Central League First Division
Gasworks Park, Larkhall
Larkhall Thistle v Benburb
Summer football returned to Gasworks Park with the players and spectators basking in the hottest day of the season. At 2-0, Benburb manager Frank Lovering’s opinion was that they were two poor teams but that Graham Gracie was a good player – he got at least one of these statements right as the big man went on to blow his team off the park with a second half hat-trick.
Some people at the club didn’t think that Thistle had this kind of performance in them this season, until now they had been a bit jaded and lacklustre but this was the day that it all clicked into place. The return of Ross McGeachie up front to partner Gracie was a significant factor in the display and with David Reid’s energy on the right and Scott Nicholl at left back, the team had a much better balance about it.
The game began in a lively style with both teams having half chances before the first goal – keeper Alan Colquhoun pulled off very good saves before and after the goal to keep the sides level and if either had gone in it might well have been a much different game.
Thistle took the lead in the 17th minute after excellent work by Gracie on the right wing, getting the ball and cutting inside the defender before hitting the byeline and squaring almost across the goal line for a tap-in for Ryan Innes.
Having worked out how to get through the Bens defence, it was a case of repeating the action nine minutes later with an almost identical move, this time it was McGeachie on the end of Gracie’s cross.
McGeachie had a great opportunity for his second goal and to tie the game up 12 minutes before the break. Matty Clarke slipped a great pass through the centre of the defence for him to latch on to and go one on one with keeper Tiropoulos but his shot was within reach and the chance was lost.
Half Time: Larkhall Thistle 2 Benburb 0
The second half was only a couple of minutes old when Alan Colquhoun pulled off another spectactular save when he got a hand to a 25 yard pot shot that was heading for the roof of the net.
Scott Nicholl then got himself involved in a skirmish with Benburb’s Livingston and might count himself a shade fortunate to only get a yellow card for his reaction.
Gracie then gave a taster of what was about to come when he took the ball forward on the left and hit a low shot across Tiropoulos but he got down well to save. Eight minutes later though Gracie did get his name on the scoresheet when the ball bobbled about from a corner and he swung his left foot at it and scuffed it in.
The Jags further extended their lead with the best goal of the game when Niall Reynolds played a through ball for Gracie on the left side of the box and he showed his renewed confidence by taking the ball in and dinking it over the keeper into the net. That came in the 77th minute and the Jags made all three substitutions a couple of minutes either side of the goal with Jack, Duris and McKeever replacing Reid, Nicholl and Clarke.
Larkhall put the cherry on the cake in the 83rd minute when big Graham completed his hat-trick. Jordan Marshall did well to win the ball and played it throught to Gracie who played a nice one-two with Canning to get past the last defender before rounding the keeper and rolling the ball into the net.
A great performance all round but one that needs to be kept up for Thistle to start climbing the league. Next week is another home game, Maryhill are the visitors and the manager will be looking to get another three points on the board.
Full Time: Larkhall Thistle 5 Benburb 0
Colquhoun; Reynolds, Schoneville, Marshall, Nicholl (Duris 78); Reid (Jack 76), Innes, Canning, Clarke (McKeever 78); McGeachie, Gracie. Subs: Moss, Brown
Tiropoulos; O’Donnell, P Lovering, McInnes, Ward, Wright, Burns, Galloway, Livingston, Barbour, Sorrentino Subs: Davis, Barr, Murphy, R Lovering, Aitken
Thistle scorers: Gracie (3), Innes, McGeachie
Best on the day for Thistle: very good performances from Alan Colquhoun and Jordan Marshall in defence but Graham Gracie was the difference between the teams.