Stagecoach West of Scotland League Central District First Division
Larkhall Thistle v Greenock
Larkhall Thistle announced themselves as serious promotion contenders with a resounding win against leaders Greenock at Gasworks Park. The crowd was depleted due to the Scotland game but those who chose to watch the national team were the losers on the day as the Jags turned in their best performance of the season.
Thistle started without central defender Mark Weir which meant a return to defence for Hugh Kelly, Grant filling the midfield slot and Graham Gracie being reinstated up front. The rest of the team was on the now familiar lines and unchanged from last week.
Larkhall had the best of the early exchanges and got the breakthrough in the 15th minute when striker Gracie latched on to a through ball and slid it low past the keeper. Greenock’s Fleming was booked in the aftermath for over zealous complaining although it wasn’t clear what the moans were about.
The next action came in the 23rd minute as Mark McKeever played Gracie in, the striker was upended in the box in what looked like blatant penalty but the referee decided otherwise. Greenock came back in search of an equaliser and matched the home team for the next spell and with ten minutes to the break Fleming saw his low effort fly narrowly past the post.
This spurred the Jags into action and they went straight up the park and scored. A ball into the middle of the goals was contested by Ross McGeachie and the Greenock keeper, the Thistle man doing brilliantly to shield it and lay the ball off to Canning who fired in from six yards.
Larkhall were really fired up by now and should have further extended their lead two minutes later with the best move of the match. A superb long pass from Kelly out of defence landed at the feet of Gracie who controlled it first time and squared to Canning. It looked easier to score than miss but the midfielder somehow hit his shot wide of the post.
Two minutes later Thistle survived a scare when a rare mistake by Thomson led to the ball being scrambled off the line, but replied with another outstanding move. Scott McLachlan collected a downward header on the right wing and drove forward, delivering a great cross to the back post for Mark McKeever to fire in a diving header off the post.
As the 45 minutes came and went without any stoppages, it was surprising to find the game still being played in the third minute of added time. A suspiciously offside looking ball found it’s way to Greenock’s McKay who was unmarked at the back post and finished from close range.
Half Time: Larkhall Thistle 2 Greenock 1
So the momentum should have been firmly with the visitors, scoring just before the break, but Thistle restarted with the bit between their teeth and extended their lead a minute after half time with the goal of the game. Graham Gracie picked up the ball of the left side of midfield, ghosted past the Greenock defence, cut inside and hammered the ball low into the bottom right corner of the net. A superb solo effort from the big man.
Seven minutes into the second half and another fine move between Richardson, Canning and Grant saw a 20 yard drive from JP go narrowly past the post. Goal number four came in the 55th minute, Dean Richardson made a run into space to collect a quick corner on the left and put in a great cross that was met by the glancing head of Gracie, taking the ball into the top right corner beyond the keeper’s reach.
Thistle were on the back foot two minutes later as Greenock came back again, Thomson came for the ball and dropped it into the path of the Greenock striker whose shot was blocked, the rebound was fired in again and blocked again.
With the game already well won Thistle further extended their lead when Gracie got the ball in the right midfield area, drifted forward and slid a perfect pass through to Grant on the left who passed the ball into the net from 15 yards.
Both teams had further chances in the closing stages, with Thistle’s Andy Brown blocking magnificently on the line and Mark Canning hitting the post for the Jags.
Greenock’s McKenna, who had already been booked, was lucky not to see red when the referee turned a deaf ear to what most would have considered to be at least a booking. As is often the case, the played who shouldn’t have been on the park scored the last goal of the game when he found himself in acres of space on the right and slotted a ball from striker McKay home on the Thistle keeper Thomson’s near post.
The loss of late goals from a winning position for the third week running must be a bit of a cause for concern, however that late goal was the only slight blip in what was a magnificent performance by the Jags against a team who were on fire in the league and had won all their games so far.
Best on the day for Thistle were Brown, Grant, Russell, McLachlan and Gracie but it was a fantastic team effort and everybody who took part should be proud of themselves.
Full Time: Larkhall Thistle 5 Greenock 2
Thistle Scorers: Canning, Gracie (3), Grant
Larkhall Thistle Team:
Thomson; Russell, Kelly, Brown, Richardson; McKeever, Canning, Grant, McLachlan; McGeachie, Gracie. Subs (unused) McMillan, Fleming, Bradley, Moore, Moss
There’s another report on the game from a guest at Gasworks Park on Saturday on the Juniors Info site.
Read a different review of Larkhall Thistle v Greenock here