Gasworks Park, Larkhall
Larkhall Thistle v Bellshill Athletic
It was touch and go whether today’s game was going to go ahead so well done to the seven hardy souls from the committee and groundsman Scott McKechnie for their efforts in getting the green light from the 10:30 inspection. At 8:30 this morning the park was covered in frost and ice and it took right up until the inspection to get it playable and relined.
There was only one change from last week, Hugh Kelly served the first game of his three match ban for violent conduct after last week’s sending off and was replaced by Jordan Marshall in midfield. Captain Mark Canning was eligible to play as he is awaiting his appeal, also from last week’s sending off.
Thistle had drawn the previous fixture between the teams at Fullerton Park and for long periods of the first half were in command of a tight tussle against the league leaders. In truth the visitors did not look like a team that were flying at the top of the league as Thistle resticted them to a couple of speculative long range efforts in the first half.
The Jags made the better start and came out looking as if they believed that promotion was still within their grasp, David Reid was first to try and test the Hill keeper but his fourth minute shot was well wide of the left post. It was midway through the half before Bellshill had their first meaningful effort but Andy Brown got his head in the way of the goalbound effort.
Larkhall had a golden opportunity to take the lead in the 33rd minute when Jordan Marshall slipped a greeat ball through to Ryan Innes who found himself clear through on goal but with the whole goal to aim at, he shot at the keeper and the chance was gone. David Reid once again looked lively going forward and looked more comfortable when he switched to the left wing, he produced a tremendous run five minutes from half-time when he ran from half way past the whole defence before having his cross cut out by the goalkeeper.
Three minutes later Jordan Marshall made a late run to meet a cross from Graham Gracie but his header was once again too close to the goalie.
Half Time: Larkhall Thistle 0 Bellshill 0
Thistle had played well in the first half but if that was good, then the fans were in for a real treat with what was to follow as the Jags tore Bellshill apart in the second half with their best performance of the season.
Five minutes into the second half Alan Colquhoun started a great move with a long ball that Gracie flicked on for Reid on the right, his run into the box finished with a cross that was a bit overhit but retrieved by Mark McKeever at the back post, he set up Reid for a great shot that was heading goalwards before it struck a defender and went out for a corner. The pressure paid off in 55 minutes though when Innes was once again one on one with the keeper but was foiled for a second time, Mark Canning however was on hand to slide in the rebound.
The Jags then suffered their only real setback of the day just a minute later as Bellshill drew level with a snap shot from wide on the left that caught everybody surprised and flew into the bottom corner. The goal gave the visitors a lift and a minute later they threatened to make things even worse for Thistle but Neil Schoneville put in the first of his brilliant goal saving tackles to break up the attack.
The Jags were back in front from the penalty spot five minutes later after a great run from Gracie, as he took on the last defender he feinted and went past him on his left foot and caught his trailing leg. Mark Canning stepped up again to put his team back into the lead. Thistle kept pressing and looking for a third goal and there was some fine attacking play between Reid, Gracie and McKeever especially.
If Bellshill had any ambitions to get back into the game they were blown away with the third goal which came in the 72nd minute, from the most unexpected of sources. Gracie took a throw on the left and when he got the ball back from Reid, he drove a low ball into the feet of Schoneville who turned the Bellshill defender brilliantly and as he spun he hit a low left foot shot into the corner past the helpless keeper.
New Bellshill manager Brian McGinty had been a thorn in the side of the referee all day with his questioning of every decision that went against his team and the ref’s patience finally cracked as he sent him to the stand, his team produced their last threat 12 minutes from the end with a spell of pressure that resulted in a double clearance from Andy Brown and a spectacular flying header from Innes.
Ross McGeachie replaced Graham Gracie with five minutes to go but didn’t get a chance to impose himself on the game.
A tremendous performance then from Thistle and one which keeps alive the outside chance of promotion. If they can play as well as that against the best team in the league then they should be confident against anybody.
Full Time: Larkhall Thistle 3 Bellshill 1
Colquhoun; Jack, Brown, Schoneville, Reynolds; Innes, Canning, Marshall, Reid; McKeever Gracie (McGeachie 80). Subs: McPhee, Nicholl, Cooke
Thistle scorers: Canning (2), Schoneville
Booked: Brown, Colquhoun
Best on the day for Thistle: Some very good performances all round with Brown, Innes and Reid all making major contributions but Neil Schoneville was outstanding with two last gasp tackles and a goal more reminiscent of David Silva than a big centre half.