Saturday 21st March 2015 - Stagecoach West Region Super League Division One
(Report by Peter Ferguson)
Denis McLaughlin heads Glencairn into an early lead.
Glencairn made it three league wins in a row for the first time this season as they made it a double of wins over Largs Thistle this season. The result leaves The Glens in 7th place in the league table, but only two points behind 3rd place and only four points behind 2nd place.
There was a change of shape, as top goal scorer Ross McNeil was restored to the starting line-up in a striking partnership with Denis McLaughlin, with defender Willie Galloway the man dropping out and Jonny Boal dropping into left back in a 4-1-3-2 formation. Brian Welsh once again anchored the midfield allowing the energy of Del Esplin and Sean McGuire to support the strikers.
After an energetic and enthusiastic start by the visitors, it was Glencairn who took the lead with their first meaningful attack in the 3rd minute. Welsh lifted a free kick into the penalty area and right onto the head of the unmarked Denis McLaughlin, who stooped to nod past Thistle no.1 Ross Lundy at his near post (pictured above).
It was just the start that the black & white faithful had been hoping for, but Largs looked to hit back quickly, with Kevin Struthers firing wildly over the changing room building when well placed in the 7th minute. Persistent play at the other end by Esplin in the 10th minute set up Boal for a lovely clipped ball across the face of goal, but there were no takers in the middle.
Thistle were bypassing their midfield on many occasions and launching high balls towards their strikers, and one such move ended with an excellent interception by Welsh after Euan Lindsay had head flicked the ball into the path of a supporting run by Mark Murray.
An offside flag denied McLaughlin in the 23rd minute after a speedy breakaway involving Esplin and Jordan Dalzell, and a minute later only a brilliant sliding block by Thistle defender Willie Kinniburgh denied McNeil right in front of goal after more good work by McLaughlin.
The pressure paid off in the 26th minute as Glencairn doubled their lead. A diagonal cross saw McNeil hold off his marker and force the ball into the path of Denis McLaughlin, who took an excellent first touch and an even better second one as he drilled the ball across Lundy and into the far corner of the net for his and The Glens' second goal of the game.
Denis McLaughlin is congratulated by Brian Welsh after scoring his second goal.
With the home fans rubbing their hands at the prospect of a comfortable victory, they were brought back to earth in the 32nd minute as Largs pulled themselves right back into the match. A long throw from the right by Iain Fisher came over the heads of the Glencairn central defence, and Graham Muir's first touch on the turn allowed him space to fire past JC Hutchison from close range.
The Glens should have been back in front three minutes later as Ross McNeil sprung the offside trap and knocked the ball round Lundy, but he was unable to hit the target from 16 yards as defenders rushed to get back on the goal line.
Largs persisted with launching high balls towards their strikers, and another missile of a long throw by Fisher was headed towards goal by Scott Keogh, but it didn't have enough pace to beat Hutchison on his goal line. A few minutes later Hutchison had to be aware to tip a cross by Keogh over the bar as it threatened to dip on target.
There was a blow for Glencairn just before the interval as defender Graeme Brown limped off injured, and the home side played out the last couple of minutes of the first half with 10 men as they waited to see if Brown was able to continue.
Half time :- 2-1
Denis McLaughlin links with Del Esplin in the first half.
Brown's injury didn't respond sufficiently to half time treatment, so Ross Ballantyne replaced him at right back for the second half, with the visitors unchanged.
Glencairn were first to go close after the break, with McLaughlin's cross being cushioned by Dalzell into the path of Esplin, whose low driven shot was saved on his goal line by Lundy. Three minutes later Glencairn copied Thistle's tactics as Ballantyne's long throw from the right was headed over the bar at the near post by McNeil.
The 54th minute saw a delightful goal by Glencairn to give them a 3-1 lead. McNeil did well to control a long kick out by Hutchison, before feeding the ball in to Esplin. The midfielder returned the ball immediately into the path of Ross McNeil, who curled a brilliant first time finish into the net off the inside of the far post, with Lundy helpless.
Largs' fighting spirit was obvious, however, and they hadn't given up hope of taking something from the game. Struthers headed over the bar in the 56th minute after a low corner had caught out the home defence. Thistle manager Bryan Slaven made a double change on the hour mark, with Sean Pierce replacing Lindsay and Nicky Jamieson replacing Kinniburgh.
The script of the match changed again in the 63rd minute as Largs were awarded a penalty kick which nobody seemed to claim for. A corner came in from the right, and the referee blew his whistle and pointed to the spot, to the bemusement of most people in the ground. Glencairn's defence were furious, and Marc Russell took his protests too far and earned himself a straight red card, doubling the punishment on the home side. Kevin Struthers waited for the referee's whistle and then fired confidently past Hutchison to make it 3-2, and suddenly it was "game on" with 10 v 11.
Willie Harvey looked to shore up the defence after the exit of Russell, and David Dunnachie was brought on at centre back, with first half goal scorer McLaughlin the man sacrificed, with the team now in a 4-1-3-1 formation.
It didn't seem like The Glens had a man short as they created a couple of openings. McNeil's cross in the 71st minute was headed towards goal by Sean McGuire and scrambled away by the Thistle defence as Dalzell looked to pounce, and then two minutes later McNeil spun away from his marker and fizzed a shot a foot wide of the target from 18 yards.
Largs continued to trust their policy of the aerial route, despite Andy Neil, Dunnachie and Welsh resisting their efforts well. Another long throw by Fisher was flicked on by Creag Little and then by Struthers, but Hutchison was well placed on his goal line to gather the ball safely.
McGuire went close for Glencairn in the 73rd minute as he took a touch on the edge of the penalty area and then fired through a crowd of players, but Lundy saved well down low.
Largs made their final change with 15 minutes remaining, as Alan Frizzell made way for striker James Marks. Five minutes later Glencairn also made their final change, with Thomas Kilmartin's fresh legs replacing McNeil in a straight swap up front as the system remained the same.
Thistle's desperation was obvious in the 83rd minute as yet another long throw by Fisher was headed out only as far as Murray, and he fired a wild shot over the high fence and onto the railway line behind the goal.
Largs' hopes were effectively ended with five minutes remaining as they were also reduced to ten men, Graham Muir shown a red card for a reckless high challenge which saw his boot collide with Ballantyne's head, and suddenly it was 10 v 10.
The visitors seemed to lack belief that they could get an equaliser after that and Glencairn defended strongly. There was still time for one last chance for Thistle as the game moved into the 4th minute of stoppage time, but the free kick which was launched high once again bounced off the knee of Ballantyne and straight into the grateful arms of Hutchison. The referee blew for full time a few seconds later, and Glencairn had made it a precious nine points out of nine.
Willie Harvey wasn't overly convinced by the performance, but was obviously pleased to have another win tucked away. He commented, "Considering that we played with a new shape then I think we did ok, but we made heavy weather of a game that we should have had killed off by half time. But it's another win, so we can't grumble too much, and we look forward to a wee break from the league next week with the home cup tie against Clydebank."
Rutherglen Glencairn :- Hutchison, Brown (Ballantyne), Boal, Neil, Russell, McGuire, Dalzell, Esplin, McNeil (Kilmartin), McLaughlin (Dunnachie), Welsh. (Subs not used - McClung, Donaghy.)
Largs Thistle :- Lundy, Fisher, Murray, Kinniburgh (Jamieson), Little, Fleming, Frizzell (Marks), Keogh, Struthers, Lindsay (Pierce), Muir. (Subs not used - Thomson, Gilbride.)
Man of the match - (chosen by Ian Guthrie) Denis McLaughlin and Ross McNeil (joint award).