Stagecoach West of Scotland League Central District First Division
Gasworks Park, Larkhall
Larkhall Thistle v East Kilbride Thistle
Larkhall Thistle went into this game knowing only a win would be good enough to maintain their push for promotion and having won the corresponding fixture at the Show Park by 8-0, were strong favourites to do so even though they were missing three of the regular back four in Dean Richardson, Alan Fleming and Andy Brown. Fellow promotion chasers Lesmahagow and Lanark were playing each other so at least one of them was going to drop points.
The game started quietly with Thistle looking a bit nervous and it was the ninth minute before the first chance was created. Jordan Marshall and Graham Gracie worked the ball between them before laying it back for Mark Canning to volley from the edge of the box, his effort going narrowly past the right post. The visitors showed that they intended to make a game of it and as they grew in confidence they managed their first real attempt at goal when striker Scott hit a dipping shot past the post after picking up a loose ball from a free kick.
Thistle then replied with a couple of half chances, first Joe Doyle – who looked like he has never been away – made a 30 yard run but hit his shot tamely straight at East Kilbride keeper Wilson then Graham Gracie and Ross McKeever combined to set up Mark McKeever but the keeper managed to block his shot with his feet.
Hugh Kelly picked up the game’s first booking after 21 minutes when he left the referee with no option after fouling an opponent who was racing into the clear on the halfway line but five minutes later Thistle were in front. Mark Canning picked up the ball halfway inside the East Kilbride half and poked a ball through the middle into the path of Gracie who looked up and picked his spot with a lob past the advancing keeper into the middle of the goal.
Thistle were pressing for a second and after a couple of attempts the incident that was to confirm the home win came in the 38th minute. McKeever picked up the ball on the edge of the box and hit a hard drive that caught an East Kilbride defender on the arm, the referee decided somewhat harshly that it was a penalty and JP Grant made no mistake from the spot.
Having gone two up some of the Jags players might have thought that the job was done but were to get a sharp reminder that East Kilbride weren’t going down without a fight just four minutes later, when Boyle picked up an excellent through ball and lobbed high into the net past Davie McEwan.
Fortunately for Thistle they heeded the warning and restored their two goal advantage four minutes later through a magnificent solo effort from Gracie. He picked up the ball just outside the left edge of the box and weaved his way past the whole East Kilbride defence before crashing the ball high into the roof of the net.
Half Time: Larkhall Thistle 3 East Kilbride Thistle 1
The second half started with a complete chance of attitude from Thistle as they looked for the early goal to make sure the points were safe. Gracie nearly got the goal after only two minutes when he crashed a fierce shot from the edge of the box, unfortunately for him Wilson was well placed to make the save. Next to threaten the visitors goal was McKeever who struck his shot wide after being played in by a great ball from the outside of Jordan Marshall’s boot. Marshall was becoming increasingly influential and his hard work and range of passing was what had been missing in the right midfield role.
Larkhall were pressing hard without any real cutting edge up front and although they had nearly all the pressure the goals weren’t coming with JP Grant in particular frustrated at not getting his name on the scoresheet.
Thistle did add one more goal to their tally in the 71st minute and it came from the best move of the match. A long ball from McEwan was headed on by Grant and Gracie took a great touch to bring it down and control it in one move, passing it square to Canning 20 yards out in front of the goal. The midfielder looked up and spotted Marshall on the right and played a perfect ball into his path for the youngster to run on and place the ball low into the left corner of the goal.
The Jags made a couple of late substitutions, bringing on first Sandy Strang in place of McKeever then Jack for Marshall and saw the game out safely although there was a late chance for East Kilbride. McEwan had to dive full length to tip past a 20 yard effort for a corner and from the resultant kick the visitors should have scored with a free header from 8 yards.
Although the result was what was required, other games didn’t go in Thistle’s favour on the night and nothing was gained. St Anthony’s came back to beat Dunipace, Shettleston won and Lesmahagow beat Lanark in the derby. The Ants have now played all their games and we can overtake them on points with back to back wins against Port Glasgow, the other contenders being Lesmahagow who would top us if they won all their five games and Shettleston who would now need us to slip up.
Full Time: Larkhall Thistle 4 East Kilbride Thistle 1
Thistle Scorers: Gracie 2, Grant, Marshall
Larkhall Thistle Team:
McEwan; Russell, Doyle, Kelly, Nicholl; Marshall, Canning, Grant, McKeever; McGeachie, Gracie. Subs , Jack, Strang, Bulloch, Moss
Best for Thistle on the day were youngsters Marshall and Nicholl, with Doyle and Kelly doing a good job of controlling the defence.
East Kilbride Thistle:
Wilson; McMillan, Sloan, McAnenie, Borg; Stuart, Kelsell, Johnstone, Scott, Jeffrey, Boyle Subs: Findlay, Clark, Meek, Winter, Kennedy