Stagecoach West of Scotland League Central District First Division
Gasworks Park, Larkhall
Larkhall Thistle v Neilston
Larkhall Thistle fielded an unchanged team from the one that lost at St Anthony’s last week against second top Neilston in what looked like being a very tough fixture in cold and blustery conditions.
The Jags almost got off to the perfect start when Neilston keeper Digney fumbled the ball with just a minute of the game gone, Graham Gracie however couldn’t take the chance and the ball went past the post. Five minutes later Gracie again had a golden opportunity to open the scoring when he was put clear with just the keeper to beat, this time however he seemed to lose his footing and fell over Digney as he tried to go round him.
Another attack followed just minutes later and this time it was the captain, Mark Canning, who volleyed over when a side footer might have been enough. Neilston had to wait until the eleventh minute to get their first real attempt on goal, ex-Thistle player Andy Essler working a chance well but firing over the bar.
Thistle were well on top and making a bit of a mockery of the league positions but the game was turned on its head in the 16th minute when Hugh Kelly was caught out and lost his footing, allowing his opponent to break clear into the box and shape to go past Davie McEwan in the Thistle goal. The keeper brought him down and was sent off for denying a clear goal scoring opportunity, with Lee Moss coming on to replace him and Niall Reynolds the unfortunate player to be sacrificed. Kennedy missed the penalty for Neilston to keep the scoreline blank.
As expected Neilston started to impose themselves with the advantages of the extra man and the following wind but the Jags defence were doing well to keep them at bay and limit their goal scoring opportunities. Thistle were showing that they weren’t going to be content with a point and in the 25th minute they once again had a great chance to score, this time Gracie took the ball down the left and cut inside his marker before squaring the ball across the edge of the box for Ryan Innes. The midfielder should have done better but he blasted his shot high over the bar.
Just before the interval Neilston’s most dangerous player Essler again did well to turn and get a good shot on target but it was saved by Moss to send the teams in level at the break.
Half Time: Larkhall Thistle 0 Neilston 0
Thistle tried to catch their opponents out with a quick break straight from the kick off and it almost paid off, but Innes’s effort went just past the post. Five minutes into the half however the efforts of the home team looked to have been in vain when Neilston took the lead from a corner kick. The ball was swung in to the middle of the goal by Christie and fell kindly to McDade two yards out – he made no mistake and blasted the ball home.
The Jags looked to be in real trouble moments later when Mark McKeever dwelt too long on the ball and was robbed but Moss dived to save well and prevent the visitors extending the lead. McKeever was substituted shortly after as Scott McLachlan made his return from injury to take up the wide left position.
Thistle were pushing for the equaliser and halfway through the second half it almost arrived, a long ball from Moss was knocked down by Canning and handled by a defender on the edge of the box. Gracie took the free kick and was desperately unlucky not to level the game as he saw his effort rebound back off the bar.
Ryan Innes wasn’t having his usual impact on the game and when the ball went out for a throw-in to Thistle on the right, he was substituted by Matthew Clarke with 20 minutes left. Gracie took the throw and the ball was helped on to the back post where Clarke stooped to head in – his first touch of the game ten seconds after he came on to the park!
Gracie picked up a booking minutes later after an altercation with keeper Digney but the goalie blasted the ball off him from close range as he was walking away and the home support was infuriated that it was the Jags man who saw yellow.
Neilston almost regained the lead in 79 minutes when Canning was dispossessed 30 yards out but fortunately for Thistle, Christie didn’t have his shooting boots on and he sent the ball over the bar when he should have scored. Canning then had an even better chance after good build up work from Gracie but somehow sidefooted the ball high over the bar from 10 yards when it looked easier to hit the target.
The game looked like it was heading for a draw but with both teams still looking for the winner, the breakthrough came for Thistle with two minutes left on the clock. Jordan Marshall picked up the ball just inside the Neilston half and played it wide to Gracie who delivered a great swirling cross to the back post where Ross McGeachie was running in to blast home his header.
Five nail-biting minutes later the referee blew for time and Thistle had secured the best win of the season with a performance of tremendous grit and character. A real confidence booster before next week’s very difficult looking trip to Aberdeen.
Best on the day for Thistle – Graham Gracie was involved in everything the Jags did in attack and centre-halves Andy Brown and Adam Cassidy dealt with almost everything Neilston threw at them, but the nod goes to Lee Moss for his positioning and handling despite having to step in out of the blue.
Full Time: Larkhall Thistle 2 Neilston 1
Thistle scorers: Clarke, McGeachie
Larkhall Thistle Team:
McEwan; Reynolds, Brown, Cassidy, Kelly; Innes, Marshall, Canning, McKeever; Gracie, McGeachie. Subs: Garcia, Moss, Jack, Clarke, McLachlan
Digney; McDade, Gordon, Murdoch, McInnes; Canning, Christie, Docherty, Kennedy, Smith, Essler. Subs: Campbell, Nisanci, McNamara, Jamieson, Terry