Stagecoach West of Scotland League Central District First Division
Parklea community ground, Port Glasgow
Greenock v Larkhall Thistle
Larkhall Thistle produced their best performance of the season to sweep aside the runaway league leaders today at Parklea. Greenock once again gave little indication of why they are out in front at the top of the table as the Jags completed the league double (see report) over them with a display full of running, effort and great finishing. Manager Dunky Sinclair made one change from the team that had started the last few games and it proved to be a great decision, bringing back Scott McLachlan on the right to add a bit of dig and running.
Thistle’s first visit to the new community stadium at Parklea just outside Port Glasgow proved to be a memorable one in the end but it was the home side who started best with an early corner resulting in a free header that went just over the bar.
The Jags hit back with a shot from Graham Gracie from a wide right position which was scrambled clear but landed at the feet of Alan Fleming whose 25 yard drive slipped just past the post. The same two players combined again after a quarter of an hour when Fleming dived to meet Gracie’s cross from the right and headed it just past. Midway through the first half Greenock came close to scoring with their best effort from open play, a good move resulting in Davie McEwan having to produce a magnificent diving save low to his left to keep the score at 0-0.
The first half was fairly even with Greenock perhaps having slightly more of the play but Thistle took the lead in the 34th minute through Mark Canning. Jags defender Dean Richardson picked up the ball in acres of space in central midfield and took it forward before playing a precision left footed ball into the path of Canning in the box, the Jags midfielder controlled the ball and cut it back across the advancing keeper all in one move to leave him helpless. Less than a minute later Thistle almost doubled their lead when the home keeper had to look lively to tip a Fleming header over the bar.
Greenock fought to get back on level terms before the interval and Andy Brown was booked for a strong tackle. But it was Larkhall who were to score again, Canning reacted first to a free kick award for a soft looking handball in the middle of the park, playing the ball quickly to Gracie who took it across the box to the right and clipped a perfect ball back across the box to Ross McGeachie. The big striker showed tremendous coolness as he cut inside and fired the ball low into the corner.
Half time: Greenock 0 Larkhall Thistle 2
Thistle came out for the second half probably expecting an onslaught from the home side but in all honestly it never really materialised and the only time the game was in doubt was when the referee awarded a penalty after three minutes of the second half. Again Hugh Kelly was the luckless victim as a weak shot was played against his arm from close range, the referee taking a very liberal view of what counts as deliberate handball. Davie McEwan however stepped up magnificently to be the Jags hero with a great stop to deny a way back into the game for Greenock.
Alan Fleming then made a perfectly judged tackle to prevent a certain goal scoring opportunity and when the ball broke out, Gracie found himself on the halfway line with the whole opposition half to run at. The big striker did brilliantly to fend off challenges from the Greenock defence before rounding the keeper, only to see his shot at the empty goal run agonisingly wide. The home team took heart from the let off and pressed Thistle for a spell with the Jags sitting deep and looking to hit on the break. Larkhall extended their lead in the 65th minute when Gracie set off on a dribble down the left wing and was clipped by a Greenock defender, JP Grant swung in the free kick and his cross was met perfectly at the back post by the head of Fleming. 0-3.
The Jags then went further ahead five minutes later when Canning picked up the ball in the centre of the park and played a defence splitting ball through to Gracie who took the ball in his stride and smashed it high into the roof of the net. New signing Stuart McFarlane, signed from Lesmahagow, then came on to make his Thistle debut with McGeachie going off. McFarlane only took twelve minutes to make an impact, heading on a Grant cross for Gracie to control the ball and shoot high into the net. The striker’s missed open goal was now more than cancelled out and he left the park to a great ovation from the travelling fans, to be replaced by Brian Jack.
The Jags were now picking the hosts off at will and could easily have scored with two more great chances, a McKeever volley and a cheeky last minute dink from Canning when he probably could have passed the ball into the net but there were no complaints at the end of a great day’s work.
Full time: Greenock 0 Larkhall Thistle 5
Thistle Scorers: Gracie 2, McGeachie, Canning, Fleming
Larkhall Thistle Team:
McEwan; Brown, Kelly, Fleming, Richardson; McKeever, Canning, Grant, McLachlan; McGeachie, Gracie. Subs Russell, Jack, Weir, McFarlane, Moss
Best for Thistle on the day was Fleming who capped off a tremendous display with a goal. Gracie, Canning and McEwan were also excellent but there were no failures in a great all-round team performance.