Craighead Park, Lesmahagow
Whitletts Victoria v Larkhall Thistle
Central Sectional League Cup Section 1
Thistle went into today’s game in good form and just behind Forth in the section table after Forth’s 5-2 win over Royal Albert. This was Lesmahagow’s first game of the competition. The two McStays were unavailable for the game and David Reid was on the bench with a niggling injury. Scott Nicholl was preferred to Niall Reynolds at left back while Liam Mushett started in front of Billy Robb.
Larkhall got off to a confident start, playing the ball around and keeping possession early in the game. The closest the Jags came to scoring early on though was from a shot by Josh Payne after cutting in from wide right but he sent his effort right across goal and past the other post.
Lesmahagow shooting up the hill in the first half offered very little in an attacking sense and all of the chances were created by Thistle, the home keeper performing miracles at times to keep his team in the game.
The game’s first major incident came after 20 minutes when Scott Nicholl got into a shoving match after a bad tackle on him, both players sensibly shown yellow by the referee. However two minutes later Nicholl let his temper get the better of him as he wrestled an opponent to the ground, via the unfortunate Thistle official Ross Dunn’s jaw on the way down.
Nicholl was shown a second yellow and Mark McKeever dropped to left back to cover.
The loss of a man however didn’t upset the Jags tempo in any way and they continued to dominate the game, creating chance after chance that the Gow defence did well to keep out. Thistle did take a deserved lead in 35 minutes when a long ball out of defence from McKeever found Craig Forbes on the left inside the box. Forbes cut inside and squared the ball to Graham Gracie who took his time and composed himself before slotting it into the bottom corner.
It took Thistle less than five minutes to double the advantage, Matty Clarke picked up the ball in the middle of the park and played it out wide to Payne on the right, the winger set Gracie away and he rolled it into the path of Ryan Innes who turned and fired a first time shot past the keeper.
As the Jags coasted towards a well-earned half time break the referee threw Gow a lifeline with a highly contentious penalty award for a clash of heads between a Gow forward and Andy Brown. The penalty was converted and the lead was cut to one goal at the break.
Half Time: Lesmahagow 1 Larkhall Thistle 2
The second half had just started when the referee gave his third match-changing decision to Lesmahagow by awarding them another soft penalty. Jags keeper Thomson had no chance with the spot kick and now Thistle were up against it for the first time in the game, hitting up the slope and with the momentum now firmly with the home side.
Thankfully however the Jags are a better team than Lesmahagow and the team spirit is second to none. Without the award of any further penalties the Gow didn’t really have much to offer and it always looked likely that if there was to be a winner it would be Thistle.
Gracie was put through on goal a couple of times, albeit with still a lot to do and on another day could have had three or four goals. One that new boy Forbes will want to forget could have put the Jags ahead in 70 minutes but after great work from subs Mark Canning and David Reid to set him up he managed to sclaff it out for a throw-in from inside the six yard box.
Big Craig will tell you these are always harder than they look.
Thistle got the breakthrough with eight minutes left although the goal did carry a shade of luck. Gracie picked up the ball just outside the box and laid it off to Innes on the right who mishit it into the path of Reid. Div took a touch then drilled a low shot that found the net off the post.
Full Time: Lesmahagow 2 Larkhall Thistle 3
Thistle’s winning run continues with a tremendous fighting performance by all involved, in particular Gracie, Forbes and Andy Brown. Mark McKeever though is the Man of the Match for stepping in and driving the team forward when they were down to ten men, the win was as much down to him as anybody else.
Thomson; Brown, Mushett, Nicholl; Jack; Payne (Canning 65); Innes, Forbes, McKeever (Reynolds 56), Gracie, Clarke (Reid 56) Subs: Robb, Doyle
Sent off: Nicholl