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.
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)