Abbey Park, Kilwinning
Kilwinning Rangers v Larkhall Thistle
Scottish Cup 2nd Round
The last time Thistle met Kilwinning in the Scottish Cup in 2011 – 2012 saw an end to the Jags best run in recent times with a 2-1 home loss in the replay after a 2-2 draw at Abbey Park. It will also be remembered as the day Davie McEwan, arguably Thistle’s best keeper of the last 30 years, picked up an injury that he never fully recovered from. Any Thistle supporter who was at the first game will hve felt aggrieved that they had to settle for a draw and a replay in a game they should have won.
The Jags went into the game with a depleted squad, Josh Payne and Scott Nicholl both unavailable to add to long-term injured Kelly, Thomson and Mushett but started the game well and looked as if they would be a match for their high flying opponents. First to threaten was Graham Gracie who had a great chance inside the first five minutes when he burst clear on the left and fired in a low shot wide of the target.
Larkhall were competing well and had raised their game for the Scottish against the 1/9 shots but they were having trouble coping with Kilwinning’s twelfth man, the referee who gave Thistle absolutely nothing. Since these reports started five years ago, referees have been mentioned maybe about half a dozen times. Everybody knows and accepts that they will get decisions wrong but nobody will accept a referee being biased in favour of one team. Every decision went the way of the home side, every possible advantage to Thistle was pulled back for a foul to the home side and every borderline tackle by a Jags player resulted in a booking.
As the half time whistle approached the game looked to be heading towards a goalless first half when Larkhall broke up the park and had the ball in the net. Craig Forbes started the move with a cushioned pass to Mark Canning, the captain swept a pass forward to Graham Gracie who played it out left to David Reid. The wide man hit a shot/cross low across the area and it was tapped in at the back post by Forbes. To absolutely nobody’s surprise, the referee chalked the goal off for offside on the advice of his linesman (a man who incidentally bemused the Thistle sideline by asking them to keep the noise down!)
No goals then in an evenly matched first half and a very satisfactory one for Thistle.
Half time: Kilwinning Rangers 0 Larkhall Thistle 0
After a good first half for Thistle, the question was whether they would have the fitness to last the pace against a top league team who in fairness had already looked half a yard sharper and had three Scottish Junior internationals in their team. Gracie featured again at the start of the second half with a run down the right but he was prevented from going clear by the big No5 central defender, an expensive buy from Auchinleck Talbot, who stopped him in his tracks with an excellent tackle.
Almost immediately the Buffs broke up the park and nearly took the lead with a well struck shot that cannoned off the bar, a let-off for Thistle. There was a feeling that the tide was turning in favour of the home side and that a goal was coming but the referee decided to hurry procedings along with the most mysterious of penalty awards.
The incident came from a corner to Kilwinning, the ball was swung over and Thistle got it clear. Play went on as normal but to everybody’s astonishment the referee stopped play and gave Kilwinning a penalty for what he indicated was pulling in the box. Not a single player went down or even claimed to have been fouled, only the referee knows why he awarded the kick.
Step up Johnny Duncan who has been nothing short of outstanding since he replaced the injured Stuart Thomson. Admittedly it wasn’t the world’s best hit penalty but Duncan got down brilliantly to block then back up again to narrow the angle and force the follow up shot wide into the side netting.
It was a tight game and as often happens in these kind of games, it changed on two incidents within a minute. Graham Gracie sprinted forward onto a through ball and beat the centre half for pace, going clear with just the keeper to beat but he hit his shot too straight and gave the goalie the chance to block. Kilwinning went almost straight up the park and took the lead through Winters who was first to react to a clearance from Duncan and hit the ball low into the corner.
The home lead only lasted a couple of minutes though before Thistle showed their fighting qualities to draw level. Reid played a low ball into the box from the wide left position and the Kilwinning defender made a hash of his clearance attempt, the ball falling perfectly for Ryan Innes who drove it into the corner of the net.
Unfortunately though they didn’t stay level for very long and Kilwinning scored what turned out to be the winner just five minutes later when Nisbet had too much time and space on the right to drive in and pick his spot in the far corner of the goal. Matty Clarke and Johnny McStay came on to try and freshen the team up but neither were able to contribute anything to getting the equaliser Thistle needed. As the game wore on, Kilwinning got stronger and created a flurry of late chances but couldn’t add to their lead.
In the end Thistle gave a great account of themselves but nobody could deny the better team won. Thankfully they managed to do it without the referee’s decisions making a difference to the score.
Full time: Kilwinning Rangers 2 Larkhall Thistle 1
Duncan; Robb, Brown, Reynolds; Canning; Forbes (Clarke 79), Innes, Jack, Reid; G McStay (J McStay 65), Gracie. Subs: McKeever, Thomson (GK)
Booked: Robb, Innes, Reid, G McStay
MoM: No failures today, Mark Canning showed why he is needed in the team, Andy Brown and Billy Robb were rock solid at the back, Johnny Duncan pulled off a great penalty save and Gary McStay outclassed anybody on the park when he had the ball at his feet. But for showing the fight and desire needed to compete against the big teams and for the well taken goal man of the match is Ryan Innes.