Stagecoach West of Scotland League Central District First Division
Gasworks Park, Larkhall
Larkhall Thistle v Johnstone Burgh
Thistle’s park survived the heavy rain of the previous day and the Jags last home game went ahead as planned at the third time of asking. With neither team having anything to play for, it had the possibility of being an end of the season damp squib and the first half turned out to be just that.
Thistle handed a debut to Sean McLaughlin at right back with Neil Schoneville keeping his place in the team starting alongside Andy Brown at centre half. David Garcia made his return to the starting line up as did long term injury Davy McEwan in goals.
Thistle’s first effort on goal was from a Schoneville header that came back off the bar in the ninth minute but less than a minute later the visitors were nearly ahead when their centre was through with a good opportunity to test McEwan but chose to square the ball and the chance was lost.
Mark Canning did well to get a shot away in the 20th minute, going down under pressure from a Burgh midfielder but eight minutes later it was Johnstone who took a shock lead when the Jags defence failed to properly clear the ball and it fell to their No.11 who hit a great drive into the top corner past the outstretched arms of McEwan.
Three minutes later they should have doubled their lead when the No11 could have put his team mate clean through but tried the extravagant switch to the other side and lost the chance.
Thistle came back strongly and Brian Jack played a neat one-two with Garcia before playing Gracie in but his shot was blocked by a defender sliding in at the last minute. The Jags came closest to equalising from the corner, Mark McKeever crossing for Ryan Innes who made a good run to meet the ball flush but send it just over the bar.
Two minutes from half time came the incident that changed the game. Ryan Innes did well to outmuscle his opponent on the byeline and cut the ball back for Gracie who was on the turn and in the clear as he was bundled down by the Burgh No.2. The right back saw a red card for denying the clear goalscoring chance.
Gracie took the spot kick himself but summed up the Jags first half performance with a tame shot that the keeper saved comfortably.
Half Time: Larkhall Thistle 0 Johnstone Burgh 1
The second half began with the 10 men on top and Burgh were unlucky not to score seconds after the break, the Thistle defence letting them in for a shot that went just past the post. Minutes later the No7 set off on a run through the middle, taking on what seemed like the whole Thistle defence and getting clear of the last defender before making a bit of a mess of his shot.
The Jags did come back though and got level through a goal out of nowhere. Ryan Innes won possession and rolled the ball through the middle to Gracie who had a lot to do with his back to the goal, but his quick turn left the defender stranded and he strolled into the box and slid a left foot shot low into the net. The game had hardly restarted when Gracie put the Jags in front with a chip from the edge of the box that left the keeper helpless.
The next goal came two minutes later in the 58th minute and it was Gracie who started it off this time with a flick out to the left wing where Niall Reynolds was overlapping and his cross was finished by Jack – who couldn’t miss from right in front of the goal.
It was all go and Johnstone nearly pulled a goal back a minute later with a ferocious drive that McEwan did well to gather at the second attempt. The Jags completed their haul of four goals in seven minutes with a great team effort, the ball being played out of defence with some good possession football and finding Gracie who crossed for Garcia to head home from point blank range.
Three minutes later the Burgh goal survived an amazing double clearance off the line when firstly Garcia showed great control to bring the ball down and flick it past the keeper, then Gracie with a curling effort, could both have added to the score.
Thistle made two second half substitutions with McLachlan and Clarke replacing McKeever and Innes in 67 minutes before Neil Schoneville thought he had made it 5-1 with a goal that was harshly ruled offside. Schoneville, Clarke and McLachlan then picked up bookings in quick succession.
Just as it looked like the game was petering out Johnstone pulled a goal back as the Jags defence switched off.
Full Time: Larkhall Thistle 4 Johnstone Burgh 2
Thistle scorers: Gracie (2), Jack, Garcia
McEwan; McLaughlin, Schoneville, Brown, Reynolds; Jack, Innes (Clarke 67), Canning, McKeever (McLachlan 67); Gracie, Garcia Subs: Moss
Booked: Schoneville, Clarke, McLachlan
Best on the day for Thistle: Sean McLaughlin had a good debut, especially in the first half when it was 11 v 11 but Graham Gracie won the game with his goals and assists so is tonight’s MoM.