Carluke Rovers travelled to play Larkhall Thistle in the second league match of the season on a Wednesday night with the weather perfect for football and the Larkhall pitch in great condition as you would expect this early in the season.
Last season there was two division between the teams but with Larkhall being relegated and Carluke promoted the two old adversaries found themselves in direct opposition for the first time in a few seasons.
With the game underway both teams were feeling each other out in the first few minutes as a healthy crowd looked on. After their great victory against Maryhill at the weekend Carluke were confident and it only took until the 4th minute for them to break the deadlock. A long ball out of defence was cleverly knocked on by Ciaran Lafferty with his back to goal to his strike partner Murray Loudon who had anticipated the pass and ran in on goal to calmly slot the ball down to the keeper’s left hand post to make the score 1-0 to Carluke.
This was quickly followed in the 6th minute with another chance when the diminutive Loudon outjumped the Larkhall centre half knocking the ball on to Lafferty who lost his marker and got his shot away but it went agonisingly wide of the keeper’s fast post.
In the first 10 minutes Larkhall had not been seen much as an attacking force but it was a mistake from a Carluke defender trying a back header to the keeper which was nearly intercepted by the onrushing striker only to be plucked from his head before he could connect by the Carluke keeper Dan Terry.
However it was Carluke who were to extend their lead when a throw in to Craig Grierson on the left was whipped into the box and was met at the front post by Ciaran Lafferty who calmly directly the ball into the net using the pace generated by Grierson’s cross. 2-0 Carluke.
The main difference between the two teams in the first half was the running and directness of the Carluke strikers Lafferty and Loudon and it was again this combination which nearly undid the Thistle defence for a third time when Lafferty crossed low and hard only for Loudon to put the ball over the bar when it was easier to score from 6 yards out.
In the 42nd minute Larkhall’s Graham Gracie had a shot saved by the feet of Daniel Terry from a tight angle. This was to be the last action of the first half.
Half Time 2-0
When the second half got underway there was more urgency in the play of Larkhall as they started to press for a goal that would get them back into the game but the Carluke rearguard and the industrious midfield of Carluke kept them at bay. In fact it was Carluke who were to increase their lead when, in the 52nd minute, a Carluke corner fell to Mark Cassidy and from about 15 yards out he controlled the ball and struck it sweetly into the bottom left corner from a standing start. 3-0.
Under normal circumstances this would have ended the contest but Larkhall were determined to get back into the game and nearly did when in 64 minutes a low fired cross from Graham Gracie was met 3 yards out by the charging Thistle midfielder Jack Currie who inexplicably hit it back in the direction from where it came when it was easier to score.
This was only a brief respite for Carluke though as in 69th minute Gracie, who was a handful for Carluke in the second half, struck an unstoppable 25 yard free kick with the Carluke keeper only able to look on helplessly to make the score 3-1 to Carluke.
With Larkhall seeing an unlikely way back into the game and the tackling from both sides getting fiercer the game was suddenly brought to a dramatic halt in the 75th minute with a most unsavoury and misunderstood incident resulting in the Carluke left back Peter Byrne being hospitalised with a broken jaw and badly concussed.
It appears that as Byrne was running out of defence behind Larkhall midfielder Jack Currie and with the ball at the other end of the park the latter stopped and Peter ran into the back of him clashing heads. Without thinking Curry rounded on Byrne and hit with such force that the player was knocked unconscious and had to be stretchered off before being transported to hospital by ambulance. As the referee and most of the watching public did not see the incident no further action was taken.
Jack Curry was also hurt in the incident and had to have his head bandaged and change his strip which was bloodied from the initial collision. However there can be no excuse for the level of violence he visited on Peter Byrne who will be out of football for a long time regardless of whether Curry thought the initial collision was deliberate or not.
The fact that the game was halted for a good 10 minutes on the restart it did not blunt Larkhall’s ambition to get a second goal which would have made the last 10 minutes very interesting. At this stage Carluke were also down to 10 men having used all their subs when striker Ciaran Lafferty had to go off with an injury.
The play was now frantic and going from end to end but Larkhall were creating the better chances. In the 90th minute Gracie hit a shot that grazed the Carluke post and then Dan Terry pulled off two magnificent saves. He first got down well to his left hand side when Larkhall’s Wilson shot through a ruck of players. This was followed by a great reflex save when he managed to tip a shot from Larkhall’s Adam Boyle over the bar following a free kick from ex Rovers man Jonny Wilson.
It was a valiant effort from Larkhall to try and get something from the match but Carluke always looked dangerous and the result in was probably a fair reflection on the overall match. Final Score 3-1.
More importantly everyone at both Carluke Rovers, and I am sure Larkhall Thistle as well, wish Peter Byrne a speedy recovery and hopefully we will see him back playing football sooner rather than later.
Match Report by Stevie Kane
Photos by John McLachlan