Larkhall Thistle 3 Forth Wanderers 3 – 16th August 2017

Gasworks Park, Larkhall
Larkhall Thistle v Forth Wanderers
Central Sectional League Cup Section 1

 

Thistle once again failed to beat lower-league opposition at home and missed out on a money-spinning home quarter final tie with Pollok by one goal. Although the Jags went through the section unbeaten, Forth also managed the same set of results and their goal difference was one better so they qualify from the section for the first time.

 

Despite hitting the woodwork on three separate occasions, Thistle just couldn’t get the win that the 1-1 draw with Royal Albert had left them needing.

 

Thistle went into this decisive game where only a win would be good enough. Craig Forbes was missing due to work commitments and Mark Canning and Ryan Innes were still on holiday. The Jags starting line up surprised some of the home supporters with Graham Gracie and Div Reid starting on the bench.

 

The match had an explosive start with Forth opening the scoring inside two minutes when their No 9 scored with a header. Not to be outdone, shortly after the restart Thistle were back on level terms when Jonny McStay latched on to a pass from Billy Robb and lobbed the ball over the advancing Forth keeper into the net.

 

Forth at this stage though still looked the more likely to score and it was no surprise when their No 10 picked up the ball and from the edge of the penalty area netted in Stewart Thomson’s left hand corner. This goal stung the home team and Matty Clarke should have done better when put clear on the left hand side of the box but his effort on goal did not trouble the keeper. Thistle were struggling to compete in midfield with Forth controlling this area of the pitch.

 

Half time: Larkhall Thistle 1 Forth Wanderers 2

 

Thistle started the second half in determined fashion and equalised with a goal that had more than a hint of offside about it. Jonny McStay taking the ball to the bye-line and crossing for Matty Clarke to knock the ball home. The Forth keeper then had tremendous save from a Matty Clarke free-kick and also saved well from Scott Nicol. Thistle finally went ahead when Brian Jack played in Scott Nicol who controlled the ball well and shot past Cherrie in the Forth goal.

 

Shortly after taking the lead Jonny McStay who was limping was replaced by Graham Gracie and Scott Nicol was replaced by Div Reid. Before the changes had any time to take effect Forth equalised when Hugh Kelly lost the ball and the Forth No 11 latched on to the ball and outstripped Liam Mushett to score the equaliser.

 

Thistle went on the offensive to try and get the winner with the woodwork saving Forth on three occasions and Liam Mushett missing at the back post. Graham Gracie then was desperately unlucky when his netbound shot was scrambled clear by a Forth Defender but Stewart Thomson had to tip over a great effort from the Forth No 9 to keep the Jags on level terms. Thistle continued to push forward but the Forth defence stood firm until the final whistle.

 

Forth therefore qualify for a lucrative home quarter final against Pollok by virtue of a superior goal difference of just one goal. Bit of deja vu as this happened to the Jags at this stage last season. A bitterly disappointing end to a good run with the big Super League kick-off just three days away, hopefully the team will pick themselves up and start off the league campaign with a win at Darvel on Saturday.

 

Full time: Larkhall Thistle 3 Forth Wanderers 3

 

Larkhall Thistle: Stewart Thomson; Andy Brown, Niall Reynolds, Liam Mushett; Josh Payne, Billy Robb, Hugh Kelly, Brian Jack (Gary McStay), Scott Nicol (Div Reid), Jonny McStay (Graham Gracie), Matty Clarke.

 

Booked; Billy Robb, Hugh Kelly.

 

On a night when the majority of the team looked off the pace the Man of the Match award goes to Niall Reynolds who once again was his usual competent self.

 

Larkhall Thistle 1 Royal Albert 1 – 12th August 2017

Gasworks Park, Larkhall
Larkhall Thistle v Royal Albert
Central Sectional League Cup Section 1

 

A win today would have left Thistle only needing a home draw with Forth in their final game to progress to a lucrative home tie against Pollok. The Jags were missing six players and it left the bench looking a bit short of options with only two outfield subs but the starting eleven could have been a first choice team from last year with the exception of new boy Craig Forbes.

 

Thistle are now two leagues above their Larkhall rivals and for the majority of the game played like they knew it and only had to turn up to win. It was only after going a goal down that they stepped up their game and looked like they wanted to win the game.

 

 

Albert contained some early pressure fairly comfortably and eased themselves into the game as the half wore on, looking like the team more likely to score. Thistle’s best effort came from a Brian Jack lob after a poor defensive clearance.

 

Half Time: Larkhall Thistle 0 Royal Albert 0

 

Albert had two penalty claims at the start of the half for handball and there could have been no real complaints if either one had been given. Their ealy pressure looked like producing a goal and so it did thirteen minutes into the second half.

 

 

Albert took a deserved lead after what Arthur Montford might have described as a stramash. Thistle conceded a needless free kick from the right back position and keeper Thomson punched the ball only as far as the penalty spot, where it was driven in from. Tommo saved but it rebounded and was fired in again on the half volley, well saved then hit back in, scrambled off the line and finally fired into the roof of the net.

 

Of most concern to Thistle would be the fact that there were four attempts at goal and an Albert man was quickest to the ball each time.

 

In fairness to the Jags players, they reacted well to the loss of the goal and set about the task of getting it back which the duly did fourteen minutes later, albeit helped by a big slice of luck.

 

Forbes played the ball out wide right to Josh Payne who laid it off to Graham Gracie and burst inside on a run. Gracie tried to play him in but hit the ball straight at an Albert defender who took a wild swipe and missed it altogether, allowing the ball to run into the path of Payne who curled it into the corner with a great strike.

 

 

Thistle pressed for the rest of the game and carved out a few chances, but Albert held out for a draw that to be honest was the least they deserved. If they could only reproduce that level of effort and commitment throughout the campaign they would surely be closer to the top of the league than the bottom.

 

Full Time: Larkhall Thistle 1 Royal Albert 1

 

So Albert ended Thistle’s run of eight straight wins but the Jags can take some heart from the fact that they came back and didn’t actually lose the game. Wednesday’s decider against Forth is now winner takes all and is shaping up to be a cracker.

 

Man of the Match: Josh Payne for his effort and good finish.

 

Larkhall Thistle:
Thomson; Brown, Reynolds, Nicholl; Kelly (Robb 79); Payne, Forbes, Jack, Reid, McKeever, Gracie. Subs: Doyle

 

Not much in the way of highlights in this one but the goals are in the video below.

 

Lesmahagow 2 Larkhall Thistle 3 – 5th August 2017

Craighead Park, Lesmahagow
Whitletts Victoria v Larkhall Thistle
Central Sectional League Cup Section 1

 

Thistle went into today’s game in good form and just behind Forth in the section table after Forth’s 5-2 win over Royal Albert. This was Lesmahagow’s first game of the competition. The two McStays were unavailable for the game and David Reid was on the bench with a niggling injury. Scott Nicholl was preferred to Niall Reynolds at left back while Liam Mushett started in front of Billy Robb.

 

 

Larkhall got off to a confident start, playing the ball around and keeping possession early in the game. The closest the Jags came to scoring early on though was from a shot by Josh Payne after cutting in from wide right but he sent his effort right across goal and past the other post.

 

Lesmahagow shooting up the hill in the first half offered very little in an attacking sense and all of the chances were created by Thistle, the home keeper performing miracles at times to keep his team in the game.

 

The game’s first major incident came after 20 minutes when Scott Nicholl got into a shoving match after a bad tackle on him, both players sensibly shown yellow by the referee. However two minutes later Nicholl let his temper get the better of him as he wrestled an opponent to the ground, via the unfortunate Thistle official Ross Dunn’s jaw on the way down.

 

Nicholl was shown a second yellow and Mark McKeever dropped to left back to cover.

 

The loss of a man however didn’t upset the Jags tempo in any way and they continued to dominate the game, creating chance after chance that the Gow defence did well to keep out. Thistle did take a deserved lead in 35 minutes when a long ball out of defence from McKeever found Craig Forbes on the left inside the box. Forbes cut inside and squared the ball to Graham Gracie who took his time and composed himself before slotting it into the bottom corner.

 

It took Thistle less than five minutes to double the advantage, Matty Clarke picked up the ball in the middle of the park and played it out wide to Payne on the right, the winger set Gracie away and he rolled it into the path of Ryan Innes who turned and fired a first time shot past the keeper.

 

 

As the Jags coasted towards a well-earned half time break the referee threw Gow a lifeline with a highly contentious penalty award for a clash of heads between a Gow forward and Andy Brown. The penalty was converted and the lead was cut to one goal at the break.

 

Half Time: Lesmahagow 1 Larkhall Thistle 2

 

The second half had just started when the referee gave his third match-changing decision to Lesmahagow by awarding them another soft penalty. Jags keeper Thomson had no chance with the spot kick and now Thistle were up against it for the first time in the game, hitting up the slope and with the momentum now firmly with the home side.

 

 

Thankfully however the Jags are a better team than Lesmahagow and the team spirit is second to none. Without the award of any further penalties the Gow didn’t really have much to offer and it always looked likely that if there was to be a winner it would be Thistle.

 

Gracie was put through on goal a couple of times, albeit with still a lot to do and on another day could have had three or four goals. One that new boy Forbes will want to forget could have put the Jags ahead in 70 minutes but after great work from subs Mark Canning and David Reid to set him up he managed to sclaff it out for a throw-in from inside the six yard box.

 

Big Craig will tell you these are always harder than they look.

 

Thistle got the breakthrough with eight minutes left although the goal did carry a shade of luck. Gracie picked up the ball just outside the box and laid it off to Innes on the right who mishit it into the path of Reid. Div took a touch then drilled a low shot that found the net off the post.

 

Full Time: Lesmahagow 2 Larkhall Thistle 3

 

Thistle’s winning run continues with a tremendous fighting performance by all involved, in particular Gracie, Forbes and Andy Brown. Mark McKeever though is the Man of the Match for stepping in and driving the team forward when they were down to ten men, the win was as much down to him as anybody else.

 

Larkhall Thistle:
Thomson; Brown, Mushett, Nicholl; Jack; Payne (Canning 65); Innes, Forbes, McKeever (Reynolds 56), Gracie, Clarke (Reid 56) Subs: Robb, Doyle

 

Booked: Forbes

 

Sent off: Nicholl

 

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