Stagecoach West of Scotland League Central District First Division
Gasworks Park, Larkhall
Larkhall Thistle v Benburb
Thistle kept their outside chance of going up alive with two late goals to take all three points against promotion rivals Benburb. The game was played at a cracking pace throughout and with the loser almost guaranteed to be out of the race it was more like a vital cup tie than an end of season league match.
After a couple of early half chances for both teams it was Larkhall who took the lead in the 9th minute when Ross McGeachie knocked a high ball down to Canning, the midfielder hit a fierce shot that the keeper could only parry out to Graham Gracie who tapped in from close range.
Benburb then had a somewhat hopeful claim for a penalty turned down when the ball appeared to strike Dean Richardson’s arm before Gracie picked up a pass from Brian Jack in 15 minutes and cut across the face of the goal, unfortunately he saw his shot saved by keeper Thomson. The Jags next attempt came seven minutes later from a corner on the left taken by Mark McKeever, the ball dropped to Dean Richardson on the edge of the box and his dipping shot just cleared the bar.
Benburb then took control of the game for the rest of the first half, reducing Thistle to balls over the top and quick breaks as well as some excellent defensive work, particularly from keeper Davie McEwan who made three outstanding saves to take the Jags into the interval ahead.
Half Time: Larkhall Thistle 1 Benburb 0
The second half began with Thistle putting the ball into the net after only five minutes when Gracie swept a low ball in from a Richardson pass but the referee chalked the goal off for offside. The Jags did go two up however in the 56th minute and it came from a long ball from Davie McEwan that appeared to be going out of play on the right hand touch line. Jack however did well to stretch and keep it in then send it up the line to Gracie who cut inside and fired a low shot into the bottom corner.
Three minutes later Thistle again had the ball in the net and disallowed, once more for an offside decision. Alan Fleming then got booked for a tackle in the 69th minute and it was the start of a disastrous two minute spell for the Jags, from the resultant free kick the ball was worked wide and crossed in for a free header from six yards that gave McEwan no chance. The Bens smelled blood and it was no real surprise when they got their equaliser a minute later, McKeever stretched to keep the ball in play but only managed to help it on to a Benburb player. He played it down the left side again and with no defender in evidence the Bens man strolled into the box and played a low, hard ball across the face of the goal for a tap in at the back post for McGurgan, sending the Bens contingent wild.
Immediatetly after the goal, stand in right back Jack was taken off and replaced by young Jordan Marshall who steadied the defence from the moment he came on and looked confident and assured. Thistle might have had their heads down after losing the two goals, but showed the fighting qualities that they have done all season and started playing better than they had all game.
A period of strong Thistle pressure followed and they almost scored, first through Canning who blasted high when clean through, then McGeachie who had his header from two yards saved and finally McKeever who inexplicably cleared the fence at the Gaswork end from two yards when he looked certain to score.
The game looked like it might play out as a draw that didn’t really help either side much but a hectic last five minutes changed that. First Benburb had McGurgan sent off for a second yellow after a foul on McKeever. Keeper McEwan took the free kick and Graham Gracie scooped the loose ball over his shoulder into the net but the referee ruled that there was contact on the keeper and disallowed a Thistle goal for the third time.
The Jags rallied again though and took the lead on the 90th minute from a long kick out from McEwan that was headed on by McGeachie and slotted in by Fleming for his second goal of the season. The excitement had hardly died down when Gracie put the game beyond doubt with his third of the night, taking a ball over the top from Mark Canning and lobbing the keeper into the empty net.
The result moves Thistle up to third place above Lanark with the same number of games played, and the draw for St Anthony’s means that the Jags can now overtake them if they win their two games in hand.
Full Time: Larkhall Thistle 4 Benburb 2
Thistle Scorers: Gracie 3, Fleming
Larkhall Thistle Team:
McEwan; Jack, Brown, Fleming, Richardson; McKeever, Canning, Grant, Nicholl; McGeachie, Gracie. Subs: Russell, Weir, Marshall ,Moss, McLachlan
Booked: Fleming, Canning
Thomson; Cameron, Sinclair, C Jackson, McInnes, Davies, Hendrie, Lovering, S Jackson, Waddell, McGurgan
Best for Thistle on the day were McEwan and Gracie although it was a fine team performance all round and every player can be pleased with their night’s work.