Stagecoach West of Scotland League Central District First Division
Tinto Park, Govan
Benburb v Larkhall Thistle
Larkhall Thistle again fell short of winning three consecutive league games for the first time this season in a game that will be remembered for refereeing decisions more than the football itself. On a freezing cold day in Govan pre-match 8/15 favourites Thistle unfortunately lost their discipline and finished with only nine players on the park.
Benburb started the game by far the livelier team and served an early warning of what was to follow with a shot from the edge of the box in the first minute that Jags keeper Davie McEwan did well to sweep out for a corner. The pressure continued though and the hosts scored the opening goal in seven minutes from a corner, the ball was put into the box and half cleared but only to Bens player Davis who took the ball, shimmied to his left and cracked it past McEwan high into the top left corner of the net.
The game had barely restarted when Benburb broke again. A through ball found Jackson who was left with a one on one with Jags makeshift centre half Hugh Kelly, the striker won the race and left McEwan with no chance, putting the ball into virtually the same spot as the first goal. Benburb were on fire at this point and they nearly extended the lead even further with a shot that McEwan had to dive to his left to save.
The Jags were struggling to make any impact on the game at all in the opening stages and it took until the 18th minute for the first attempt at goal, a 35 yard free kick was swung into the box and striker Ross McGeachie did well to evade the defence and find space to get a header on target, unfortunately it went straight into the arms of the grateful Bens keeper. This signalled the start of a better spell for Thistle though and in 24 minutes Graham Gracie almost got them back into the game with a 25 yard free kick that went narrowly past the left post.
The Jags pressure did pay off right on the half hour mark when one of the Benburb defenders dallied too long on the ball when he had the chance to clear and was robbed on the edge of the box by Gracie. The striker showed great feet to dance past a couple of defenders before firing a low shot past the Bens keeper.
Thistle were dealt a blow in the 33rd minute when left back Dean Richardson went down from a bad challenge, the defender recovered to come back on and finish the half but didn’t reappear for the second. Centre half Alan Fleming picked up the first of Thistle’s bookings in 35 minutes for a professional foul in the centre circle when a dangerous breakaway looked a distinct possibility.
Both teams were pushing for the next goal but it came for the Bens in the 44th minute, once again from a move that started from a corner. The ball was put into the box and bobbled around until it fell to Wright who smashed it in from six yards. There was a heavy suspicion that the Bens man had used his hand to control the ball and the Jags players were furious that the goal was allowed to stand. The referee, who had been fussy and picky all afternoon wasted no time in booking Jags left midfielder Mark McKeever for arguing. McKeever continued with his protests and a more experienced referee would probably have understood the timing of the goal and the fact that Thistle had been fighting so hard to get level but he issued a second yellow.
The second half finished with Gracie being booked for an off the ball incident and Canning also getting a yellow for verbals towards the referee for booking Gracie.
Half Time: Benburb 3 Larkhall Thistle 1
Trialist Scott Nicholl – who had a very promising start at Neilson last week -replaced the injured Richardson at half time and slotted in at left back. Six minutes into the half Mark Russell was replaced in right midfield by Scott McLachlan.
The first goal action of the second half came in the 56th minute when Bens left midfielder was sent away with a great ball, he ran down the wing and got a cross over that looked ready to be put into the empty net but a tremendous stretch by Andy Brown made the block just in front of the goal line.
Despite being a man down, Thistle were still pushing hard to get back into the game and Gracie broke clear into the box in the 65th minute with only the keeper to beat. He went down under the challenge but play was waved on, he was then knocked down as the ref turned away and missed what looked a certain penalty. Gracie again created an opening five minutes later as he ran down the left and cut the ball back, JP Grant passed up a great opportunity to get the Jags into it with a sliced effort. From that miss Benburb broke and put the game beyond doubt, the ball was moved down the left and cut back and Davis was left with a tap in from close range to make it 4-1.
Larkhall never gave up and Mark Canning produced his best moment of the game after 73 minutes when he worked the ball well down the left before delivering a dangerous cross across the face of the goal. Ross McGeachie slid in but couldn’t make contact and the chance was gone.
The Jags did pull a goal back ten minutes later though from a free kick on the edge of the box for handball, the goalkeeper appeared to have saved Grant’s kick but the ball looped up over him and dropped into the net. That was to be the midfielder’s last involvement in the game however as he was sent off a minute later for a slide tackle. The look of disbelief on his face at the decision reflected that of the travelling Thistle supporters.
Three minutes later the scoring was completed in somewhat bizarre fashion, a long punt found the Benburb substitute in the clear heading towards McEwan. He seemed to scuff his shot but the keeper went down almost in slow motion to try and reach it, the ball trickled past his outstretched hand and left a tap in at the back post for Wright.
A day that Thistle will want to forget then and the suspensions will add to the squad problems. They never really got going until it was too late and on the day Benburb deserved the win.
Full Time: Benburb 5 Larkhall Thistle 2
Thistle Scorers: Gracie, Grant
Larkhall Thistle Team:
McEwan; Brown, Kelly, Fleming, Richardson; McKeever, Canning, Grant, Russell; McGeachie, Gracie. Subs: McLachlan, Weir, Moss, trialist
Booked: Fleming, Gracie, Canning
Sent off: McKeever, Grant
Best for Thistle on the day was Andy Brown with another solid performance from Fleming