St Roch’s 1 Larkhall Thistle 1 – 25th March 2017

James McGrory Park, Glasgow
St Roch’s v Larkhall Thistle
Central League First Division

 

After a run of four homes games and not having played away since early January, Thistle made the trip to Provanmill for this vital top of the league clash between the second and third placed teams.

 

The Jags had injury worries, Brian Jack had stitches round his eye and both keepers were carrying knocks and were doubtful. Captain Mark Canning was also doubtful due to work commitments but Stewart Thomson started in goal and Canning made it too, with Brian Jack on the bench.

 

A fine day and the lack of any senior games brought out a big crowd for the game with the vast majority supporting the home team, a dream day for the club treasurer with hundreds cramming the home terracing and shed behind the goal.

 

Thistle got off to a bright start moving the ball forward well but without anything happening up front, Graham Gracie was through on the keeper but flagged offside then Matty Clarke had a chance to play him in moments later but overplayed it on the left side and lost the opportunity.

 

The playing surface was in poor condition and the ball was constantly taking strange bobbles making it hard to play a passing game on the deck and the big St Roch’s defence meant high balls into the area weren’t going to come to much either.

 

 

The tone of the game changed after 11 minutes though when a mix up in the Jags defence let Maguire in to score with a shot into the top corner that left Thomson with no chance. They nearly added to the lead ten minutes later when another mix up, this time between Hugh Kelly and David Reid, gifted the ball which was swept out to the left wing and the St Roch’s man did well to create space for a shot that just came off the outside of the post with Thomson stranded.

 

 

Minutes later Niall Reynolds had to clear one that might have been heading in as St Roch’s settled in and controlled rest of the half, forcing Thistle back into defending deep for most of it. The Jags came closest when Gracie chased down what looked like a lost cause and won the ball back for Reid whose shot brought out a low diving save from Stark.

 

 

Half Time: St Roch’s 1 Larkhall Thistle 0

 

St Roch’s were out of the blocks early in the second half with a quick turn and shot that went just past the post and it looked like we might be in for more of the same, but Thistle have developed a steely edge in their unbeaten run and they weren’t going to go down without a fight.

 

Liam Mushett was involved going forward as well as in defence and he got his head onto a free kick which was partly cleared by a defender but fell back to him, his follow-up shot was well saved and fell to Clarke but he couldn’t adjust his feet in time to tap it into the empty net.

 

Thistle got their equaliser from the penalty spot ten minutes into the half after a Gracie throw-in had again only been cleared as far as Canning on the edge of the box. His shot hit a defender who was going to ground but left his arm up, the referee deciding there was enough in it for a penalty. Canning took the kick himself and beat Stark to the keeper’s right. Shortly after the goal the skipper was taken off due to what looked like an injury to his ribs he’d picked up earlier in the game and was replaced by Brian Jack.

 

 

It would have been a bold referee who awarded Larkhall a second penalty just five minutes later in front of the 700 fans who might just have thought it wasn’t – Jack hit the post and Gracie seemed to be impeded by two defenders who threw themselves down and bowled him over but in the circumstances anything short of catching the ball with both hands was never going to be given.

 

Going into the last quarter of a pulsating match, St Roch’s pressed again and went close with a free header that just cleared the bar when it should have hit the target at least, then even closer with a ball right across the face of the goal just two yards out that had no takers for an easy tap-in. Thomson was then called into action to get a vital touch on a point-blank shot after a corner had been headed back across the goal.

 

Thistle finished the game with the best chances to sneak a win, Mushett helped the ball on towards goal and Ryan Innes nipped in front of the keeper but sent his header just wide, then a St Roch’s defender mysteriously tried to dribble out from his own goal line and got caught out but the ball trundled across the face of the goal and past. In their last effort, keeper Stark and one of his defenders between them managed to hand the ball to Gracie who tried to lob it back into the empty net but didn’t get enough height on it.

 

This was Thistle – and St Roch’s – biggest league game for many a year. The league positions and crowd made it a real big match occasion and it required big players to step up and perform. The Thistle back three and keeper were outstanding other than the blip for the goal and Hugh Kelly and Canning put everything into midfield, Gracie got through a lot of work and led the line well but the real driving force behind what was a tremendous point was Ryan Innes. A magnificent fighting display in the middle of the park that set the marker that Thistle weren’t going to be intimidated by the occasion and were here to scrap and battle for everything that was going.

 

A word about St Roch’s, they have had their problems with some of their supporters recently but manager Andy Cameron and the committee pulled out all the stops to make this as safe as they could for the travelling Thistle support. In the event it all passed off peacefully and in what has to be said was a great atmosphere, and although there is an intense rivalry between the two clubs it was settled where it should be settled, on the park.

 

Full Time: St Roch’s 1 Larkhall Thistle 1

 

Website man of the match: Ryan Innes

 

Larkhall Thistle:
S. Thomson; Brown, Mushett, Reynolds; Kelly; Payne, Innes, Canning (Jack 56), Reid (Nicholl 78); Clarke (McStay 68), Gracie. Subs: McKeever, Doyle, D. Thomson

Scorers: Canning

Booked: Innes, Mushett, Payne, McStay

 

 

Larkhall Thistle 5 Vale of Clyde 0 – 18th March 2017

Gasworks Park, Larkhall
Larkhall Thistle v Vale of Clyde
Central League First Division

 

Thistle went into today’s game looking to maintain their good recent record that has seen them put themselves into a realistic title challenging position. With Cambslang Rangers losing again today, it now looks like a genuine three-way title race with St Roch’s only a point behind in second and Thistle six points behind with four games in hand.

Manager Dunky Sinclair rested Mark McKeever and replaced him with Matty Clarke in a front pairing with Graham Gracie in the only change from last week’s win.

The Jags got off to the best possible start with a goal after just three minutes, Graham Gracie following up to pounce on the rebound when a shot from Clarke hit the post after good work from Josh Payne on the right.

 

 

Thistle extended their lead in the thirteenth minute after a defensive mix up saw the ball fall into the path of Matty Clarke who lobbed it back into the empty net.

Brian Jack had to go off with a head knock midway through the half but it looked to be more of a precaution than a forced move, he was replaced by Hugh Kelly.

At 2-0 up the game should have been all but done but to their credit Vale rolled up their sleeves and battled back into the game, which settled into a dour physical midfield tussle.

Thistle were having most luck when they got the ball out wide to Reid and Payne but despite good work from both there wasn’t much of an end product and the score stayed the same till the half time break.

 

Half Time: Larkhall Thistle 2 Vale of Clyde 0

 

The second half was more of the same until Thistle got the breakthrough twenty minutes in, Nicholl and Gracie exchanged passes on the left before the striker whipped in a low cross that struck a Vale of Clyde defender three yards out and left the keeper with no chance.

 

 

The third goal effectively killed off any hopes of a revival from the visitors and for the remainder of the game it looked like a case of how many Thistle would get. As has happened on several occasions this season though, a few good chances went unconverted especially in light of Vale having to play the game with an outfield player in goals. This season especially given how tight the top of the league is, let’s just hope that the missed chances don’t come back to haunt them.

The Jags did go further ahead six minutes from time with a move that was started from a long pass out wide from substitute Scott Nicholl, the other substitute Gary McStay received the ball and put in a great pass across the six yard box for Gracie who rolled in past the helpless keeper.

Thistle rounded off the scoring with a goal from Gracie to complete his hat-trick with what turned out to be the last kick of the game.

A good win and a few goals to boost the goal difference, but the Thistle management will be just as pleased with the rare clean sheet.

 

Full Time: Larkhall Thistle 5 Vale of Clyde 0

 

Scorers: Gracie 3, Clarke, o.g.

 

Website Man of the Match: Great to see Graham Gracie looking more like his old self and showing that he still has the ability to be the best striker in the league with a hat trick and the assist for the o.g.

 

Larkhall Thistle:
D.Thomson; Brown, Mushett, Reynolds (Nicholl 54); Payne, Innes, Canning, Jack (Kelly 24), Reid; Clarke, Gracie. Subs: Doyle, McKeever, S.Thomson (GK)

 

 

Larkhall Thistle 2 Cambuslang Rangers 1 – 11th March 2017

Gasworks Park, Larkhall
Larkhall Thistle v Cambuslang Rangers
Central League First Division

Thistle went into this crucial top of the table clash knowing that only a win would realistically keep their prospects of winning the league alive. Twelve points behind with four games in hand would have stretched to fifteen with the prospect of having to cram midweek games into a tight schedule so the three points were essential.

The Jags got off to the best possible start when after just eight minutes midfielder Brian Jack pounced on a loose ball in the box to swing his boot high and send a great shot crashing into the roof of the net. The Cambuslang coaching staff set the tone for the rest of the day as they appealed loudly for a foul against Jacko for a high kick, despite the fact that there wasn’t a defender close to him. Their protests were as fruitless as they were ridiculous and the constant cries for offside every time Thistle went forward were correctly ignored by the referee.

 


The Cambuslang players showed there was more about them though and came back to grab a quick equaliser eight minutes later. A ball was swung in from a corner on the left and Lang’s Nolan converted at the near post with a free header.

The goal lifted the visitors as they took control of the game for a spell and made a few chances, going close on one occasion with a cross/shot that clipped the post and a volley that would have burst the net if it had been on target. Thistle also had their moments, Graham Gracie replied with a low shot across the goal that went just wide, Mark McKeever brought out a good save and a goalmouth scramble resulted in Liam Mushett nearly poking a shot home but keeper Stewart managed to save again.

Chances at both ends then but the half time whistle came without any further addition to the scoring.

Half Time: Larkhall Thistle 1 Cambuslang Rangers 1

After the break, both teams made it clear that they were going all out for the win, resulting in a real old fashioned end-to-end contest that turned out to be more like a cup tie. Thistle had the best of the half and put the Cambuslang defence under heavy pressure for most of it, albeit without creating too many clear cut chances. The visitors also had their moments though and came close just after the restart when they hit the bar with a header.

Graham Gracie looked set to put the Jags ahead but a Lang defender managed to throw himself in front of the ball and block his shot – it was probably a legitimate challenge despite the calls for a penalty.

 

The game turned on a penalty decision that predictably the visiting bench didn’t entirely agree with. A cross from the left hit a defender on the arm and it is one of those decisions that some referees will give and some won’t, it was entirely open to interpretation whether the defender was too close to have been able to do anything about it but the referee was in a better position to judge than those who were giving him abuse. One of the Cambuslang players took his protests too far and was sent off in the aftermath.

Captain Mark Canning took responsibility and stepped up to slot the ball home for what proved to be the winning goal.

There were more half chances at either end as the teams went at each other right to the wire but neither keeper was really troubled too much. Credit to both teams for a great contest played in the right spirit – on the park at least.

The win keeps Thistle in touch and although there are some games to catch up, the destination of the title is in their own hands for the first time.

Full Time: Larkhall Thistle 2 Cambuslang Rangers 1

Scorers: Jack, Canning

Website Man of the Match: !00% effort from all of the players today but none more so than Mark McKeever who plugged away tirelessly up front.

Larkhall Thistle:
D.Thomson; Brown, Mushett, Reynolds (Nicholl); Payne, Innes, Canning, Jack, Reid; McKeever (Clarke 85), Gracie. Subs: Kelly, McStay, S.Thomson

Cambuslang Rangers: Stewart, Gebbie, Halliday, Nolan, Bishop, Haye, Bohme, Simeon, Gormley, Kilmartin, Hastings. Subs: Kerr, Houston, Brown, Gemmell, Collinder

 

Video highlights of the game (sorry Cambuslang goal is missing, some of their supporters walked in front of the camera just as they were scoring)