Central League First Division
Gasworks Park, Larkhall
Larkhall Thistle v Ashfield
Heavy rain overnight and again this morning cast a bit of doubt as to whether the game would go ahead or be the first victim of the weather this season and if it had been a couple of hours later it would surely have been postponed. As it was the few souls who braved the conditions might have preferred that this shocker hadn’t gone ahead.
Thistle were again missing Graham Gracie and Jordan Marshall through injury and Hugh Kelly started on the bench after resuming training this week. The back four and front two were unchanged from last week but there was a starting place for Mark McKeever in place of Brian Jack in right midfield.
Ashfield were bottom of the league with only one point to show from their eight games so far but they started the game as the better side and had the bulk of the possession in the early stages, without creating any real goalscoring opportunities.
David Reid gave the home bench a scare in just three minutes when he went into an early 50-50 challenge and didn’t get up, fortunately though he made a full recovery and went on to be involved in most of the chances the Jags created. There was bad news on the injury front however when keeper Alan Colqhoun had to limp off with a pulled muscle after only 18 minutes, Graeme McAlpine replaced him for his first competitive appearance since joining.
Thistle settled into the game and were starting to gain the edge in terms of pressure and indeed the managed to turn it into a goal in the 25th minute. Reid chased what seemed to be a lost cause to the byeline and while Ashfield keeper Sommerville had left the ball and assumed it was going out, the Jags striker kept going and retrieved it before setting it up perfectly for Ross McGeachie who was unmarked in the middle of the box and swept it into the net.
That took the wind out of Ashfield who had been playing quite well up until that point, but they looked like their heads went down as the recriminations started – none more so than from the sidelines. Thistle pressed home their advantage and came close a minute later with a shot from Ryan Innes that he hooked over his shoulder but it went over the bar.
There wasn’t much in the game although Larkhall were probably the better team for the rest of the half and nearly doubled the lead after 31 minutes when Scott Nicholl hit a tremendous long crossfield pass that landed right at the feet of Reid who found himself clear in on goal but Sommerville came out well and dived at his feet to smother the attempt.
Ashfield’s first shot at goal came a minute later after a move down the right when Barbour did well to get an effort in but in hit the side netting and didn’t trouble McAlpine. Thistle had their last attempt of the half in 38 minutes when Reid was again in on goal but once again Sommerville read the situation and was out quickly to deal with it, Matty Clarke picked up the loose ball and laid it off for Mark Canning but his shot was high and wild.
Half Time: Larkhall Thistle 1 Ashfield 0
If the first half was a bit uneventful, the second was a complete damp squib although the worsening conditions were largely to blame with players struggling to keep their feet and puddles appearing at the edges of the park. Thistle’s best early efforts came from two Scott Nicholl corners, the first of which hit the near post and the second, minutes later, was header narrowly wide by Innes.
The Jags made an early change with Clarke being replaced by Kelly, with McKeever going wide left and Innes moving to right midfield. It wasn’t the most positive change by the manager and Kelly struggled to get into the game with his passing unusually going astray on a few occasions.
Shug did make his best contribution though minutes after coming on when he won the ball in the centre circle and sent a great ball inside the Ashfield defender for McKeever to run on to, he was beaten to it by Barbour but the ball went loose and Canning was first onto it, chipping narrowly over the bar from the edge of the box.
Scott Nicholl was called into action minutes later when Ashfield made their only threatening move of the half, throwing himself across to get in a great block from a shot by Fraser.
That was about it until seven minutes from time when the home support was up in arms as McLaughlin appeared to throw a punch at McGeachie’s back off the ball, McGeachie and Ashfield’s Barbour were booked in the ensuing skirmish with the real culprit getting off scot free.
Thistle had a couple of chances to seal the win before the end, Sommerville made a mess of a punt from Kelly and it fell for Reid, his cross was headed past by Schoneville from just six yards with the goal at his mercy. Then Reid cleverly leaned into his marker to allow the ball to run for the incoming Canning but his shot was once again over the bar from just inside the box.
This was definitely one to forget for players and fans alike. The win keeps Thistle in eighth place but closes the gap between them and the top half of the table to just one point, next week is a trip to St Anthony’s.
Full Time: Larkhall Thistle 1 Ashfield 0
Colquhoun (McAlpine 18); Reynolds, Schoneville, Brown, Nicholl; McKeever, Innes, Canning, Clarke (Kelly 55); McGeachie, Reid. Subs: McPhee, Jack, Cooke
Sommerville, Barbour, Tolland, Scullion, McLaghlin, Eadie, McDonald, Hardie, Fraser, McGowan, Kidd. Subs: Tolland, Griffin, Docherty, Morris, Yule
Thistle scorers: McGeachie
Best on the day for Thistle: Not a lot to write home about but David Reid was always a willing runner up front and was Thistle’s main goal threat while Andy Brown and Scott Nicholl were solid at the back.