Stagecoach West of Scotland League Central District First Division
Gasworks Park, Larkhall
Larkhall Thistle v Port Glasgow
Larkhall Thistle went in to their final league game of the season knowing that a win would see them promoted to the Super League First Division – if county rivals Lesmahagow failed to win their home game against Dunipace which was taking place at the same time. The Gow had been on a good end of season run and were favourites to complete the task knowing that a win would guarantee them the final promotion slot, so all Thistle could do was win the game and hope for a slip-up at Craighead.
The Jags got off to the best of starts and any early nerves were blown away in the fifth minute. Mark Canning won the ball on the right side of midfield and played it forward to Graham Gracie who flicked it past the onrushing keeper and into the empty net to put the home side one up.
Ten minutes later it was 2-0, The Port Glasgow defence allowed Gracie too much space on the left of midfield and although there looked to be nothing on, the Jags top scorer swung a fierce dipping shot over the keeper and into the far corner of the net from 20 yards out. Gracie almost completed his hat-trick just two minutes later but his header from a Brian Jack cross was well saved by Port keeper Tucker.
The lead was extended after 24 minutes though when Scott Nicholl took a corner on the right and it pinged back and forth before falling for Alan Fleming who drilled it low into the middle of the goals from 10 yards.
Port Glasgow were looking like a team who had played four games in eight days and were relegated already and it took until the 28th minute before they mounted their first real attack of the game but they should have scored with a free header from a corner on the right.
Thistle rounded off the first half scoring with a fourth, three minutes from the interval. Canning again won the ball and drove on before slipping the ball through to Gracie who coolly slipped it past the keeper from 10 yards. The final drama of the half came in injury time when Jags goalkeeper Davie McEwan was forced to handle a careless back-pass six yards out and was booked for the offence. McEwan himself led the charge from the resultant indirect free kick and produced a fine diving save.
Half Time: Larkhall Thistle 4 Port Glasgow 0
Thistle’s last game before this had been against Port Glasgow in the reverse league fixture and although it was almost a month ago, both teams seemed to remember the script. Once again, as at Parklea, Port came out for the second half four goals down but determined to salvage some pride from the game. And like last time they hit back early in the half with a goal in the 51st minute, slack defending allowing Devlin a free header from a free kick swung into the box.
The Jags restored their four-goal advantage six minutes later though when JP Grant latched on to a loose ball and headed over Tucker into the net from 12 yards out. Mark McKeever, playing his last game before retiring, nearly rounded off the day in the 65th minute when he made a good run down the left wing and dinked a shot over the keeper but just over the bar. The Jags were searching for a sixth and came close again when Gracie chested a through ball right into the path of Canning who took it in his stride and ran in but blasted his shot over the bar.
McKay pulled another goal back for the visitors in 71 minutes with a low drive from the edge of the box that gave McEwan no chance. Thistle replied ten minutes later when substitute Scott McLachlan – who replaced Brian Jack – nicked in and stole the ball from a weary looking Port defender before making for the by-line and cutting the ball back for Gracie. The striker’s shot though for once was weak and easily saved.
The final chance of the game fell to Port Glasgow seven minutes from time and again it was a corner that led to another free header which was cleared off the line by Scott Nicholl.
Thistle won their game then as they had to do but meanwhile a few miles south on the M74 Lesmahagow had turned round a 0-1 half-time deficit to run out 4-1 winners and scupper the Jags promotion hopes. Like last season Thistle had beaten Port Glasgow in the last game to stay in the league, this time however it was for the wrong reason.
So the Jags wrapped up their season with a win that summed up the campaign. Five goals scored made it a round 100 for the season in all competitions and 80 in the league – by far the best. However the two goals conceded told another story, a poor defensive record was what cost promotion in the end.
Full Time: Larkhall Thistle 5 Port Glasgow 2
Thistle Scorers: Gracie 3, Fleming, Grant
Larkhall Thistle Team:
McEwan; Brown, Kelly, Fleming, Nicholl, McKeever, Canning, Grant, Jack; McGeachie, Gracie. Subs: Russell, McLachlan, Moss
Tucker; Casement, McDonald, Coyle, McGuire; Jamieson, Brown, Haggerty, Frizzell, Devlin, McKay. Subs: Smith, Beattie, Boyland
Best for Thistle on the day was Gracie with a good performance too from Canning, and a special mention and thanks for his years of service to the club to Mark McKeever, all the best for the future Mark.