Stagecoach West of Scotland League Central District First Division
Gasworks Park, Larkhall
Larkhall Thistle v Carluke
Larkhall Thistle went into this clash with joint table-toppers with a severely depleted squad due to a combination of injuries, suspensions, holidays and a player’s wedding but managed to put out a team that was at least recognisable. Jamie Duris made a return to fill in at left back with Andy Brown playing centre-half and Scott McLachlan starting through the middle in place of Graham Gracie.
The game started with Carluke Rovers looking like they intended to keep their good run going and retain their top spot in the league and after a sustained spell of pressure it was no real surprise when they took the lead in the sixth minute. Carluke played the ball across the edge of the Thistle box and striker Murphy was given too much time to set himself and pick his spot, low to keeper Davie McEwan’s left.
As has been their way this season though, the Jags didn’t let the setback prey on their mind for too long and they were level within a minute. Scott McLachlan picked up the ball just over the half way line and set off on a run through the middle and into the box. He was caught by a Carluke defender sliding in as he laid off the pass to McKeever – who might well have scored anyway – but the referee pointed to the spot and JP Grant tucked away the penalty.
Carluke were still looking dangerous and once again Murphy found himself in too much space and produced a smart turn and shot just past the post. Andy Brown then had to come to the rescue to prevent a certain goal after 18 minutes, heading the ball off the line. It was Thistle though who took the lead a minute later with a great move started by McLachlan in the centre of the park. He picked up the ball and ran at the defence, committing the Carluke defender before slipping the ball right to the overlapping Brown who took the ball into the box before playing it in for Mark Canning to tap in from six yards.
Carluke might well have drawn level on two occasions before the interval but for some outstanding goalkeeping in the Thistle goal by Davie McEwan. First he dived to his right to stun the crowd by saving what looked like a certain goal then showed his agility by getting up to tip a point-blank header over the bar.
Thistle’s only reply of note in what was left of the half came from Mark McKeever who found himself in space inside the box from a throw in on the right but shot just past the post.
Half Time: Larkhall Thistle 2 Carluke Rovers 1
Carluke started the second half looking for an early equaliser and in the first minute sounded a warning with a shot from the left side of the box that went just past. Two minutes later they produced an almost identical effort, this time McEwan diving to push the ball wide for a corner.
In the 56th minute however the Jags had the chance to increase their lead and possibly tie up the three points in the process. Canning picked up the ball and spread it wide to McLachlan who found Ryan Innes on the edge of the box, the young midfielder got a good shot away but it cannoned off a Carluke defender and was cleared.
The visitors took full advantage of the slip up and three minutes later were level in controversial circumstances. An ariel challenge was won by Carluke in the middle of the park although their man appeared to use his arms illegally and most in the ground thought it was a clear foul. The referee waved play on and Carluke broke down the right before crossing to the back post for an unmarked Ferguson to head across the goal over a helpless McEwan.
Thistle were still reeling from a sense of injustice and were caught cold a minute later, again the ball was worked down the right but this time the cross was low and hard into the six yard area and Arnott had the easiest of tap-ins to put the visitors back into the lead.
Larkhall manager Dunky Sinclair made a change after 72 minutes with Graham Gracie coming on to replace Duris to try and get the goal back, McKeever filled in at left back and McLachlan went wide left. Three minutes later Jordan Marshall came on for Canning who looked to be struggling with an injury.
The Jags frustration was beginning to show and McKeever was booked for persistent arguing with the referee before Innes got a straight red for a two-footed tackle. Adam Cassidy also saw yellow for a tackle late on in the game.
Although Thistle were reduced to ten men they pushed hard all the way for the equaliser and had nearly all of the pressure in the closing stages of the game. The closest they came to taking a point was from a nice piece of football three minutes from the end, Niall Reynolds played a good ball down the right to Gracie who laid it off for Jordan Marshall who hit a low first time shot but unfortunately it was too close to the Carluke keeper.
So no lack of effort from Thistle and a battling display that probably should have earned them a point, but Carluke got the win that takes them clear at the top of the league.
Full Time: Larkhall Thistle 2 Carluke Rovers 3
Thistle Scorers: Grant, Canning
Larkhall Thistle Team:
McEwan; Duris, Cassidy, Brown, Reynolds; Innes, Grant, Canning, McKeever; McLachlan, McGeachie Subs: Marshall, Gracie, Russell, Moss
Best for Thistle on the day was Davie McEwan who produced two top notch saves and couldn’t be blamed for any of the goals. Scott McLachlan was probably Thistle’s best outfield player, especially in the first half.