FAST improving Rainworth completed an unbeaten NLP December with an excellent Boxing Day goalless draw at joint leaders Carlton Town.
The Wrens should have taken an early lead when Ant Lynam blew a glorious third minute chance.
But, playing into the teeth of a strong gale, they were thankful to turn round still on terms.
However, they never quite capitalised on the more favourable second half conditions and, with the wind easing, Carlton ended the game the stronger, with Ruben Wiggins-Thomas having what he thought was an 85th minute winner ruled out for offside.
But the point gained kept Kevin Gee’s side six points clear of the drop zone while the Millers lost a little ground on Grantham at the top.
There was a touch of extra spice with rival managers Gee and Les McJannet having worked together for several years and McJannet having had a year as coach at Rainworth during the Rudy Funk era.
Rainworth included new keeper Alessandro Bercherini, signed just before Christmas to replace the departed Joe McCormack, and debutant central defender Romaine Graham, and both made impressive starts.
But, with skipper Steve Kennedy suspended and usual centre back partner Tommy Hannigan still nursing a calf injury, Lee Cooksey dropped back into central defence from his more accustomed midfield role—and did so well that he was a worthy Man of the Match winner.
Carlton, meanwhile, were without sought after winger Terry Hawkridge, also serving a suspension.
Graham imposed himself on the game inside the first minute with a fine challenge to halt Ian Brown’s surge through the middle.
But Rainworth really should have taken the lead in the third minute. A fluent link-up on the right between Nathan Adams and Matt Glass ended with Adams finding Lynam in the six-yard box. Only a tap-in was needed but somehow the striker, scorer of the likely goal of the season in the previous match against Stamford, found himself charged with the probable miss of the season when he scooped his finish high over the bar.
With the gale at their backs Carlton were asking more of the questions, but after former Wren Ashley Grayson had seen his spearing cross lack the final touch in the six-yard area it was Rainworth’s turn again to go close, when Danny Bacon neatly fed Glass through, only for the ex-Sheffield front man to overplay his first touch enabling Danny Marshall to save.
Barcherini showed his quality with a fine tip aside from a cross-shot from the left then, after Marshall had stretched to hold Lynam’s difficult shot from the left under his bar, Joe Carter headed over his own bar from almost underneath it as the Millers threatened again.
Referee Stuart Richardson was not endearing himself to the Wrens’ following with some inconsistent decision making, especially when booking Lynam for kicking the ball away a matter of a couple of yards, but taking no action against a Carlton defender for a similar offence only moments later.
With the wind now at their backs Rainworth made a bright start to the second half, but as the wind eased so Carlton’s share of the play grew, and the Wrens found themselves forced onto the back foot.
But with Cooksey having probably his best game in a Rainworth shirt to inspire his defensive colleagues the Wrens gave nothing away.
When Rainworth did go forward and win a corner the giant Graham got nothing onto a header, then from Joe Carter’s strong run Marshall competently stretched high to cut out he ensuing centre.
Carlton substitute Rob Gill guided a downward header wide when Ryan Goward capitalised on a moment of indecision to win the ball in midfield and put over an accurate cross.
But Carlton were celebrating in the 85th minute when a deep corner was knocked back into the box by Adam Kimberley to Wiggins-Thomas who put away a low finish, only for the celebrations to be curtailed prematurely by an offside flag.
Barcherini continued to distinguish himself against one of his former clubs, saving from Neil Grayson and then cutting out Dan Fletcher’s low, driven cross.
As the game entered stoppage time Marshall beat away Ian Clarke’s free kick before, almost on the final whistle, Ricky Hanson stopped Wiggins-Thomas in his tracks in the Rainworth box.
CARLTON: Marshall, Darkin, Fletcher, Asher, Kitchen, Kimberley, A. Grayson (N. Grayson 78), Goward, Brown (Gill 54), Wiggins-Thomas, MacVicar (Smith 68). Subs not used: Gardner, M. Clarke.
RAINWORTH: Barcherini, Hanson, Carter, Camm, Graham, Cooksey, Akers (O’Rafferty 79), Bacon, Adams, Lynam (Mitchell 70), Glass (I. Clarke 51).
REFEREE: Stuart Richardson of Mansfield.
WRENS MAN OF THE MATCH: Lee Cooksey.