Central League First Division
Brig O’ Lea Stadium, Neilston
Benburb v Larkhall Thistle
Larkhall Thistle travelled to Benburb’s temporary home at Neilston for what was the classic nothing to play for fixture. With the Jags in seventh place and Benburb in third, neither team could go either up or down in the final table and it was really just a case of playing out the fixture.
Thistle might have had one eye on the recent 5-1 home thumping from today’s hosts and had at least the chance to restore some pride, but it was always going to be a difficult task – Benburb had won 5-2 in last season’s away fixture.
The Jags made two changes from last week, with starts for Matty Clarke in midfield Lee Moss in goals. Brian Jack kept his place in right midfield.
Thistle started well but early efforts from Ryan Innes and some good build up play gave little hint to what was to follow as they turned on the style with the best first half performance of the season. In an almost unbelievable 45 minutes of football, the Jags produced wave after wave of attacks -creating enough real chances to have been six or seven goals up by half time, such was their domination of play.
Time and again the new look midfield of Clarke, Innes, Canning and Jack combined with some great possession football to set up Gracie and Garcia and all six of them could have had at least one goal in the first half alone. Despite all the pressure though it took until the 26th minute for Thistle to get the breakthrough, when Mark Canning controlled a ball over the top and took his time to place a right foot shot in the bottom corner.
Defender Niall Reynolds had to be replaced by Mark McKeever two minutes later as he hobbled off after a tackle.
Graham Gracie was particularly unlucky not to be on the scoresheet and the big striker almost scored a memorable goal in the 38th minute when he picked up the ball in a deep position and ran through the whole Benburb defence before putting the keeper on the deck and chipping him, his effort going just past the post.
Two minutes later he went close again when David Garcia slid in to win the ball in the middle of the park and fed him out wide on the left, but his fierce drive was pushed out well by the keeper for a corner.
The Jags almost extended their lead a minute before half time as Brian Jack, Mark Canning and Garcia all took turns in firing shots at a desperate Bens defence in a hectic melee. The second goal did come just on the stroke of half time though, and for all the Jags good play it was a scrappy effort as Innes bundled the ball over the line at the back post from a Jack corner.
Half Time: Benburb 0 Larkhall Thistle 2
After the first half display it always looked likely that the second half wouldn’t come up to the same standard but Thistle got off to a good start right away as Gracie cut the ball back for Garcia in the third minute – but his well struck drive hit team mate Innes as it looked netbound.
Benburb were coming more into the game in the early part of the second half but Larkhall put the game beyond doubt in the 51st minute. A long ball out of defence found Gracie in the wide left position and he controlled it well and picked out the run of Matty Clarke who was able to pick his spot from the edge of the box.
Two minutes later Gracie was nearly on the scoresheet once again after Canning had feinted left then swerved right and sold his marker in the middle of the park before slipping a good ball through to him, his shot though went past the post.
The two other subsitutes got a run out with twenty minutes left, Scott McLachlan replacing Jack and Ross McGeachie coming on for Garcia.
Seventy minutes into the game Benburb created their first real scoring chance of the game when their centre forward got in good position on the edge of the box to hit a low drive but Lee Moss got down well to save. Moss produced another excellent save 15 minutes from the end from a near-post flick that looked a goal all the way, to ensure the Jags finished the day with a clean sheet.
The last five minutes of the game saw Matty Clarke involved in two great pieces of football, first a through-ball right into the path of McLachlan whose shot produced a good save, then a one-two with McKeever wide on the left wing before cutting inside and firing a curling shot at the top corner – the ball going just over the bar.
A great effort then by Thistle in producing some of the best football they have played all season and despite the meaningless nature of the game it was a keenly contested match played in the right spirit.
(Thanks to Benburb and Frank Lovering for the freebie!)
Full Time: Benburb 0 Larkhall Thistle 3
Thistle scorers: Canning, Innes, Clarke
Moss; McLaughlin, Schoneville, Brown, Reynolds (McKeever 29); Jack (McLachlan 65), Innes, Canning Clarke; Gracie, Garcia (McGeachie 65)
Best on the day for Thistle: Despite all the attacking play today, Andy Brown deserves a mention for holding the defence together and clearing almost every danger but the outstanding player on show was Matty Clarke who had a brilliant first half in particular.