford for showing such enterprise.

I wrote about the history of Belper United earlier in the season when I visited their ground so I will not mention it again.

The Carlton Town name was adopted in 2002 at their current location having previously been known as Sneiton where they played on the Sneiton Cricket Club ground. Starting in 1904 as amateurs in local Nottingham leagues they were in their first decades at the pinnacle of Nottingham football. Disruptions by the wars meant that they were reformed in 1947 when they merged with another local team, Trent Rangers. They had performed well in the FA Amateur cup in those early years reaching the third round on 4 occasions each time going out to much stiffer opposition.

The team didn’t leave local football until 1995 when it joined the Central Midlands League and they were able to gain promotion to the Northern Counties East League despite previous ground grading issues. By 2007 they again gained another promotion to the Northern Premier League and have been moved in the geographical changes to now play in the Northern Premier League Midlands Division.

Carlton Town FC 2 Belper Town 1

Belper Town soon took control of the first quarter of an hour with Sam Muggleton launching throw ins longer than any I have seen for years, coupled with their exceptionally quick number 11 sprinting past a static Carlton defence and providing good crosses gave them scoring chances. This dominance continued but a through ball by Carlton nearly led to the first goal but for a brave stop from Belper’s goalkeeper. Carlton had a good appeal for a penalty waved away and their number five hit the upright with a header which he then took out his frustration on the perimeter fence. How Belper did not lead at half time bemused the 155 crowd of which it seemed half were from the away team. The crowd seemed small compared to their other games this season despite the importance of the game. It may have been because Nottingham Forrest were at home in an equally important game to reach the play offs.

As often happens despite Belper’s dominance it was Carlton who took the lead within 4 minutes of the restart when Aaron O’Connor ran on to a through pass and coolly hit the ball along the ground past Moore.

If I was the Stamford scout I would have reported that Belper’s threat of the long throws from their left back to their forwards often supported by their centre backs leaves them open to sudden direct attacks. Saying this Belper were level 4 minutes later when one of those Muggleton missiles was not cleared and it passed to Tom Wilson to head home.

Belper kept up the onslaught but Carlton came back in the last 10 minutes and both sides made numerous changes with Belper taking an age over each of theirs. Just in the final minutes there was a a five minute stoppage for a injury to Belper’s keeper. He managed to resume but could not move about and Carlton took the advantage. Well into the stoppage time, this time a Carlton throw in came back to Tom Maddison who chipped it over the defence to Tyler Blake to head over the static keeper to give the home team a win that they did not look like getting for much of the game.

I could not understand why the goalkeeper was not substituted when injured but this may have been because they had not used all of their subs earlier.

Great excitement from the home fans and a narrowing of Belper’s advantage in the race for the last play off place.

The chips were an immense quantity that were not greasy, hot and soft inside. They could have been cooked a little longer and scored a good 69.

Skin on chips though would not have been a favourite of John Torode of MasterChef fame who always complains if a contestant presents them. A nutritionists delight though because of the fibre.

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