Stagecoach West of Scotland League Central District First Division
Gasworks Park, Larkhall
Larkhall Thistle v Lesmahagow
Larkhall Thistle met local rivals Lesmahagow for the third time this season looking for revenge for their 6-3 defeat in the reverse league fixture and came away winners thanks to two excellent finishes. On a cracking day for football the teams served up a lively derby with some flashes of geuine quality thrown in, and on a day that also saw wins for fellow promotion chasers St Anthony’s, Carluke and Neilston the three points were vital.
Lesmahagow started the game looking in determined mood and had a couple of early chances through volleys from midfielder Boylan which flew over the bar. The Gow had what turned out to be their clearest goalscoring chance of the game in the ninth minute, a good run down the left midfield and a curling shot that went just past the post although there was a striker waiting in the middle for a tap-in.
Thistle took the lead through Mark Canning – who kept up his tremendous recent scoring run – when he was played through and took the ball in his stride before picking his spot and curling a great shot wide into the right of the goal.
Two minutes later JP Grant got involved in a bad challenge and was booked for his troubles.
Alan Fleming was the next Jags player to catch the eye, this time in a more positive way as he won the ball well on the halfway line before setting off into nosebleed territory, running thirty yards before unleashing a fierce drive that was blocked by a Lesmahagow defender. The ball was kept in play and worked across to Canning who struck it on the half-volley just past the post.
Most of the rest of the first half consisted of Thistle pressure with wave after wave of attacks producing 14 first half corners (thanks to L. McPhee for the stat!). Fleming almost added to the scoring just before the break with a free header inside the box that went just past the post.
Half Time: Larkhall Thistle 1 Lesmahagow 0
The first action of the second half saw Lesmahagow winning a soft free kick in a great position just outside the box but the chance was squandered as the shot flew over the bar, a couple of minutes later Gracie pounced as a ball that rebounded from a Canning shot broke free eight yards out but the striker was beaten to it by a Gow defender who cleared for a corner. Lesmahagow then produced a nice one-two through the middle of the park but Sullivan was stopped in his tracks by Mark McKeever, illegally according to referee Matt McDermott who booked the Jags winger for the challenge.
Graham Gracie had a very quiet first half but nine minutes into the second he got involved for the first time when a promising run down the left finished with a shot that the keeper did well to save. He then followed that up with another run down the left, hitting the bye-line before cutting the ball back into the box, unfortunately the ball was cut out before it reached Ross McGeachie.
In the 56th minute Scott McLachlan replaced the disappointing Brian Jack who went off injured but looked like he would have been subbed anyway.
There was more effort than good chances for the next spell until Mark Canning broke clear and headed towards the Gow goal in the 76th minute, he got his head up well and picked out McLachlan in the clear 15 yards out but his shot was tame and keeper Barnes saved easily. Seconds later the keeper was involved in a bizarre mix up with defender Dunlop which nearly resulted in the ball dropping into the net for an own goal, only the keeper’s quick reactions saving the day.
Moments later however came the goal that sealed the match for Larkhall. A long ball out of defence found Graham Gracie 25 yards out, he looked up and spotted the keeper off his line and lifted the ball over him into the net with a perfect lob. It was a fine goal and the significance was evident by the fact that every one of the Jags players ran to congratulate him for his efforts.
That was to be Gracie’s last involvement as he was almost immediately substituted for Sandy Strang who got his fist game time since the win at East Kilbride early in the year. Strang made an impact on the game right away, winning the ball wide on the right and cutting inside then laying it off to McLachlan who rattled the bar with a ferocious shot.
Lesmahagow tried gamely to reduce the deficit in the last five minutes but produced a series of poor shots that flew wide of the target. The only real threat was a move down the right wing that caught out the Jags offside trap and left the Gow man in the clear, Thistle keeper Davie McEwan did well though to charge out and force the striker to cross into the danger zone but Fleming dealt with the threat and cleared.
Full Time: Larkhall Thistle 2 Lesmahagow 0
Thistle Scorers: Canning, Gracie
Larkhall Thistle Team:
McEwan; Brown, Kelly, Fleming, Richardson; McKeever, Canning, Grant, Jack; McGeachie, Gracie. Subs: Russell, McLachlan, Weir, Strang, Moss
Booked: Grant, McKeever
Barnes; Lennox, Dunlop, Murdoch, McAloon; Boylan, Patrick, Pettigrew, Sullivan; Coffey, Jarvie. Subs: Reilly, Meikle, Cunningham, Gemmell, Thomson
Best for Thistle on the day was Fleming who seemed to win every ball in the air. There were good performances too from Canning again and McGeachie