Larkhall Thistle 2 St Roch’s 1 – 13th May 2017

Gasworks Park, Larkhall
Larkhall Thistle v St Roch’s
Central League First Division



Thistle manager Dunky Sinclair went into the biggest game of his time at the Jags with three changes from the win at Lesmahagow. Scott Nicholl was suspended and his driving runs to the 18 yard line and diagonal passes would be a miss after a good game last week. Brian Jack dropped to the bench with Mark McKeever and back came Andy Brown, Hugh Kelly and Gary McStay.


A bit of early rain wasn’t enough to put the game in any doubt and the conditions added to what was already going to be a powdrekeg fixture. The rivalry between the teams goes way back in time and with both on 51 points, the winner was assured of promotion to the Super League.


The Thistle committee had worked with the police to ensure that the game went off without a hitch and did a great job in organising and segregating the two sets of supporters and the game was played in a safe if somewhat hostile atmosphere, although the noise from both sides made it more of an occasion.


The teams have been well matched all season with both having great spells and mini-slumps and it’s often said than on occasions like this it comes down to who wants it most and handles the occasion the best. In the first half that was without question Thistle.


The Jags came roaring out of the blocks and tore at the St Roch’s goal from the off. The pressure paid off after just nine minutes when Larkhall took the lead with what was in the circumstances, probably the goal of the season.



Larkhall won a free kick on the half way line and Canning swept the ball wide to the right edge of the box, Josh Payne knocked a first-time ball back across the area and Graham Gracie took over. He flicked the ball up with his left foot then right foot past the last defender before volleying it in with his left, a truly brilliant effort.


The goal settled Thistle and they had a great chance to go further ahead eight minutes later with a fine team move, Kelly played the ball out to Gracie wide on the left and he took it down the wing before delivering a perfect ball into the six yard area for McStay to slide in and connect with, unfortunately the St Roch’s keeper Stark made a great save to deny what looked like a certain goal.


Thistle continued to dominate the first half with Kelly and Ryan Innes winning the battles in midfield and Gracie giving the St Roch’s defence all sorts of problems up front. The visitors only had one significant effort on goal in the first half, a shot from just outside the box that Thomson got down well to block.


Half time and Thistle well in control although with just a slender advantage.


Half Time: Larkhall Thistle 1 St Roch’s 0


The second half started well for Thistle and they went 2-0 up within two minutes of the restart.


Liam Mushett broke up a St Roch’s attack and launched the ball up the park and the second ball was picked up by Kelly. He played it forward towards Gracie and the St Roch’s defender made a calamatous attempt at heading it away, totally misjudging the flight of the ball. It broke to Gracie and he swept it to the right into the path of the overlapping Canning who took one touch and slotted it low into the corner.



With the second goal, St Roch’s realised it was now all or nothing and they had to go for it. To their credit that is exactly what the did, they fought with everything they had for the remainder of the game to try and get the draw that they needed. Spurred on by their combative number 8 Daw who sailed close to the wind on several occasions but managed to escape without the referee taking action. He also took the constant barracking from the home fans in good part, smiling and waving five fingers for some reason.


Apart from letting off the Daw, the referee was more than lenient towards the visiting keeper who could have seen a straight red for what was an assault on Gracie, but he capped even that with a penalty award for St Roch’s after 57 minutes. The striker was heading away from goal and posed no threat at all, Thomson in fairness didn’t need to lunge in but there didn’t seem to be much contact and the striker took a couple of steps before deciding to go down and try his luck.



The penalty was converted by Daw and sparked a good spell for the visitors.


The pressure was now all towards Jags keeper Thomson but the defence held firm, Andy Brown and Niall Reynolds coping well and Liam Mushett winning every ball in the middle in the air. The situation got even more nervous for Thistle when they brought on substitute Musa, inexplicably left out as he is their top scorer and looked by far their most dangerous player.


Matty Clarke came on in the second half for Gary McStay who wasn’t having any luck up front but Clarke’s main duties were defensive and he did well covering on the left side in particular.


For all their pressure, St Roch’s didn’t really create many real chances, the best of them was a great run down the goal line from Musa, Thomson did well to block his dinked shot at the end of it and send it out for a corner. It wasn’t all one way though and Thistle threatened on the break with efforts from David Reid and Gracie.


Full time came and Thistle had held out for the win that the home supporters would say they deserved, while the St Roch’s fans would argue they deserved a point. There was nothing much between the sides as there hasn’t been all season but one of them had to lose out.


Full Time: Larkhall Thistle 2 St Roch’s 1


Scorers: Gracie, Canning


Website Man of the Match: No failures today and although Liam Mushett was again fantastic in a great defensive display, Graham Gracie just edges him out with his work rate and brilliant goal.


Larkhall Thistle:
S.Thomson; Brown, Mushett, Reynolds; Payne, Innes (Jack 90), Canning, Kelly, Reid (McKeever 86); McStay, (Clarke 45), Gracie. Subs: D.Thomson (GK), Stewart, Rutherford


Booked: Innes, Gracie, Thomson, Canning


*** Video taking a while to upload, expected about 7pm


Lesmahagow 0 Larkhall Thistle 2 – 6th May 2017

Craighead Park, Lesmahagow
Lesmahagow v Larkhall Thistle
Central League First Division


Thistle made their way to local rivals Gow with all three promotion contenders level on 51 points at the top of the table and knowing that nothing less than a win would be enough to keep them in with a chance of going up.


The Jags made four changes from last week’s starting line-up at Neilston, with David Thomson, Andy Brown, Hugh Kelly and Garry McStay being replaced by Stewart Thomson, Liam Mushett, Mark Canning and Mark McKeever.


Lesmahagow have been struggling at the wrong end of the table this season but staged an amazing recovery earlier in the campaign at Gasworks Park to come back from 3-0 down to win 4-3 so this was never going to be a pushover.


So it proved in a goalless first half that was lacking in any real quality from either side and equally any sort of real chances being created. In contrast to a lot of games this season where Thistle have either scored or conceded early on, it was 20 minutes into the game before the Jags produced their first real scoring chance when Graham Gracie was put through on the keeper but showed the keeper too much of the ball and allowed him time to block.



Shooting downhill towards the pavillion end in the first half, Thistle had a lot of the ball in their own third but their attacking efforts all came from the full backs punting long balls forward. Mark Canning was in the holding role in midfield and saw a bit of the ball but his forward passes were off the mark and the game passed by the other central midfielders Jack and Innes.


Lesmahagow were even less effective going forward and it took them 35 minutes to muster their first shot on goal, an effort that went high and wide. Larkhall countered that by coming closest to scoring when Payne delivered a ball from the left and Mushett’s close-range flick went just past the post.


Just on the half-time whistle Brian Jack nearly put Thistle ahead from the best move of the first half. Canning passed down the right channel to Gracie who took the ball forward and crossed for Jacko who had burst a gut to get himself in front of the goal but couldn’t get a full foot on it and the Gow keeper managed to block and scramble it clear.


Half Time: Lesmahagow 0 Larkhall Thistle 0


It was a more determined looking Larkhall side that came out for the seond half after a half-time reminder of what was at stake. Twelve minutes into the half they nearly went ahead but the Gow defender managed to beat Gracie to head it clear from almost on the goal line.


The play was all uphill towards the Lesmahagow goal by now as the search went on for the first goal but the turning point came midway through the half with a double substitution. Garry McStay and Matty Clarke came on to replace Mark McKeever and Brian Jack and it was the kind of substitutions managers dream of as Thistle took the lead less than a minute later.


David Reid has been hot and cold in the last few weeks but he’s always capable of producing a telling moment and after a one-two with Scott Nicholl he fired in a tremendous cross from the left, Ryan Innes threw himself and sent a diving header past the keeper.



Three minutes later the referee gave a foul for Gracie’s challenge on the Gow keeper although there looked to be no real offence committed. The ball broke and Gracie put it in the net but the goal was disallowed.


The goal was just what Thistle needed and they settled, dominating the rest of the game. The second goal came with five minutes to go and it was no more than Thistle deserved. McStay – who once again looked a cut above in the time he was on the park – took a quick throw on the right and set off Josh Payne, his cross for once found Gracie in space in the middle and he got a strong header on it which the keeper did very well to palm up into the air. Ryan Innes reacted first and stole in to nod the ball into the net from two yards.


Hugh kelly came on for Reid for the last few minutes of the game.


In the other games, Cambuslang had a good 4-0 win at Rossvale but St Roch’s went down 4-2 to the league’s form team Wishaw, leaving the picture a bit more clear going into the last fixtures. Thistle play St Roch’s next week and are three points ahead but one goal worse off so a win would guarantee promotion but a draw would mean any win for St Roch’s in their final fixture would see them finish above Thistle.


Cambuslang’s vastly superior goal difference means a win in their last game would make them champions, a draw would guarantee that they were promoted but a loss could see them miss out altogether depending on how Thistle and St Roch’s finish.



Full Time: Lesmahagow 0 Larkhall Thistle 2


Website man of the match: Solid defensive display all round with Liam Mushett justifying his selection with a towering performance at the heart of it.


Larkhall Thistle:
S. Thomson; Reynolds, Mushett, Nicholl; Canning; Payne, Jack (McStay 68), Canning, Innes, Reid (Kelly 86); McKeever (Clarke 68), Gracie. Subs: Stewart, Brown, D. Thomson



Scorers: Innes (2)

Booked: Reid

Neilston 3 Larkhall Thistle 2 – 29th April 2017

Brig ‘O Lea Stadium, Neilston
Neilston v Larkhall Thistle
Central League First Division


All three of the league leaders faced potential banana-skin away fixtures with Thistle going into their game a point clear at the top and knowing that three wins would guarantee that they finished as champions.


The game got off to a flying start with three goals in the first eight minutes. Graham Gracie latched on to a through ball from Josh Payne to give Larkhall a lead inside the first minute and that was followed by a spate of corners as they went in seach of another goal.



When the second goal did come five minutes later it was from another corner, Payne crossing from the left and after a couple of defenders had had a go at trying to clear, the ball sat up perfectly for Niall Reynolds to continue his scoring streak wirh a close range volley.


For a lot of teams that would have been enough to make sure that they guaranteed the points but unfortunately this season Thistle have had a bad habit of losing goals when in a winning position.


Sure enough the comeback started just two minutes later when Neilston won a throw on the left, the ball came in and the Jags defence just didn’t cope with it, it was headed on and Curren sneaked in unchallenged to head in from two yards. There were claims of offside from the Larkhall bench but the Neilston man had run from well behind the defender to score.



From then on the rest of the half was all about Neilston trying to equalise and the flow of the game was mostly towards the Jags goal. Thistle didn’t really create anything at all and they lost all of the early fluency they had had.


The second goal for Neiston came from a quick break out of defence. McDade swept a great ball from right to left to find his team mate but the shot when it came was weak and going wide but Niall Reynolds looked to have got a touch on it to deflect it in past Thomson.


Half Time: Neilston 2 Larkhall Thistle 2


Manager Dunky Sinclair made a double substitution at half time with Mark Canning and Liam Mushett replacing Brian Jack and Andy Brown. The plan was probably to add a bit of height to the defence with Mushett but in truth the back three looked even more unsteady than it had in the first half.


Indeed David Thomson was called on to keep Thistle level 10 minutes into the half when Mushett left a passback woefully short and let in the Neilston striker, Thommo had to come out of his goal sharply to block.


The winning goal for Neilston came in the 61st minute and was again a defensive disaster for Larkhall. A mis-hit ball forward was misjudged by Reynolds, letting in Neilston’s winger on the left who crossed to find his team mate running on to the ball. He made a hash of his shot but it came back out wide for a second bite at the cherry. His cross was again unchallenged and fell to Patterson who had time to swivel and fire a low shot past Thomson.



Thistle looked dispirited and with the third goal a lot of the fight went out of them. The best they could manage in the second half was a shot from Payne after a good bit of play that went high over the bar and an effort from Canning that went past the post.


Neilston were by far the more determined team and defended brilliantly after recovering from the early setbacks. Despite their league position they have lost fewer goals than Thistle and it showed today as they became the only team so far to complete the double over the Jags this season.


There were mixed results elswhere for the other teams involved in the promotion race. As expected, St Roch’s won at Johnstone Burgh but Cambuslang Rangers were held to a draw at Thorniewood. That left the table with the three teams all on 51 points but Thistle slipped to third place by virtue of having the worst goal difference.


Now for the first time in ages it is out of Thistle’s hands, even two wins wouldn’t guarantee promotion as St Roch’s have an extra game to play and Cambuslang have a vastly superior goal difference. St Roch’s are in the driving seat on paper but face the toughest of midweek tasks – away to Super Premier leaders Kirkintilloch Rob Roy in the cup – before travelling to in-form Wishaw on Saturday.


Full Time: Neilston 3 Larkhall Thistle 2


Website man of the match: Hugh Kelly was the best of the rest but Graham Gracie was the pick today. Often criticised for a lack of effort, not only did he take his goal clinically but he chased every ball from the first whistle to the last and ploughed a lone furrow up front with little support.


Larkhall Thistle:
D. Thomson; Brown (Mushett 45), Reynolds, Nicholl; Kelly; Payne, Jack (Canning 45), Innes, Reid, McStay (Clarke 70), Gracie. Subs: Doyle, McKeever, S. Thomson


Neilston: Graham; Clark, Payne, Young, Geddes; Docherty, Curren, McDade, Patterson, Diack, Patterson


Scorers: Gracie, Reynolds


Booked: Nicholl



Larkhall Thistle 2 Wishaw 3 – 22nd April 2017

Gasworks Park, Larkhall
Larkhall Thistle v Wishaw
Central League First Division


A twelve game unbeaten run that included ten wins had seen Thistle move up to second place in the league with six games left and it all began at the home of today’s visitors back in November. Since then the Jags had gone on a run that many of us have never witnessed before to make themselves favourites for the league title itself.


With St Roch’s on cup duty this was an opportunity for Thistle to stretch their lead over them to six points, Cambuslang Rangers at the top were expected to win at home against Forth.


Wishaw started the game looking the more determined side and took the lead after eight minutes, Mark Canning had a shot blocked and Wishaw broke forward through Dan Kindlan who was allowed a criminal amount of time and space to waltz through the middle of the park unchallenged before hitting a low shot from the left edge of the box that Thomson might have felt he could have done better with. A poor goal all round to lose.



The goal settled Wishaw and they dealt well with anything that Thistle could come up with in the way of chances and the long balls were being easily dealt with by their defence, although they did not really trouble the Larkhall defence too much either.


The visitors doubled their lead on 28 minutes when a corner kick fell perfectly at the back post for Dean Kindlan to blast in from close range.


Thistle got back into the game with a great goal five minutes from half time. Josh Payne took the ball in the middle of the park and spotted a gap between the Wishaw defenders, he played the perfect ball out left for Graham Gracie to run on to and take wide of the keeper before squeezing it it from the tightest of angles.


The goal brought the Jags to life as they shook off their sluggish start and set about getting level. That was blown out of the water though as Wishaw won a free kick right on 45 minutes which Dan Kindlan swept past Thomson for his second goal of the game.


Half Time: Larkhall Thistle 1 Wishaw 3


It was as poor a first half showing as Thistle have put up all season so the second half could only really have been an improvement. The Jags set about an assault on the Wishaw goal that saw them create chance after chance, albeit none of them very clear cut as the Wishaw defence dug in and looked happy just to sit deep and get rid of the ball.


After an hour it was clear to all that changes were needed but Niall Reynolds might count himself unlucky to have been hooked along with Brian Jack in favour of Scott Nicholl and Hugh Kelly. Reynolds had been one of the few pass-marks players up that point but the manager wanted to use the extra attacking ability of Nicholl who can get further forward.


The Wishaw defence survived a real scare when Josh Payne cut in on the right side of the byeline and tried to score from an even tighter angle than Gracie but his shot rolled just in front of the goal line and past.



Keeper Stewart Thomson kept Thistle in the game with a great save as he came out to block a shot from Smillie who was put clean through on goal by Dan Kindlan.


The Jags took full advantage as they broke quickly to pull a goal back through Canning with sixteen minutes left on the clock. Canning started the move when he knocked the ball forward to Gracie who set off on a run after a one-two with Reid. The big striker got a lucky break as he tried to take the ball past the last defender and it broke back into his path but he unselfishly squared it to Canning who kept cool to roll it into the corner.



The remainder of the game was virtually one way traffic as the Jags laid siege to the Wishaw goal but a combination of good defending, desperate last minute blocks and good luck thwarted their best attempts at getting level.


Thistle also had a shout for a penalty denied when the ball was played off a Wishaw defender’s arm but in truth it was too close to award a spot kick and couldn’t have been considered as deliberate.


The Jags finally ran out of time and tasted their first league defeat of 2017. Despite a much improved second half there is no doubt that Wishaw were the better team on the day and fully deserved their win. Cambuslang were held to a shock home draw by Forth so if ever there was a day to lose a game this was probably it. The real winners were St Roch’s who saw the two teams above them lose a bit of the advantage they had. It is now a genuine any two from three with Cambuslang possibly looking the most precarious at the top.


Full Time: Larkhall Thistle 2 Wishaw 3


Scorers: Gracie, Canning


Website Man of the Match: On a day where nobody really reached the heights they are capable of, Josh Payne plugged away well and provided the Jags only real moment of quality in the game.


Larkhall Thistle:
S.Thomson; Brown, Mushett, Reynolds (Nicholl 61); Payne, Innes, Canning, Jack (Kelly 61), Reid; McKeever, (Clarke 72), Gracie. Subs: D.Thomson (GK), Doyle


Thomson; McIntyre, Goodall, Watt, Eley,; McCafferty, Grant, Dean Kindlan, Smillie, Dan Kindlan, Collinder, Bannerman


** Sorry no video this week, camera failure at Thistle’s first goal so not worth doing

Bellshill Athletic 0 Larkhall Thistle 3 – 15th April 2017

Rockburn Park, Springburn
Bellshill Athletic v Larkhall Thistle
Central League First Division


Bellshill’s new ground maybe reflects the troubles that the club has gone though since they moved from their old park in the town centre, a bit of fenced off spare grass at the bottom of a scheme but at least they’re back in Bellshill. It’s hard not to feel a bit of sympathy for them in their current situation but it is a reminder of how much of a struggle it is to keep teams like them (and indeed Thistle) going, great credit is due to everybody who gives up their time to make it happen.


The two teams both had everything to play for but for different reasons, Thistle knew if they kept winning the league title was in their own hands but their hosts were fighting to avoid relegation. Mark McKeever and Ryan Innes were recalled to the starting line up in place of Gary McStay and suspended captain Mark Canning.




The Jags got off to a flyer when they took the lead after 10 minutes, McKeever latching on to a through ball to confidently roll it past keeper McGraw. The rest of the half was one-way traffic as Thistle took the game to their hosts without much in the way of reply.


Graham Gracie had the chance to make it 2-0 before the break when he was put in on the keeper and only a great save denied him.


Half Time: Bellshill Athletic 0 Larkhall Thistle 1


The second half was more of the same, the ball generally heading in the direction of the Bellshill goal. There were few real chances but the best of Thistle’s fell to Innes who inexplicably put the ball past the post from five yards out. There was a scare at 1-0 when ‘Hill full back Chalmers strode forward and hit a tremendous long range dipping effort that thhe home supporters thought had gone in but had just cleared the bar. It was to prove their only real threat of the 90 minutes.


Larkhall finally got the breakthrough in 72 minutes when David Reid snatched a goal, the ball bobbled in the box and fell to Ryan Innes who slipped it through to Reid for an easy finish. The relief was written all over Div’s face at finally getting a goal and his reaction was typical of this Jags team who now know they are in with a real chance.


Div got his own second and Thistle’s third six minutes from time, after being unselfishly set up by substitute Gary McStay he shimmied the Bellshill defence to create space for himself in the box before drilling the ball low past the keeper.


The combination of a poor uneven surface and a howling wind meant that there wasn’t much silky football on show but any that there was came from Thistle. Although Bellshill battled hard, this was as comfortable a win as Thistle could have hoped for, the Jags were in truth fitter, faster and stronger all over the park.


With Cambuslang not playing and St Roch’s only drawing with Wishaw, the league position has been strengthened and the Jags are now level with St Roch’s on 44 points with a game in hand and five points behind Cambuslang with three games in hand.


Full Time: Bellshill Athletic 0 Larkhall Thistle 3


Website man of the match: Josh Payne had a great first half and Hugh Kelly controlled the midfield. Andy Brown however never put a foot wrong and is probably overdue a MoM so he gets it today.


Larkhall Thistle:
S. Thomson; Brown, Reynolds, Nicholl; Kelly; Payne, Jack, Innes, Reid, McKeever (McStay 75), Gracie (Mushett 85). Subs: Rutherford, Stewart, D.THomson


Bellshill Athletic: McGraw; Chalmers, Shaw, Simon, Howarth; Peat, Smith, Nichol, Brunton; Simpson, Brown


Scorers: McKeever, Reid (2)


Booked: Nicholl