Stagecoach West of Scotland League Central District First Division
Brig ‘O Lea Park, Neilston
Neilston v Larkhall Thistle
Larkhall Thistle travelled to Renfrewshire and after having beaten near rivals Neilston 6-1 in the home fixture, completed the double on a day that never really looked like providing much in the way of free flowing football – with high winds and near freezing temperatures. The Thistle squad was badly depleted through a combination of injury, suspension and players working and it meant a recall for full back Mark Russell in an unfamiliar right midfield role and no recognisable outfield subs on the bench.
The first twenty minutes passed almost without note and although Thistle had the majority of possession and attacking play, the only real incident was a Neilston corner that looked like it was going in directly which Jags keeper Davie McEwan had to swing his arm at to scoop out from under the bar. There was more worry for Thistle on the 20 minute mark when a Neilston forward wriggled free on the right side of the area before hitting a powerful drive that McEwan did very well to save.
Larkhall took the lead after 27 minutes when JP Grant won the ball well in the centre of the park and set Mark Canning off on a run, the midfielder slipped the ball through to Graham Gracie whose shot was blocked well by the keeper but the ball fell to Mark McKeever on the left side of the box and he hammered it past the keeper into the net.
Neilston almost got back into the game only two minutes later when their number 8 fired a shot just over the bar from the edge of the box, Thistle replied with a searching ball from Canning finding Gracie who hit a low, hard shot that the keeper saved but then lost control of. Luckily for him he managed to recover in time to stop it squirming over the line.
Thistle’s last effort of the first half was through Gracie who created a chance out of nothing, he picked up the ball 25 yards out and shimmied past a couple of Neilston players before firing a left foot shot just past the post. Neilston pressed for the equaliser before half time and did have the ball in the net but the referee had blown the whistle long before so the goal didn’t stand.
Half Time: Neilston 0 Larkhall Thistle 1
Neilston came out for the second half looking determined to get the goal back and almost did so straight from the kick-off as Andy Brown hesitated on the ball and lost possession, letting the Neilston man burst through and curl a dangerous looking shot that clipped the corner of the post and crossbar.
Larkhall were happy with the let-off but the relief wasn’t to last long, the home side continued to press and got their reward five minutes into the second half when a run by Neiston’s number 7 down the right wing saw him evade challenges from Hugh Kelly and Brown before hitting a low drive past McEwan. There was a controversial decision by the referee to ignore the flag from the stand side linesman in the build-up, Alan Fleming was booked after the goal for protesting. Dean Richardson was also booked shortly after for a late tackle.
Thistle were a bit under pressure at this point and conceded a free kick twenty yards out for a handball by Kelly. The ball was cleared but it went for a corner and from the cross the ball fell to Neilston’s number 5, who had a great chance to put them in front but blasted high over the bar.
The Jags manager Duncan Sinclair made a change after 62 minutes, Russell being replaced by trialist Scott Nicholl who moved to left midfield, McKeever switching to the right side. After a slightly nervous start Scott finished the game very well and contributed a lot to the win in the closing stages.
It took as long as the 19th minute for Thistle to mount their first real attack of the second half. Gracie outmuscled his opponent in the middle of the park before bursting into the clear on the left. He looked to have overhit the ball but did well to retain control and hit the bye-line before putting in a good cross which was defended well. Five minutes later Gracie was involved again when he nearly scored from a Ross McGeachie knock-down, then minutes later he got himself in the book for dissent after kicking the ball away in frustration at the referee’s decision to award a throw when he was in the clear and heading towards the goal.
As the game moved into the closing stages it looked very much like it was going to fizzle out and end in a draw, but Thistle kept pushing and were awarded a couple of corners on the left in quick succession. The second one fell perfectly for Canning who threaded his low shot through a clutch of players into the net to extend his fine recent scoring run.
Neilston had a good chance to equalise in the dying minutes with a free header 10 yards out and Canning also could have scored from a header down by Gracie but choked his shot wide.
In the end though a great result for Thistle who gained ground on all of their promotion rivals as none of them played today, the Jags now sit in fourth place in the table.
Full Time: Neilston 1 Larkhall Thistle 2
Thistle Scorers: McKeever, Canning
Larkhall Thistle Team:
McEwan; Brown, Kelly, Fleming, Richardson; McKeever, Canning, Grant, Russell; McGeachie, Gracie. Subs: Moss, trialists
Neilston: Digney, Campbell, McNamara, Lennox, McDade, Christie, Hughes, Canning, Nisanci, Essler, Kennedy
Booked: Fleming, Richardson, Gracie
Best on the day for Thistle was Graeme Gracie for his first half performance in particular, there were also good shifts from Grant and Canning in the middle of the park and McEwan in goals. Again though it was a great spirited team performance and there were no let downs, they can all be pleased with their day’s work.