Despite surrendering their pre-season unbeaten streak, Manager Dan Marshall was extremely upbeat having watched his Rangers side come from three down to give West Yorkshire Premier Division Champions Carlton Athletic an almighty scare, before eventually losing 3-2 at Barr Field.
Rangers started well and within a couple of minutes Luke Dubery had won the ball just outside Carlton’s area, but his shot lacked accuracy and spun wide.
The blue shirts came forward again and Josh Barden saw his shot blocked and despite the interventions of both Joe Wilks and Dubery, Rangers couldn’t fashion a clear-cut chance.
Carlton woke up and were getting to the ball quicker and closing well, making life difficult for Rangers. A pass down the right flank from James Woodward saw Wilks and his counterpart engage in a foot race, which was ended when the Carlton man shepherded the ball out of play.
The visitors were relying on fast breaks to get the first goal and a lovely cross-field ball picked out their left winger, but the linesman adjudged the player to have moved too quickly and flagged for offside.
Carlton surged forward again down the right side, but as the player made space, his shot was weak, and Jonty Smith was able to collect at his near post.
Rangers backline was coming under increasing pressure as Carlton upped their passing game, but despite the dominance in possession enjoyed by the visitors, they were finding chances difficult to come by.
Handed a good opportunity by way of a free kick following a foul on Wilks, Andy Maxted picked out Roman Neal on the far side, but despite looking for space to shoot, none was forthcoming and eventually Carlton cleared and launched their own attack which was ended when Dave McKay cut across and knocked the ball clear.
Kirk Deighton were grateful for the experience of Kieran O’Brien as he kept pace with the breaking Carlton player and at the right moment deflected the ball away.
A combination of O’Brien and Neal saw O’Brien’s cross hit goal wards by Wilks, however Barden was unable to get out of the way and the ball crashed into him.
With 23 minutes on the clock, a good passing move down the left saw space open and a well-placed curling shot beat Smith and nestled in the net.
Chances were coming for both teams with Joe Straker’s shot cleared and McKay reaching the ball just before the lurking Carlton striker could shoot with the goal at his mercy.
Carlton’s movement was excellent, and Rangers were spending large periods chasing the ball as the champions dictated the play. Maxted had to be alert to clear a deep cross and on the other side, O’Brien also needed to make several last ditch tackles.
Smith was called into action twice in quick succession as he dived low at his near post to deny Carlton and then had to race out of his area to take the ball away from the onrushing striker.
Two minutes before the break, the visitors struck again, and it was a superb strike from the edge of the area that arrowed past Smith and flew into the back of the goal.
The second half started with Carlton winning a throw-in in an advanced position and a smart turn and shot only missed by a couple of feet.
Rangers suddenly found a foothold in the game and driven forward by Jonny Hadley on the right and Sam Straker on the left began to force Carlton backwards. A pass by Maxted released Hadley and he outsprinted the left back, crossing the ball, he picked out Danny Grannon whose shot whistled past the far post with the keeper beaten.
In the sixtieth minute, Rangers had a glorious chance when Sam Straker latched onto a through ball by O’Brien. Steading himself, the winger drove his shot past the keeper but, unfortunately, also past the post!
Two minutes later and a teasing cross by Straker needed a tip over by the Carlton keeper and from the corner, Michael McCartney headed over.
Carlton reminded Rangers that they were still part of this game and it needed a good headed clearance by Jon Richards to prevent a one-on-one chance.
The visitors did stretch their lead in the 71st minute when some slick one touch passing allowed their left winger (who had been a thorn in Rangers side all match) to pick up the ball and shot low under the onrushing Smith.
Not allowing their heads to fall, Rangers fought back, and chances fell to Woodward and Hadley, but they were unable to find that finish that was needed.
In the 76th minute Rangers did get reward for their perseverance when Straker got to the goal line and pulled the ball back. Stabbing his shot goalwards, Grannon saw his effort saved by the keeper’s foot, but only to Hadley who hooked home.
The goal rejuvenated Rangers and seemed to force Carlton into their shell. O’Brien’s pinpoint cross picked out Grannon, but his header was straight at the keeper.
Rob Holliday was providing some quality in the centre of the park and it was his ball that released McKay who found Hadley. Spinning and shooting, his effort was spilt by the keeper who had to dive full length to claim the ball just before it bounced over the line.
Carlton’s keeper was left helpless in the 85th minute, when Dubery picked up a loose ball twenty-five yards outside the area and let loose with a curling shot that slammed off the post and back into play.
A free-kick on the edge of the area following a cynical foul on Grannon saw Wilks’s shot blocked, but winning the ball back was Woodward, who let fly with a powerful shot that left the keeper grasping air as it crashed into the net.
Time proved to be Carlton’s ally and with Rangers coming forward again, the referee’s whistle indicated the end of what had been a great advert for local football. We would like to wish Carlton Athletic all the best for the new season.
Report by Pete Arnett
Squad (all players used) - Smith, O’Brien, McKay, Richards, Maxted, Straker J, Neal, Wilks, Dubery, Barden, Woodward, Straker S, Hadley, Holliday, Grannon, McCartney
“It was a great test for us. They are the benchmark in the West Yorkshire league and I think all in all, especially in the second half we more than held our own. We hit the woodwork and had a couple of one-on-ones, which against that level of opposition, you really need to hit the target, but I thought for what we are trying to achieve, the performance from everyone was excellent.
Carlton used the ball very well, but you would expect them to have the vast majority of the possession. We kept our discipline and with what Ben has been training the players to do, we had to be patient and work hard to get the ball back, but we did. Maybe if we had scored our second with ten minutes to go it could have been an interesting finish, more than the couple of minutes that it was. However, it was a great level of performance from the lads today."
Dan Marshall - First Team Manager
Jonny Hadley's goal (video)
James Woodward's goal (video)