Larkhall Thistle 2 St Roch’s 1 – 13th May 2017

Gasworks Park, Larkhall
Larkhall Thistle v St Roch’s
Central League First Division

 

 

Thistle manager Dunky Sinclair went into the biggest game of his time at the Jags with three changes from the win at Lesmahagow. Scott Nicholl was suspended and his driving runs to the 18 yard line and diagonal passes would be a miss after a good game last week. Brian Jack dropped to the bench with Mark McKeever and back came Andy Brown, Hugh Kelly and Gary McStay.

 

A bit of early rain wasn’t enough to put the game in any doubt and the conditions added to what was already going to be a powdrekeg fixture. The rivalry between the teams goes way back in time and with both on 51 points, the winner was assured of promotion to the Super League.

 

The Thistle committee had worked with the police to ensure that the game went off without a hitch and did a great job in organising and segregating the two sets of supporters and the game was played in a safe if somewhat hostile atmosphere, although the noise from both sides made it more of an occasion.

 

The teams have been well matched all season with both having great spells and mini-slumps and it’s often said than on occasions like this it comes down to who wants it most and handles the occasion the best. In the first half that was without question Thistle.

 

The Jags came roaring out of the blocks and tore at the St Roch’s goal from the off. The pressure paid off after just nine minutes when Larkhall took the lead with what was in the circumstances, probably the goal of the season.

 

 

Larkhall won a free kick on the half way line and Canning swept the ball wide to the right edge of the box, Josh Payne knocked a first-time ball back across the area and Graham Gracie took over. He flicked the ball up with his left foot then right foot past the last defender before volleying it in with his left, a truly brilliant effort.

 

The goal settled Thistle and they had a great chance to go further ahead eight minutes later with a fine team move, Kelly played the ball out to Gracie wide on the left and he took it down the wing before delivering a perfect ball into the six yard area for McStay to slide in and connect with, unfortunately the St Roch’s keeper Stark made a great save to deny what looked like a certain goal.

 


Thistle continued to dominate the first half with Kelly and Ryan Innes winning the battles in midfield and Gracie giving the St Roch’s defence all sorts of problems up front. The visitors only had one significant effort on goal in the first half, a shot from just outside the box that Thomson got down well to block.

 

Half time and Thistle well in control although with just a slender advantage.

 

Half Time: Larkhall Thistle 1 St Roch’s 0

 

The second half started well for Thistle and they went 2-0 up within two minutes of the restart.

 

Liam Mushett broke up a St Roch’s attack and launched the ball up the park and the second ball was picked up by Kelly. He played it forward towards Gracie and the St Roch’s defender made a calamatous attempt at heading it away, totally misjudging the flight of the ball. It broke to Gracie and he swept it to the right into the path of the overlapping Canning who took one touch and slotted it low into the corner.

 

 

With the second goal, St Roch’s realised it was now all or nothing and they had to go for it. To their credit that is exactly what the did, they fought with everything they had for the remainder of the game to try and get the draw that they needed. Spurred on by their combative number 8 Daw who sailed close to the wind on several occasions but managed to escape without the referee taking action. He also took the constant barracking from the home fans in good part, smiling and waving five fingers for some reason.

 

Apart from letting off the Daw, the referee was more than lenient towards the visiting keeper who could have seen a straight red for what was an assault on Gracie, but he capped even that with a penalty award for St Roch’s after 57 minutes. The striker was heading away from goal and posed no threat at all, Thomson in fairness didn’t need to lunge in but there didn’t seem to be much contact and the striker took a couple of steps before deciding to go down and try his luck.

 

 

The penalty was converted by Daw and sparked a good spell for the visitors.

 

The pressure was now all towards Jags keeper Thomson but the defence held firm, Andy Brown and Niall Reynolds coping well and Liam Mushett winning every ball in the middle in the air. The situation got even more nervous for Thistle when they brought on substitute Musa, inexplicably left out as he is their top scorer and looked by far their most dangerous player.

 

Matty Clarke came on in the second half for Gary McStay who wasn’t having any luck up front but Clarke’s main duties were defensive and he did well covering on the left side in particular.

 

For all their pressure, St Roch’s didn’t really create many real chances, the best of them was a great run down the goal line from Musa, Thomson did well to block his dinked shot at the end of it and send it out for a corner. It wasn’t all one way though and Thistle threatened on the break with efforts from David Reid and Gracie.

 

Full time came and Thistle had held out for the win that the home supporters would say they deserved, while the St Roch’s fans would argue they deserved a point. There was nothing much between the sides as there hasn’t been all season but one of them had to lose out.

 

Full Time: Larkhall Thistle 2 St Roch’s 1

 

Scorers: Gracie, Canning

 

Website Man of the Match: No failures today and although Liam Mushett was again fantastic in a great defensive display, Graham Gracie just edges him out with his work rate and brilliant goal.

 

Larkhall Thistle:
S.Thomson; Brown, Mushett, Reynolds; Payne, Innes (Jack 90), Canning, Kelly, Reid (McKeever 86); McStay, (Clarke 45), Gracie. Subs: D.Thomson (GK), Stewart, Rutherford

 

Booked: Innes, Gracie, Thomson, Canning

 

*** Video taking a while to upload, expected about 7pm

 

Bellshill Athletic 0 Larkhall Thistle 3 – 15th April 2017

Rockburn Park, Springburn
Bellshill Athletic v Larkhall Thistle
Central League First Division

 

Bellshill’s new ground maybe reflects the troubles that the club has gone though since they moved from their old park in the town centre, a bit of fenced off spare grass at the bottom of a scheme but at least they’re back in Bellshill. It’s hard not to feel a bit of sympathy for them in their current situation but it is a reminder of how much of a struggle it is to keep teams like them (and indeed Thistle) going, great credit is due to everybody who gives up their time to make it happen.

 

The two teams both had everything to play for but for different reasons, Thistle knew if they kept winning the league title was in their own hands but their hosts were fighting to avoid relegation. Mark McKeever and Ryan Innes were recalled to the starting line up in place of Gary McStay and suspended captain Mark Canning.

 

 

 

The Jags got off to a flyer when they took the lead after 10 minutes, McKeever latching on to a through ball to confidently roll it past keeper McGraw. The rest of the half was one-way traffic as Thistle took the game to their hosts without much in the way of reply.

 

Graham Gracie had the chance to make it 2-0 before the break when he was put in on the keeper and only a great save denied him.

 

Half Time: Bellshill Athletic 0 Larkhall Thistle 1

 

The second half was more of the same, the ball generally heading in the direction of the Bellshill goal. There were few real chances but the best of Thistle’s fell to Innes who inexplicably put the ball past the post from five yards out. There was a scare at 1-0 when ‘Hill full back Chalmers strode forward and hit a tremendous long range dipping effort that thhe home supporters thought had gone in but had just cleared the bar. It was to prove their only real threat of the 90 minutes.

 

Larkhall finally got the breakthrough in 72 minutes when David Reid snatched a goal, the ball bobbled in the box and fell to Ryan Innes who slipped it through to Reid for an easy finish. The relief was written all over Div’s face at finally getting a goal and his reaction was typical of this Jags team who now know they are in with a real chance.

 

Div got his own second and Thistle’s third six minutes from time, after being unselfishly set up by substitute Gary McStay he shimmied the Bellshill defence to create space for himself in the box before drilling the ball low past the keeper.

 

The combination of a poor uneven surface and a howling wind meant that there wasn’t much silky football on show but any that there was came from Thistle. Although Bellshill battled hard, this was as comfortable a win as Thistle could have hoped for, the Jags were in truth fitter, faster and stronger all over the park.

 

With Cambuslang not playing and St Roch’s only drawing with Wishaw, the league position has been strengthened and the Jags are now level with St Roch’s on 44 points with a game in hand and five points behind Cambuslang with three games in hand.

 

Full Time: Bellshill Athletic 0 Larkhall Thistle 3

 

Website man of the match: Josh Payne had a great first half and Hugh Kelly controlled the midfield. Andy Brown however never put a foot wrong and is probably overdue a MoM so he gets it today.

 

Larkhall Thistle:
S. Thomson; Brown, Reynolds, Nicholl; Kelly; Payne, Jack, Innes, Reid, McKeever (McStay 75), Gracie (Mushett 85). Subs: Rutherford, Stewart, D.THomson

 

Bellshill Athletic: McGraw; Chalmers, Shaw, Simon, Howarth; Peat, Smith, Nichol, Brunton; Simpson, Brown

 

Scorers: McKeever, Reid (2)

 

Booked: Nicholl

 

Larkhall Thistle 2 Arthurlie 2 (3-5 pens) – 1st April 2017

Gasworks Park, Larkhall
Larkhall Thistle v Arthurlie
Central League Cup – Second Round

 

Thistle’s current 9 game unbeaten league run stretches back to Cambuslang on Guy Fawkes day, but their cup form hasn’t been quite the same losing out to Fauldhouse and Craigmark Burntonians at home. This however was a free hit at the Super Premier big boys with the Jags not expected to get past the tie.

 

It was a young looking Arthulie team that took the field but they showed that they had junior level grit with a first minute challenge that left Ryan Innes reeling on the deck. It wasn’t to be the last go at him either as later on he had to go off for treatment with a head knock that left him bleeding.

 

The Jags got off to a dream start with a goal inside the first three minutes, Garry McStay took a great touch and rolled the ball into the path of Graham Gracie who kept a cool head to slot it in low past keeper Hay.

 

 

Gracie had another chance to score minutes later but this time couldn’t find the net as he put his shot past the post.

 

Arthurlie gradually came into the game though and after 18 minutes drew level when Liam Mushett misjudged a ball in the air and Deas ran through to score easily with a low shot to Thomson’s right from 14 yards out.

 

Arthurlie had the best chance of taking a lead into the break with a close range header but Thomson produced the first of his brilliant saves to somehow throw out a hand and tip the ball over the bar.

 

Half Time: Larkhall Thistle 1 Arthurlie 1

 

The first chance of the second half fell to Thistle from a corner, David Reid put over a good ball and it found its way through to Mushett who placed his header wide of the post when he really should have done better.

 

Thomson was called upon again with another great save, coming out of his goal and blocking a shot when the Arthurlie player was through on goal.

 

The visitors were awarded a penalty in an incident that Niall Reynolds will want to forget, he called for a ball then didn’t make it, handing possession to an opponent who broke clear. Reynolds chased him, determined to win the ball back but in his eagerness to make up for his mistake needlessly brought him down just inside the box. Tommo again came to the rescue with a stop from Lie’s Smith to keep the scores level.

 

Going into the last ten minutes the game was evenly poised with the Super Premier team never looking two leagues above Thistle. Both teams were playing a similar type of game with long balls out of defence.

 

The game looked like it was heading for penalties but Arthurlie got their noses in front again when sub Murty was too strong for Josh Payne, then the big number 10 Smith outmuscled Andy Brown to put the ball through to McLernan who got the wrong side of Mushett and slotted low into the net.

 

 

Thistle kept pushing for the equaliser they had deserved on the day and it came in the last minute of normal time when Payne score direct from a corner kick.

 

Full time came and Arthurlie scored with the first penalty. As Reynolds went to take Thistle’s first, the referee wasn’t happy with the position of the ball and made him re-spot it then fussed around him – clearly putting him off his kick which was saved.

 

The rest of the penalties were scored by both teams and Arthurlie won 5-3, a poor way for the Jags to go out and the referee needs to take at least a bit of the blame.

 

Full Time: Larkhall Thistle 2 Arthurlie 2 (3-5 pens)

 

Scorers: Gracie, Payne

 

Website Man of the Match: Graham Gracie had a good first half and took his goal well, in contrast Stewart Thomson had a shaky start when he dropped the ball a couple of times but settled after a great save to put in a man of the match performance.

 

Larkhall Thistle:
S.Thomson; Brown, Mushett, Reynolds; Kelly (Nicholl 70); Payne, Innes, Jack, Reid; McStay, Gracie. Subs: Clarke, Stewart, Rutherford, D.Thomson (GK)

 

Arthurlie:
Hay. Convery, Brennan, Chisholm, McGregor; Deas, McKie, Leyden, Carroll, Smith, McLernan. Subs Graham, Mundy

 

St Roch’s 1 Larkhall Thistle 1 – 25th March 2017

James McGrory Park, Glasgow
St Roch’s v Larkhall Thistle
Central League First Division

 

After a run of four homes games and not having played away since early January, Thistle made the trip to Provanmill for this vital top of the league clash between the second and third placed teams.

 

The Jags had injury worries, Brian Jack had stitches round his eye and both keepers were carrying knocks and were doubtful. Captain Mark Canning was also doubtful due to work commitments but Stewart Thomson started in goal and Canning made it too, with Brian Jack on the bench.

 

A fine day and the lack of any senior games brought out a big crowd for the game with the vast majority supporting the home team, a dream day for the club treasurer with hundreds cramming the home terracing and shed behind the goal.

 

Thistle got off to a bright start moving the ball forward well but without anything happening up front, Graham Gracie was through on the keeper but flagged offside then Matty Clarke had a chance to play him in moments later but overplayed it on the left side and lost the opportunity.

 

The playing surface was in poor condition and the ball was constantly taking strange bobbles making it hard to play a passing game on the deck and the big St Roch’s defence meant high balls into the area weren’t going to come to much either.

 

 

The tone of the game changed after 11 minutes though when a mix up in the Jags defence let Maguire in to score with a shot into the top corner that left Thomson with no chance. They nearly added to the lead ten minutes later when another mix up, this time between Hugh Kelly and David Reid, gifted the ball which was swept out to the left wing and the St Roch’s man did well to create space for a shot that just came off the outside of the post with Thomson stranded.

 

 

Minutes later Niall Reynolds had to clear one that might have been heading in as St Roch’s settled in and controlled rest of the half, forcing Thistle back into defending deep for most of it. The Jags came closest when Gracie chased down what looked like a lost cause and won the ball back for Reid whose shot brought out a low diving save from Stark.

 

 

Half Time: St Roch’s 1 Larkhall Thistle 0

 

St Roch’s were out of the blocks early in the second half with a quick turn and shot that went just past the post and it looked like we might be in for more of the same, but Thistle have developed a steely edge in their unbeaten run and they weren’t going to go down without a fight.

 

Liam Mushett was involved going forward as well as in defence and he got his head onto a free kick which was partly cleared by a defender but fell back to him, his follow-up shot was well saved and fell to Clarke but he couldn’t adjust his feet in time to tap it into the empty net.

 

Thistle got their equaliser from the penalty spot ten minutes into the half after a Gracie throw-in had again only been cleared as far as Canning on the edge of the box. His shot hit a defender who was going to ground but left his arm up, the referee deciding there was enough in it for a penalty. Canning took the kick himself and beat Stark to the keeper’s right. Shortly after the goal the skipper was taken off due to what looked like an injury to his ribs he’d picked up earlier in the game and was replaced by Brian Jack.

 

 

It would have been a bold referee who awarded Larkhall a second penalty just five minutes later in front of the 700 fans who might just have thought it wasn’t – Jack hit the post and Gracie seemed to be impeded by two defenders who threw themselves down and bowled him over but in the circumstances anything short of catching the ball with both hands was never going to be given.

 

Going into the last quarter of a pulsating match, St Roch’s pressed again and went close with a free header that just cleared the bar when it should have hit the target at least, then even closer with a ball right across the face of the goal just two yards out that had no takers for an easy tap-in. Thomson was then called into action to get a vital touch on a point-blank shot after a corner had been headed back across the goal.

 

Thistle finished the game with the best chances to sneak a win, Mushett helped the ball on towards goal and Ryan Innes nipped in front of the keeper but sent his header just wide, then a St Roch’s defender mysteriously tried to dribble out from his own goal line and got caught out but the ball trundled across the face of the goal and past. In their last effort, keeper Stark and one of his defenders between them managed to hand the ball to Gracie who tried to lob it back into the empty net but didn’t get enough height on it.

 

This was Thistle – and St Roch’s – biggest league game for many a year. The league positions and crowd made it a real big match occasion and it required big players to step up and perform. The Thistle back three and keeper were outstanding other than the blip for the goal and Hugh Kelly and Canning put everything into midfield, Gracie got through a lot of work and led the line well but the real driving force behind what was a tremendous point was Ryan Innes. A magnificent fighting display in the middle of the park that set the marker that Thistle weren’t going to be intimidated by the occasion and were here to scrap and battle for everything that was going.

 

A word about St Roch’s, they have had their problems with some of their supporters recently but manager Andy Cameron and the committee pulled out all the stops to make this as safe as they could for the travelling Thistle support. In the event it all passed off peacefully and in what has to be said was a great atmosphere, and although there is an intense rivalry between the two clubs it was settled where it should be settled, on the park.

 

Full Time: St Roch’s 1 Larkhall Thistle 1

 

Website man of the match: Ryan Innes

 

Larkhall Thistle:
S. Thomson; Brown, Mushett, Reynolds; Kelly; Payne, Innes, Canning (Jack 56), Reid (Nicholl 78); Clarke (McStay 68), Gracie. Subs: McKeever, Doyle, D. Thomson

Scorers: Canning

Booked: Innes, Mushett, Payne, McStay

 

 

Larkhall Thistle 5 Vale of Clyde 0 – 18th March 2017

Gasworks Park, Larkhall
Larkhall Thistle v Vale of Clyde
Central League First Division

 

Thistle went into today’s game looking to maintain their good recent record that has seen them put themselves into a realistic title challenging position. With Cambslang Rangers losing again today, it now looks like a genuine three-way title race with St Roch’s only a point behind in second and Thistle six points behind with four games in hand.

Manager Dunky Sinclair rested Mark McKeever and replaced him with Matty Clarke in a front pairing with Graham Gracie in the only change from last week’s win.

The Jags got off to the best possible start with a goal after just three minutes, Graham Gracie following up to pounce on the rebound when a shot from Clarke hit the post after good work from Josh Payne on the right.

 

 

Thistle extended their lead in the thirteenth minute after a defensive mix up saw the ball fall into the path of Matty Clarke who lobbed it back into the empty net.

Brian Jack had to go off with a head knock midway through the half but it looked to be more of a precaution than a forced move, he was replaced by Hugh Kelly.

At 2-0 up the game should have been all but done but to their credit Vale rolled up their sleeves and battled back into the game, which settled into a dour physical midfield tussle.

Thistle were having most luck when they got the ball out wide to Reid and Payne but despite good work from both there wasn’t much of an end product and the score stayed the same till the half time break.

 

Half Time: Larkhall Thistle 2 Vale of Clyde 0

 

The second half was more of the same until Thistle got the breakthrough twenty minutes in, Nicholl and Gracie exchanged passes on the left before the striker whipped in a low cross that struck a Vale of Clyde defender three yards out and left the keeper with no chance.

 

 

The third goal effectively killed off any hopes of a revival from the visitors and for the remainder of the game it looked like a case of how many Thistle would get. As has happened on several occasions this season though, a few good chances went unconverted especially in light of Vale having to play the game with an outfield player in goals. This season especially given how tight the top of the league is, let’s just hope that the missed chances don’t come back to haunt them.

The Jags did go further ahead six minutes from time with a move that was started from a long pass out wide from substitute Scott Nicholl, the other substitute Gary McStay received the ball and put in a great pass across the six yard box for Gracie who rolled in past the helpless keeper.

Thistle rounded off the scoring with a goal from Gracie to complete his hat-trick with what turned out to be the last kick of the game.

A good win and a few goals to boost the goal difference, but the Thistle management will be just as pleased with the rare clean sheet.

 

Full Time: Larkhall Thistle 5 Vale of Clyde 0

 

Scorers: Gracie 3, Clarke, o.g.

 

Website Man of the Match: Great to see Graham Gracie looking more like his old self and showing that he still has the ability to be the best striker in the league with a hat trick and the assist for the o.g.

 

Larkhall Thistle:
D.Thomson; Brown, Mushett, Reynolds (Nicholl 54); Payne, Innes, Canning, Jack (Kelly 24), Reid; Clarke, Gracie. Subs: Doyle, McKeever, S.Thomson (GK)

 

 

Larkhall Thistle 2 Johnstone Burgh 1 – 18th February 2017

Gasworks Park, Larkhall
Larkhall Thistle v Johnstone Burgh
Central League First Division

After last week’s disappointing exit out of the West of Scotland Cup, Thistle looked to bounce back and keep their league challenge on track.

As they have done for most of the season, the Jags controlled most of the early part of the game and created a couple of good chances, two David Reid crosses in quick succession from the left almost produced goals – firstly from a Johnstone Burgh player who was lucky to deflect the ball off the post and not into the goal, then from a Hugh Kelly header from point-blank range that keeper Kelly did brilliantly to save.

What should have been the turning point of the game came midway through the half when Brian Jack lunged into a tackle from behind after having just been booked, he was duly sent packing and Thistle had 70+ minutes to try and see out with ten men.

Larkhall were forced into a change shortly after when Gary McStay hobbled off to be replaced by Hugh Kelly, a change that might have been going to take place anyway to cope with the man disadvantage.

Burgh couldn’t take advantage of the extra man though and although there were good chances at both ends, somehow the teams got to half time goalless.

Half Time: Larkhall Thistle 0 Johnstone Burgh 0

Johnstone were first to show in the second half and they scored within three minutes of the restart with a goal that the Jags players must have been very disappointed to lose. Mark McKeever couldn’t prevent winger Fitzpatrick from getting his cross in after some fancy footwork on the left and it was met with a free header in the middle that keeper Thomson got a hand to but probably would have felt he should have kept out.

The fact that Thistle were a man down didn’t seem to have any effect at all on the game and they kept up the onslaught on the Burgh goal all the way through the second half. The pressure produced an equaliser ten minutes into the half with a cracking strike from Mark Canning that rivals Niall Reynolds overhead kick for goal of the season at Gasworks.

The main criticisms of the team this season have been the failure to convert enough of the chances they create and not being able to hold on to a lead. The first one was certainly true today and it could have easily been five or six before Ryan Innes hit the winner with a low drive across the keeper.

They did however manage to hold on to the lead this time and get the win. Both teams had some great chances with Liam Mushett heading over the bar from six yards and keeper Kelly having a couple of great saves.

As the game drew to a close, Johnstone pressed hard for a winner but some great defending kept them at bay and Thistle held on for the win that they deserved.

Full time: Larkhall Thistle 2 Johnstone Burgh 1

Website man of the match:
Ryan Innes who dug in brilliantly. His energy made up for the man short in midfield, topped by the winning goal.
Larkhall Thistle:
S. Thomson; Brown, Mushett, Reynolds; McKeever (Doyle 87), Jack, Canning, Innes, Reid; Gracie, McStay (Kelly 27). Subs: Payne, D. Thomson (GK)

Johnstone Burgh:
Kelly; McCormick, Nugent, Perrie, Carson; Usher, McIntyre, McBride Hewitt, Docherty, McGonigal, Fitzpatrick. Subs: Gaddi, Ramsay, McStay, Wilson (GK)

Scorers: Canning, Innes

Booked: Gracie, Sent off: Jack

Video highlights below

Benburb 2 Larkhall Thistle 3 – 7th January 2017

New Tinto Park, Glasgow
Benburb v Larkhall Thistle
Central League First Division

 

Thistle made their first visit to the new Tinto Park hoping to keep their recent good run going after the Christmas break. The management duo of Tam McLaughin (still on holiday) and Dunky Sinclair (hospitalised with an infected toe) were both missing so the Jags turned to their own three wise men in senior players Mark McKeever, Mark Canning and Hugh Kelly to take charge for the day.

 

On the playing side, Matty Clarke was out as he is still on holiday.

 

The game started with Benburb on the attack and the early pressure paid off for them with a goal inside two minutes. The Thistle defence was caught napping as a ball was delivered to the back post on the right and the Bens player had time to bring it down and slot it past Thomson in the Jags goal.

 

 

After a shaky first fifteen minutes where the home side looked like they might add to the lead, Larkhall came back into the game and started to dominate the midfield with acting co-manager/player/skipper Mark Canning pulling most of the strings.

The referee had denied Thistle a penalty earlier and booked Graham Gracie for simulation but the Jags did get a spot kick for handball in the 30th minute which Canning put away into the bottom corner.

 

 

Graham Gracie nearly put Thistle ahead when he nipped in and intercepted a poor pass-back but his effort didn’t have enough on it to get it over the line. As the half drew to a close, it was Thistle who were well on top and looking most likely to get a lead but that almost went the other way with a slip-up from Andy Brown who sold a back-pass short and let the Benburb player in on goal, fortunately the effort was wide.

 

 

Just before the break, Gracie cut in on his left foot to hit a shot that the home keeper saved but failed to hold, the rebound fell right to Ryan Innes who slotted the ball home low into the corner.

 

Half Time: Benburb 1 Larkhall Thistle 2

 

The second half changed with Benburb belying their bottom-half position by coming out and attacking strongly looking for an equaliser and they nearly got one early on with a header that went just past the post. Thistle replied with a good run and shot from David Reid that the keeper got down well to save.

 

The Jags did however convert one of their chances and extended their lead after 65 minutes when Ryan Innes stuck out a foot and poked a loose ball in from six yards.

 

 

Four minutes later Innes had a golden opportunity grab a rare hat-trick when he was put clean through on goal but the keeper managed to stick out a hand and block his effort and as often happens when a team has the chance to kill the game and doesn’t take it, Benburb went straight up the park and scored.

 

It was a tremendous goal and definitely the best moment of football in the game, a long crossfield pass was swept from left to right and the Bens player did brilliantly to stretch and keep the ball in play while delivering a perfect cross all in one movement, the ball was met with a full-on header that gave Thomson absolutely no chance.

 

 

The goal gave Benburb around 25 minutes to try and get an equaliser and they did press hard to try and get one but the Thistle defence held out well. Liam Mushett came on to replace Gary McStay who once again had shown some excellent hold up play and touches.

 

Both teams did have a few chances each in the closing stages and the home team might just have nicked a point with a penalty claim that was the last incident of the game. The referee waved it away but safe to say Paul Lovering in the home dugout possibly saw it differently.

 

 

Another great win for the Jags that puts them up into second place in the league with St Roch’s having lost to Rossvale today and given the difficult circumstances with the manager and his assistant both being out it was a fantastic performance all round.

 

Full Time: Benburb 2 Larkhall Thistle 3

 

Website man of the match: A hard one with everybody getting at least pass marks but no real outstanding performances, it was all about the team today and MoM goes to Ryan Innes whose goals made the difference.

 

Larkhall Thistle:
S. Thomson; Reynolds, Brown, Nicholl (Doyle); Canning, Innes, Jack (McKeever 89), Payne, Reid; Gracie, McStay (Mushett 76). Subs: D. Thomson, Rutherford

 

Scorers: Canning, Innes (2)

 

Booked: Gracie, Innes

 

Larkhall Thistle 1 Greenock 1 – 17th December 2016

Gasworks Park, Larkhall
Larkhall Thistle v Greenock
Central League First Division

 

The cold weather, run up to Christmas and lack of visiting support took its toll on the crowd today as Thistle started with Canning, Innes and Brown all on the bench and McStay and Jack starting in central midfield. The Jags went into the game on a run of three wins as well as having recently won away at Greenock, so it looked like being a home win as long as the attitude and application were right.

For the first 10 minutes the Jags lived up to the pre-match promise and had all of the play, Greenock literally never got our of their own half. However all that changed as they gradually came into the game and their passing football looked much more likely to produce something than the hopeful long balls Thistle were firing up to Gracie and Clarke.

Thistle’s first real attempt at goal was from a Liam Mushett header that went just over the bar from a Josh Payne cross from the right but that was about as close as they came to a goal in the first half.

Greenock thought they had the lead 15 minutes in when a floated ball caught Thomson out of his goal and came down off the bar, it looked like it might have crossed the line but the referee said he wasn’t 100% sure it was in so couldn’t give it. The follow up effort hit the bar and when the got the ball a third time, Donnelly fired well wide wasting a good opportunity.

Thistle weren’t to be outdone though and went right up the park and did the same, a cross from wide right coming off the inside of the post and back into play.

There was another major let off for Larkhall just before the half time whistle when Craig ballooned the ball over the bar from point blank range.

 

Half Time: Larkhall Thistle 0 Greenock 0

 

Manager Dunky Sinclair was obviously not entirely pleased with the events of the first half and the way that Greenock had taken control so he replaced McStay and Kelly with Canning and Innes at half time. McStay could count himself a bit unlucky as he showed some great touches in the first half.

 

Thistle turned the game around in the second half and came close with a close range effort from Ryan Innes and a smart shot on the turn from Graham Gracie, followed by a spectacular attempt on the volley from Matty Clarke that would have eclipsed even Niall Reynolds’s effort from last week if it had gone in.

 

Greenock were handed a huge chance to take the lead with just 14 minutes left when Thomson dived at the feet of their striker and was judged to have fouled him, picking up a booking for his troubles. The young keeper had been having a bit of a difficult afternoon at times so it was one of the highlights of the day to see him pull off another save from the resultant penalty, the follow up effort going well past the post.

 

 

Thistle took the lead 10 minutes from time with a goal that came about from a Greenock attack. Niall Reynolds robbed the Greenock substitute with a brilliant last ditch tackle inside the box and set up the move that eventually found Gracie wide on the left. He put in a great cross that was met by Jack who had made a perfectly timed run to meet the ball at the far post and slide it in.

 

 

Gracie almost doubled the lead minutes later with a chip that incredibly also came back off the inside of the woodwork as it looked certain to find the net.

 

It looked like all was going to plan but Greenock pulled back an equaliser that on the day they probably just deserved with a free kick out of the very top drawer, McClune hitting an unstoppable effort into the postage stamp top left corner beyond the flailing Thomson.

 

Thistle pushed hard in the last five minutes for a winner while Greenock looked to have settled for a point and David Reid almost snatched it right at the end with a shot that fizzed across the face of the goal only for keeper McWilliams to get a vital touch.

 

It was a real end to end game that both teams can be reasonably content at not having lost, although the draw brought the Jags run of wins to an end and lost them a bit of ground on the leaders. In a shock turn of events today St Roch’s won at Cambuslang to really stir things up at the top while fourth placed Wishaw also won but stay 6 points behind Thistle.

 

Full time: Larkhall Thistle 1 Greenock 1

 

Website man of the match: The defence were all excellent today but Niall Reynolds just shaded it from Mushett and Nicholl.

 

Larkhall Thistle:
D. Thomson; Reynolds, Mushett, Nicholl; Kelly, Jack (Innes 45), McStay (Canning 45), Payne, Reid; Clarke, Gracie. Subs: Brown, Doyle,

 

Greenock:
McWilliams; Orr, Doherty, McLaughlin, Mitchell; Gormley, Donnelly, McBryde, Brown, Craig, McClune

 

Scorer: Jack

 

Booked: Gracie, Innes, Thomson

 

Larkhall Thistle 2 Rossvale 1 – 10th December 2016

Gasworks Park, Larkhall
Larkhall Thistle v Rossvale
Central League First Division

After last week’s rout of Bellshill, Thistle faced what looked like it would be a far sterner test today in what was effectively a battle for third place in the league. Rossvale have been on a good run and had only lost once in their last eight games.

Thistle started the game without three big players; Mark Canning and Ryan Innes who were injured and Andy Brown who dropped out in favour of Scott Nicholl who came back in at left back. Missing their influential captain, half their regular midfield and their best defender meant it looked like being an uphill task and so it proved to be. Gary McStay and Brian Jack were recalled to midfield while David Thomson started in goals again.

larkhall-thistle-v-rossvale-1

The game started in a familiar pattern with the Jags having the majority of possession, but although they pressed the visitors defence there were no real chances to speak of in the early part of the game. Rossvale had less of the ball but when they did break, the twin threat of Osadolar and Trussler up front gave the Thistle defence plenty to contend with as they produced more clear chances and looked more like scoring.

As the half wore on Rossvale took command of the game and Thistle would have been happy to go into the interval on level terms but the referee did his best to try and change it with one of the worst penalty awards you’ll see anywhere. Osadolar found himself one on one with the young Jags keeper and as he went round him, appeared to have been hit by a sniper as he went down with nobody near him. Justice was done though as the striker took the penalty himself but his tame effort was easily stopped by Thomson.

Half Time: Larkhall Thistle 0 Rossvale 0

Once again there was an early goal at the start of the half and this time it was the Jags who appeared a bit sluggish after the break. Holmes produced a moment of real quality for his team as he turned Josh Payne out in the right back position and cut inside, drilling a low shot through a clump of players into the bottom corner.

Rossvale looked to be happy with their lead and their coaching staff were encouraging time wasting tactics with half an hour still to play. In the end it came back to bite them severely as they might well have been able to build on their lead rather than try and kill the game as instructed.

larkhall-thistle-v-rossvale-2

Scott Nicholl had taken his time getting back up to speed and he would admit the first half wasn’t his best but the second period was a different story altogether with some tremendous efforts at goal including a rasping free kick that rattled the post and a tremendous 25 yard drive that drew the best save of the day from keeper Donnelly.

The game looked like it might be drifting away from Thistle until the most unlikely of equalisers with three minutes left to play. Graham Gracie took a long throw on the right and although the tactic has come in for criticism over the years, this time it produced a goal when it mattered. The ball bounced once just past the penalty spot and Niall Reynolds watched it go over his head then swung and hit a brilliant overhead kick over the keeper and into the net.

The Jags now had the momentum and pushed for the winner which came a minute into stoppage time. Gracie drove forward on the other wing this time and picked out Jack at the back of the box, he took a touch inside the defender and scrambled the ball to substitute Matty Clarke who rolled it into the corner.

After the late losses to Fauldhouse and Lesmahagow the Jags supporters were delighted to see the tables turned this time in what was a significant result as it took them six points clear of Rossvale in fourth with a game in hand. It also took them level on points with St Roch’s who lost today, but leaders Cambuslang Rangers emphasised that they mean business with an incredible 9-1 win at Benburb.

league-table

Full time: Larkhall Thistle 2 Rossvale 1

Website man of the match: Good displays from Kelly in midfield and the Gracie/McKeever partnership up front but Liam Mushett gets the virtual bottle of champagne this week with a commanding performance in the middle of the defence.

Larkhall Thistle:
D. Thomson; Reynolds, Mushett, Nicholl; Kelly, Jack, McStay (Clarke 70), Payne, Reid; McKeever, Gracie. Subs: Brown, Doyle, Burns

Rossvale:
Donnelly; Tart, McDowell, Doherty, Leadbetter; Holmes, O’Brien, McGrath, Dickie; Osadolar, Trussler

Scorers: Reynolds, Clarke

Booked: Gracie, Kelly

Larkhall Thistle 5 Bellshill Athletic 1 – 3rd December 2016

Gasworks Park, Larkhall
Larkhall Thistle v Bellshill Athletic
Central League First Division

The Thistle players limbered up for their big night out in Newcastle with a routine win against a frankly poor Bellshill side.

larkhall-thistle-v-bellshill-athletic-1
There was almost a full squad to pick from with only regular keeper Stuart Thomson out (holiday). Scott Niicholl was available again after suspension but Liam Mushett kept his place in the back three in what was Larkhall’s first home league game since Lesmahagow in early October.

The visitors got off to a lead against the early run of play with a swirling hit that dropped in over keeper David Thomson but that was almost the entire sum of their threat on the day.

The Jags for their part made heavy weather of the first half and although they bombarded the Bellshill with chance after chance, couldn’t manage to get the breakthrough that their play deserved as Bellshill clung gamely to their lead.

larkhall-thistle-v-bellshill-athletic-2
The game turned around five minutes before half time when Josh Payne scored directly from a corner with an effort that keeper Grant must have been disappointed with. Thistle managed to take a lead into the break with a second goal just before the whistle when Gracie latched on to a loose ball in a goalmouth scramble and slammed it into the roof of the net.

larkhall-thistle-v-bellshill-athletic-2
It was no more than Thistle deserved and there couldn’t have been too many complaints if the score had been four or five.

Half Time: Larkhall Thistle 2 Bellshill Athletic 1

The second half was a bit better for Bellshill in terms of pressure and possession, but unfortunately for them worse in terms of goals. They looked to have come out as if they were on a mission but Larkhall increased the lead seven minutes into the half following a good team move when David Reid got on the end of a Mark Canning cross and planted a great header into the bottom corner.

larkhall-thistle-v-bellshill-athletic-4
Although the Jags were two goals up, memories of recent home defeats to ‘Gow and Fauldhouse from winning positions made the lead less comfortable and the pressure was added to by Bellshill having the bulk of the rest of the second half play.

Indeed it wasn’t until seven minutes from the end that Thistle put the game out of sight when they went further ahead from the penalty spot, following another sweeping move down the left side. Mark Canning stepped up and sent Grant the wrong way to make sure of the points.

larkhall-thistle-v-bellshill-athletic-4
Substitute Matty Clarke put the icing on the cake with a tap-in two minutes from time from a cross by Ryan Innes.

larkhall-thistle-v-bellshill-athletic-5
Another good result that keeps the chase for promotion on track although the team never really hit the heights they are capable of. And Although the scoreline didn’t flatter Thistle at all, it was probably as much down to the level of opposition who will surely struggle to stay in the league at this rate.

Full time: Larkhall Thistle 5 Bellshill Athletic 1

Website man of the match: As picked by recovering Thistle stalwart Hugh Kerr – Josh Payne

Larkhall Thistle:
D. Thomson; Brown, Mushett, Reynolds; Kelly (Jack 63), Payne, Innes, Canning, Reid; McKeever (Clarke 78), Gracie (McStay). Subs: Nicholl, Burns

Bellshill Athletic:
Grant; McDonald, Jeffrey, Jushkowiak, Simon; Smith, Howarth, McCormack, Brunton, Nichol, Simpson

Scorers: Payne, Gracie, Reid, Canning, Clarke

Booked: Reynolds, Kelly

Video of the highlights below, unfortunately due to (cough…) technical reasons, the Bellshill goal is missing (and also Levi’s prediction that Thistle would go on and win).