Stagecoach West of Scotland League Central District First Division
Gasworks Park, Larkhall
Larkhall Thistle v Lanark
Larkhall Thistle got their home league campaign underway today with a win and the bonus of a rare clean sheet. A goal in each half from prolific striker Graham Gracie was enough to see off Lanark but in truth the scoreline could have been much more in favour of the home side and manager Dunky Sinclair must be pleased with the number of goalscoring chances created.
Goalkeeper Davie McEwan, defender Andy Brown and midfielder Mark Canning all recovered from injuries and started, in-form Jordan Marshall however was banned and the returning JP Grant could only make the bench.
Thistle got off to the perfect start and took the lead in the second minute when Gracie sprung the Lanark offshide trap and burst forward onto the ball, lifting it over the keeper into the net. After the early excitement however, the game settled down into a spell where neither side created any real clear-cut chances but Lanark were pressing well and probably had the majority of the ball.
The Jags should have added to their lead in the 32nd minute when Gracie chased down a ball that looked to be heading out for a throw in on the left wing. He managed to keep it in then burst past the Lanark defender, hit the byeline, looked up and picked out Ross McGeachie unmarked on the penalty spot and although the big man got his shot on target it was cleared off the line.
This was to be the turning point in the game as from then on almost every meaningful attack and chance created was by Larkhall. Mark Canning hit a tremendous dipping effort from 35 yards that the keeper just managed to get his hands to and five minutes later the midfielder repeated the feat, this time from a Gracie throw-in.
Lanark had a chance to level the game right on half time when a quick break caught the Jags defence on the hop but their striker fluffed his lines and Thistle went into the interval ahead.
Half Time: Larkhall Thistle 1 Lanark 0
The second half started with Thistle on the attack and Gracie setting the pattern for the rest of the game. He made a great run up the left side of the park and cut inside his defender, squaring the ball across the box but unfortunately nobody was on the end of the chance and it was cleared. Adam Cassidy then hooked a shot that was saved when he was first to a long Gracie throw, and Gracie again got involved when he outpaced the Lanark defence for the umpteenth time before being brought down just outside the box – but Canning gambled on the wall jumping and his low free kick was easily dealt with.
The chances were coming in waves now for the home side and Lanark hardly had time to draw breath before Ross McGeachie did well onthe right touchline and slipped the ball to Gracie who curled a fine effort just past the top left postage stamp. Canning then burst into the clear after a knock down right into his path sent him clear, but lobbed over when in all honesty he could have picked his spot.
The second goal however did finally arrive midway through the second half and was no more than Thistle deserved. The ball was played out wide on the right and the Lanark No15 in trying to deal with the ball only succeeded in heading into the path of Gracie who took a stride, looked up and smashed the ball high into the middle of the goal from just outside the box.
The Jags were in full flight now and two minutes later, as Lanark pushed in search of a goal, a long ball was nodded down perfectly by McGeachie into Gracie’s path and he hit a fierce shot just past the post.
With twenty minutes left Andy Brown was replaced by Hugh Kelly with Niall Reynolds swapping to right back and Kelly going to left back.
Ten minutes from the end Gracie almost capped his outstanding performance with a hat-trick goal – and it would have been an early candidate for goal of the season. He picked up the ball in the middle of the park and set off on a run, evading tackles and hurdling lunging attempts to stop him and showing tremendous quick feet and control to take it all the way into the box before finally shooting wide.
So an excellent second half performance by Thistle, and Gracie in particular, and if this is what is in store for the rest of the season there won’t be too many complaints from the home fans.
Full Time: Larkhall Thistle 2 Lanark 0
Thistle Scorers: Gracie 2
Larkhall Thistle Team:
McEwan; Brown, McMinn, Cassidy, Reynolds; McLachlan, Innes, Canning, McKeever; Gracie, McGeachie Subs: Kelly, Russell, Moss, Grant, Trialist
Best for Thistle on the day was Gracie who looks back to top form but there were good performances all through the side.