Stagecoach West of Scotland League Central District First Division
Larkhall Thistle v Neilston
Larkhall Thistle put on another super show to blow Neilston away in a devasting 16 minute first half period and go top of the league. However for the first twenty four minutes there was no indication that one of the teams here was flying at the top while the other was struggling at the wrong end of the table.
The early exchanges were even with Neilston providing as stiff a test as the Jags have faced this season. Graham Gracie had Thistle’s best early efforts while Lee Thomson saved well from a 20 yard Neilston free kick. On the 25th minute the Jags were awarded a free kick 25 yards out, and up stepped Graham Gracie to unleash a magnificent drive into the top right hand corner of the goal.
Three minutes later Gracie picked up a pass from JP Grant and strode forward into the left corner of the box past a Neilston defender, who promptly upended the big striker for a Jags penalty. Grant picked up the ball and slotted it low to the keeper’s left.
Half an hour gone and Thistle were really fired up, Grant picked up the ball on the right wing and struck an amazing curling effort that came off the bar and bounced down inside the goal to increase the host’s lead to 3-0.
The Jags almost extended their lead four minutes later when a great move down the right saw Ross McGeachie on the end of a cross but the striker fired just over. Four minutes from half time Neilston must have thought it was Groundhog Day when Gracie was fouled in almost exactly the same spot on the left side of the box as he drifted past a defender. Grant took the resultant spot kick and placed it in the same spot as the first.
Half Time: Larkhall Thistle 4 Neilston 0
The second half began with Thistle shooting with the gathering wind towards the club house end. Only a minute had elapsed when Gracie picked up the ball on the left, burst past two defenders and squared the ball across the box to McGeachie who shielded the ball well and laid it back into the path of Mark Canning for the midfielder to shoot home inside the left hand post.
With the game now won Larkhall understandably eased off slightly and some slack defending allowed the away side to pull a goal back a minute later, when Kennedy found himself unmarked in the middle of the box and crashed the ball into the middle of the net. Manager Duncan Sinclair made it clear at this point that there was still a game to be won, the players took the warning.
Gracie fired a left foot shot low and hard just past the right hand post, before again leaving Neilston’s Evans floundering on the left. The defender brought him down to stop the big man getting away and was booked for his troubles. Three minutes later Scott McLachlan also found himself booked – somewhat harshly – when he chased back to retrieve a lost ball and was adjudged to have fouled the Neilston man from behind.
Mark Brady then replaced Mark McKeever and shortly afterwards Gracie and Grant combined again, with Jai running on to the lay off to shoot wide from 20 yards. Neilston made a couple of substitutions with Murphy and Cameron replacing Evans and Lennox which appeared to spur them into action and produced a couple of half chances and then a drive off the bar after a mistake by Thomson.
Neilston brought on their final sub, Adams for Hobbs and with 15 minutes to go Thistle brought on the returning Alan Fleming for McLachlan. Fleming went to centre back and Hugh Kelly pushed up into his more familiar midfield position. Young Mark Russell pushed forward to right midfield.
Ten minutes from time Larkhall won a corner on the right side, Kelly swung in a good cross for McGeachie to head goalwards. The ball was stopped from hitting the net by a Neilston defender’s hand and although the referee awarded the penalty, he chose not to take any disciplinary action.
JP Grant took responsibility for the third time in the game and this time smashed the ball hard past Fulton for the final goal of the game. Jags keeper Thomson found Gracie with a long ball two minutes later, he controlled the ball, turned and shot all in one movement but Fulton saved well for a corner kick.
Six minutes from the end four-goal JP Grant went off to a great ovation to be relaced by Mark Weir who was instructed to sit in front of the defence. Thistle survived a late effort from a free kick which went narrowly over the bar to see the game out and move to the top of the table on goal difference.
Full Time: Larkhall Thistle 6 Neilston 1
Thistle Scorers: Grant (4), Canning, Gracie
Larkhall Thistle Team:
Thomson; Russell, Kelly, Brown, Richardson; McKeever, Canning, Grant, McLachlan; McGeachie, Gracie. Subs Fleming, Brady, Moore, Moss
Best for the Jags were Gracie, Grant, Richardson and Brown but again it was an excellent performance from the whole team.