Central League First Division
Fullarton Park, Glasgow
Bellshill Athletic v Larkhall Thistle
Larkhall Thistle made a couple of changes from last week as they made the short trip down the M74 to play high flying league favourites Bellshill on a bitterly cold day. David Garcia hadn’t recovered from his knock last week, so Scott McLachlan started up front and Niall Reynolds returned to the right back position to replace Stuart McIntosh.
Thistle got off to the worst possible start as Hill came out of the blocks right from the off and left the Jags shell shocked, with an early onslaught that could have seen them three up in the first ten minutes. As it was Thistle managed to restrict them to just one goal which came in the fifth minute.
Adam Cassidy did well to get to a high ball in to the Thistle defence and head clear but it fell to a Bellshill player who sent it left to their Number 8, he had time to look up and pick his spot and drilled a low left foot drive past the helpless Lee Moss. The Jags were having trouble coping with throws and crosses into the box, and almost lost a second minutes later. Again a high ball delivered into the box wasn’t dealt with and fell to a Bellshill striker who was leaning back and put the shot over the bar.
The Jags were caught out again a minute later when they managed to turn a good attacking position into nearly losing a goal, McLachlan lost possession left of the box as he went forward and from the resulting Bellshill break Gary Redpath lobbed from 20 yards just past the post.
The early stages were all Bellshill and all the Jags had to show for their efforts were a couple of Hugh Kelly free kicks which had nobody on the end of them. The game then settled into a bit of a midfield tussle with neither team managing to create much in the way of chances, but Bellshill did produce the move of the match when some good build up play set up their target man to back heel into the path of the No7 who was running in, but his shot was well saved by Moss.
Thistle went closest to equalising in the 28th minute when a Reynolds throw on the right bobbled about in the box, with McGeachie and McLachlan both having stabs at it before it went wide.
Three minutes from the interval came the moment that could have changed the game. Mark Canning produced his best piece of football for a while when he got the ball and made space in the middle of the park before splitting the Bellshill defence with a magnificent through ball right into the path of McLachlan. The striker took the ball in his stride and sprinted clear of the last defender and as he reached the edge of the box, the Hill keeper ran out and scythed him down without getting anywhere near the ball.
It looked outside the box so the only real question was whether the keeper was going to see a red or a yellow card depending on whether the referee deemed it a goal scoring opportunity, but incredibly he waved play on without even awarding the foul.
The decision stunned the visiting players and fans as well as most of the Bellshill contingent and Jags coach Tam McLaughlin was spoken to for carrying on his protests.
Half Time: Bellshill Athletic 1 Larkhall Thistle 0
The injustice of the incident seemed to have an effect on Larkhall as they came out for the second half looking to get the goal they felt they deserved. Ryan Innes’s scuffed header four minutes into the half was the Jags first attempt on target in the whole game but was easily saved by the Hill keeper. Redpath then produced a great piece of skill a minute later to control the ball on his right foot and flick it up onto his left for a shot that went just over the bar. He was then allowed to pick up the ball in a deep position and run 20 yards unchallenged through the middle of the defence before firing a shot over the bar.
In 54 minutes however Thistle nearly drew level when Mark McKeever did brilliantly to nick in front of the keeper and slip the ball left to McLachlan, but two Bellshill defenders recovered to throw themselves in front of the shot. The home team then had the ball in the net three minutes later from a corner but the refereee had spotted a foul in the box and the goal was disallowed.
Thistle were in command of the second half and got a further lift after 65 minutes with the introduction of Graham Gracie who replaced Mark McKeever. The big striker seemed to lift the whole team with his arrival and nearly made an immediate impact when his throw found McLachlan who shot just wide.
Matty Clarke came on for Jordan Marshall in the 74th minute and three minutes later Thistle again looked certain to score when a corner to the back post was returned almost across the Bellshill line but nobody could find the final touch to get it over the line and it was cleared for a corner. Then disaster nearly struck as the ball was worked back to Hugh Kelly in the last man position who took an extra touch and got caught out by Redpath on the half way line. The Hill striker set off clear in on goal and only a great block by Moss prevented the game from going out of Thistle’s reach.
Jags hearts were to sink again five minutes from the end, Ross McGeachie took a throw in and sent Gracie clear down the left, he cut into the box inside two Bellshill defenders and picked out skipper Canning who looked to have a tap in from eight yards but his side foot shot was saved by the Hill keeper.
As the game moved towards injury time Clarke had a shot past the post after a good run, then Adam Cassidy probably should have done a bit better from 15 yards but his shot produced a comfortable save.
The referee had indicated he was going to play four minutes added time in response to some time wasting tactics from Bellshill, and two minutes into it the Jags got the equaliser their second half play deserved from a Gracie corner which was bundled in at the near post by Niall Reynolds. A scrappy goal but one of the most welcome of the season for Thistle who certainly never deserved to lose the game.
It was over seconds later with the Jags looking capable of snatching the win in another performance full of fight and character after a bad opening 20 minutes. The result might have been even better but it keeps the Jags in the mix for the promotion places after a bad couple of weeks.
Full Time: Bellshill Athletic 1 Larkhall Thistle 1
Thistle scorers: Reynolds
Moss; Reynolds, Brown, Cassidy, Kelly; Innes, Marshall, Canning, McKeever; McGeachie, McLachlan. Subs: Clarke, Jack, Gracie, McLaughlin, Schoenville
Best on the day for Thistle: Jordan Marshall is getting back to his best and looks like he could play at a higher level, Adam Cassidy won nearly everything at the back and Scott McLachlan ran all day for the team. The nod goes to Niall Reynolds this week though who had another excellent game up and down the right.
Thistle Penalty Claims?
During the game The Jags had a number of penalty claims that might have been given, in each of the cases below the referee was perfectly placed to judge whether these incidents should have been penalties.