Stagecoach West of Scotland League Central District First Division
John Cumming Stadium, Carluke
Carluke Rovers v Larkhall Thistle
For some reason McBookie had made Larkhall Thistle 20/23 pre match favourites, very strange considering they were two points behind second placed Carluke in the table, Carluke play on an artificial park, they won the corresponding fixture last season and they had already beaten the Jags at Gasworks Park in the league. Add to all that the fact that Thistle’s squad had been hit badly by inuries and absences and the travelling faithful might not have been in the most optimistic of moods before the game.
Worse was to follow when Davie McEwan injured his back in the warmup and had to be replaced at the last minute by Lee Moss – although it has to be said the wee man had another good game and didn’t let the team down in any way. The Jags had no substitutes available for selection and had to draft in three trialists from local amateur team Larkhall United to cover.
Thistle started with new boy Stuart McIntosh at centre half in place of Adam Cassidy who was on best man duties and handed a full debut to Matthew Clarke who replaced Ryan Innes in midfield. Spaniard David Aguilera García retained his place partnering Graham Gracie in attack.
For all their troubles, Larkhall started the better side and took the game to Carluke in the early stages, until they were hit with another setback in the 8th minute when Carluke took the lead. A long ball out of defence caught the Jags defence napping and fell right at the feet of the Rovers striker Watt who was given too much time to turn and fire a right foot shot low past the diving Moss. At this stage the Thistle fans were fearing the worst and when Watt again did well to keep the ball in play at the left touchline and took it for a run right into the box it could have been even worse – but Brown this time managed to get a good block in and the danger was cleared.
Larkhall produced their first goal threat in the 18th minute when Graham Gracie got hold of the ball in the right midfield area and cut inside on his left foot before hitting a good shot just wide of the post. Five minutes later Moss had to look sharp to dive and keep a long range effort out, but Thistle replied in the 26th minute with a great move that brought the equalising goal. Mark Canning found a Jags player with one of his long range passes, Gracie controlled the ball out on the left wing and played a great ball across the six yard box for what was the simplest of finishes for David Garcia.
With the home team looking below par, Thistle sensed the game was there for the taking at this point and five minutes later should have taken the lead when Jordan Marshall squared for Gracie, but the Jags striker uncharacteristically blasted way over the bar with the goal at his mercy.
The goal did come though ten minutes before half time, Marshall played what was a poor pass initially but the ball broke back to him and this time he took it forward and played it out to Gracie in the wide left position. There looked to be nothing on as the striker controlled the ball – but he cut inside, looked up and unleashed a fantastic strike high into the net off the far post.
Half Time: Carluke Rovers 1 Larkhall Thistle 2
David Garcia looked to be struggling towards the end of the first half with what appeared to be a hamstring strain and five minutes into the second half he limped off to be replaced by trialist Jordan Brown. The young lad looked lively right from the start and caused the Carluke defence problems for the rest of the game with his pace and direct running. He was only on the park for three minutes when he almost scored with an excellent piece of play when he controlled a high ball on his chest then swivelled and hit a volley that the Carluke keeper did well to save.
The Jags had a couple of penalty claims in the second half – a sandwich on Gracie where none of the Carluke defenders looked to have played the ball and a softish looking appeal for handball, which in fairness might have been given another time. Rovers also had a shout for a spot kick turned down although it didn’t look any more of a penalty than the Thistle claims.
Carluke dominated large spells of the second half after they brought on their big substitute striker who was involved in every forward move for them – visiting supporters were glad – and a bit mystified – that he was only a sub. The same player went close in the 73rd minute with a drive from the edge of the box that brought out another good save from Moss.
McIntosh looked like he had nothing left in the tank with 15 minutes left to go and was replaced at centre half by another trialist Aaron Brown who filled in well and helped to see the game out for a very unlikely Thistle win.
The Jags now have the opportunity to go top of the league next week, a home win against Bellshill coupled with Dunipace not winning would see them installed as new league leaders.
Full Time: Carluke Rovers 1 Larkhall Thistle 2
Thistle scorers: Garcia, Gracie
Larkhall Thistle Team:
Moss; Reynolds, Brown, McIntosh, Kelly; Clarke, Marshall, Canning, McKeever; Gracie, Garcia. Subs: Moss, A Brown, J Brown, Anderson
Best on the day for Thistle – A solid team performance and difficult to judge with so many changes, Niall Reynolds had what was probably his best game since joining the club in the summer and Lee Moss also deputised well for McEwan but Graham Gracie has to get the nod again for his assist and wonder strike.