Central League First Division
Brig O’Lea Stadium, Neilston
Neilston v Larkhall Thistle
Thistle travelled to Renfrewshire to take on the league favourites in the first of what looked like three very difficult away games left in the fixture schedule. The fans basked in the unexpected 20 degree sunshine but unfortunately the weather was probably the highlight of an otherwise fairly dour day for the Jags who started the day unchanged from last week.
Neilston set the tone from the start, shooting down the slope towards the road end of the stadium and had the majority of play and attacking moves throughout most of the game. The home team created the first real chance of the game in the 10th minute when Thistle’s Niall Reynolds was beaten to a high ball on the wide right and it fell right for Christie to turn and hit, his effort going just past the post.
Thistle replied right away with a long range speculative effort from Mark Canning on the half-volley that went over the bar, then Neilston went straight back down the park with a move on the right where Reynolds was beaten for pace and the resultant cross skimmed off the crossbar for a corner after Moss was judged to have got a touch to it.
Larkhall’s first real effort in earnest came in the 14th minute when Mark McKeever made a run down the left wing and played a one-two with Scott McLaclan before shooting past the left hand post from just inside the penalty area. Five minutes later McKeever was involved again after a poor kick out from Neilston keeper Digney went straight to him, and with Digney out of his goal the chance was there for a shot but he snatched at it a bit and hit it as he was falling and the ball went harmlessly wide.
These were rare highlights for the Jags though and most of the half was spent with their backs to goal, Adam Cassidy and Andy Brown especially having to deal with a lot of pressure through the middle. It was Brown who threw himself in front of a run from Kennedy to block on the edge of the box after 25 minutes, illegaly in the eyes of the referee and from the free kick, Lee Moss was relieved to see the ball deflected off the wall and straight into his arms.
Thistle’s best effort of the half came on the half-hour mark when Ryan Innes got a good header on a corner from Hugh Kelly but the ball was headed off the line and up over the bar by a Neilston defender.
Neilston had their best chance of the half just before the break when a great cross from the right straight across the six yard box found the spare man at the back post, but his header went just past.
Half Time: Neilston 0 Larkhall Thistle 0
Graham Gracie had had a quiet first half by his standards but he got involved right from the start of the second period when he did well to hold the ball up under pressure from three Neilston defenders before laying it off for Canning who shot over the bar.
Seven minutes into the half Kelly had to give away a free kick to stop a Neilston break and was booked in the process, that was quickly followed by yellow cards for Innes for a foul and Canning for showing his studs.
Just on the hour mark Neilston were in uproar as a penalty claim was turned down when Moss dived to claim the ball and took out everything in his way at the same time but it was the kind of challenge keepers get away with and play went on. The home bench carried their grievance throughout the rest of the game and howled for every decision against them.
Another spell of Neilston pressure brought a couple of corners after 65 minutes and they nearly scored from the second when the big centre back rose highest to the cross but Innes did very well to just put him off enough and the header went over.
Jordan Marshall picked up an injury from a tackle and had to go off in the 69th minute to be replaced by Matthew Clarke, at the same time Ross McGeachie came on for Graham Gracie.
Eight minutes from the end Neilston were claiming a goal when a header back across the goal had Moss stranded but the ball was judged not to have crossed the line and the Jags breathed a sigh of relief again. Thistle had only just recovered from the let-off when they were hit by a blow when Kelly got his second yellow for what was nothing more than a slide tackle, a very harsh booking.
Adam Cassidy was also booked in the dying minutes for a challenge as Thistle held out for a hard-earned point.
In the end it was probably a better point for Thistle than Neilston with the Jags going down to 10 men and being under the cosh for most of the game but it might not be enough to keep them in with a realistic chance of promotion.
Full Time: Neilston 0 Larkhall Thistle 0
Moss; Reynolds, Brown, Cassidy, Kelly; Innes, Marshall (Clarke 69), Canning, McKeever; Gracie (McGeachie 69), McLachlan. Subs: Jack, Schoneville, McLaughlin
Digney; Murphy, Gordon, McInnes, Young; Docherty, Canning, Hughes, Kennedy, Christie, Campbell.
Booked: Kelly (2 bookings), Innes, Canning, Cassidy
Best on the day for Thistle were unsurprisingly all in defence with Adam Cassidy putting in another excellent performance but Hugh Kelly was the pick of the bunch.