Stagecoach West of Scotland League Central District First Division
Moor Park, Lanark
Lanark v Larkhall Thistle
Larkhall Thistle weathered the storm to hold out for a valuable away win at strugglers Lanark in the proverbial game of two halves. A strong wind hampered the Jags progress in the first half and after three weeks off they took a while to get back into their stride.
Thistle started the game with Lee Moss standing in for Davie McEwan in goals and regular left back Hugh Kelly missing, replaced by Stuart McIntosh. Ross McGeachie started on the bench on his return after a long layoff for injury.
The Jags began the game on top and Graham Gracie had a half chance after seven minutes but it was blocked well by a home defender. Mark McKeever should have put them ahead eight minutes later when Ryan Innes’s cross came back off the bar and fell perfectly for him to head in from point blank range but he squandered the chance.
It was the home team however who took the lead in the 19th minute against the run of play when the Thistle defence took too long to clear a loose ball and it fell to Connelly just outside the box. He had time to control the ball and pick his spot in the corner of the goal, beyond the outstretched arms of Moss.
Thistle didn’t take long to get back into the game though and almost drew level just four minutes later. A scuffed clearance landed at the feet of Mark Canning and he feinted past the last defender before shooting, although the effort was too close to the Lanark keeper and he made the save. The game was going one way then the other and Lanark threatened next just two minutes later when a break down the left wing exposed the Jags defence. The ball was played across the park and the Lanark striker was in the clear but his low shot went just past the left hand post.
Scott McLachlan was working hard as usual and in the 34th minute he won a free kick on the edge of the box when he was unceremonially dumped off the ball as he broke through. Gracie took the kick and hit the wall with it but it broke back to him and he got a very good low shot away that the keeper got down well to hold. Gracie looked threatening again in Thistle’s last attack of the first half as he won the ball back from a Lanark defender and broke clear, only to be hauled down for a professional foul.
Half Time Lanark United 1 Larkhall Thistle 0
Thistle came out for the second half with changes in personnel and formation. Niall Reynolds moved to left back and McIntosh who had been struggling in the position was substitued for Ross McGeachie who went up front to partner Gracie. McLachlan who had been playing there dropped back into midfield and Jordan Marshall filled in at right back. It proved to be a bit of a managerial masterstroke from Dunky Sinclair as the Jags struck back with the equaliser within just 18 seconds of the restart. Lanark kicked off but Thistle won the ball back right away and played it forward to Gracie who found himself in the clear and picked his spot high in the net with an excellent finish.
Lanark hit back three minutes later when Gracie conceded a free kick 25 yards out. The ball was floated into the box and found a Lanark player’s head six yards out but Moss was equal to it this time and held well. This signalled a period of domination for the home team and they stayed on top for most of the second half without in all honesty creating too much in the way of clear cut chances.
The Jags produced the best bit of football of the match in the 72nd minute with a free-flowing move that almost produced a goal. Mark Canning played a ball through the middle to Gracie who flicked it first time to Innes. He then laid the ball right into the path of McLachlan who ran into the box and got a shot away, only for it to be blocked by a Lanark defender for a corner. Lanark replied with a good effort three minutes later when their No6 showed good close control to go past two Thistle defenders in a tight space before shooting just past the post with Moss looking helpless if it had been on target.
Thistle’s winning goal came a minute later in the 76th minute. The ball broke to Scott McLachlan 30 yards from goal, he looked up and spotted the Lanark keeper out of his goal and sent a tremendous lob right back into the empty goal.
That wasn’t the end of the action, Lanark pushed hard for a late equaliser and nearly got it a minute into injury time when they won another free kick just on the edge of the box. Again the wall did its job but the ball broke through to a Lanark player on the penalty spot who opted to blast the ball rather than place it and it crashed back off the bar and cleared from danger.
Although it was never a bad-tempered game there were plenty of robust challenges on both sides and Thistle picked up a spate of bookings, with Innes, Cassidy, Gracie and McKeever all seeing yellow for tackles.
Full Time Lanark United 1 Larkhall Thistle 2
Thistle scorers: Gracie, McLachlan
Larkhall Thistle Team:
Moss; Reynolds, Brown, Cassidy, McIntosh; Innes, Canning, Marshall, McKeever; Gracie, McLachlan. Subs: McGeachie, Garcia
Booked: Innes, Cassidy, Gracie, McKeever
Best for Thistle on the day was Adam Cassidy especially for his performance in the first half. Niall Reynolds is continuing to improve all the time and had a fine second half.