Stenhousemuir 0 Queen’s Park 3
Despite the hysteria surrounding a group of men wrestling over a funny shaped ball in Japan this morning, there was only one big game as far as supporters of Scotland’s oldest football club were concerned.
The Spiders travelled to Ochilview to face Stenhousemuir in the midst of a pretty dismal run of league form. But they knew that with SPFL2 being tighter than a Tory Chancellor’s purse strings (except when there’s a Christmas election looming), a couple of victories could propel us back up the table.
The same could be said of our opponents, who have suffered their own bloody noses in recent weeks, but could have been in the promotion places come 5pm today if results went their way. An away victory, on the other hand, would see Queen’s leapfrog their hosts – so pick your pun for this six-pointer, crunch game.
The nature of last week’s defeat at Elgin meant Spiders gaffer Mark Roberts was always likely to shake things up a bit today, and a concussion injury to Tommy Block in training this week made changes certain.
In the end he went for a more radical piece of surgery, replacing no fewer than four of last week’s starters, and returning to the back 3/5 which served us well earlier in the season. Apart from Block, Scott Gibson, Alfredo Agyeman and Kieran Moore dropped to the bench, with their places being taken by Billy Mortimer, Creag Little, Cameron Clark and Luke Main.
Both sides needed points from this one and that showed in a nervy start where the ball spent more time in the air than on the plastic surface. It took seven minutes for the first real goalmouth action when a trio of QP defenders slid in to block Scullion with danger signs flashing.
Thankfully, the warning shot seemed to spark the Spiders into life and with Lidouren popping up all over the park, we began to gain the upper hand.
Salim was inches away from a wicked inswinging corner delivered by the French midfielder; Galt delivered a peach of a cross after a trademark waltz through the home defence – and then McGrory fired a free kick from distance over the top. For their part, Stenny relied on dead-ball situations, none of which caused Willie Muir any anxious moments in the Spiders goal.
To borrow a cliché from Page 1 of the commentators’ handbook, it was obvious that the first goal could be crucial in settling this game. That goal arrived just on the half hour, and it arrived at the right end for the travelling support. A neat piece of play from the Spiders forced Gibson to concede a corner. When Ciarán Summers swung in a beauty, Salim did what all good No. 9s should do and bulleted a close-range header past Smith.
It was simple, and it simply lifted a huge weight off the QP players, who began to spread the ball about with welcome accuracy. Referee Fordyce was far too fond of the sound of his own whistle for the game to flow properly, but the football that was produced came from the team in black and white hoops. Lidouren and Mortimer combined down the right to set up an opportunity for Salim, who was crowded out before he could get the shot away.
With the interval looming, Nicky Jamieson had a great chance from another corner, but just couldn’t keep his header down.
The final action of the first period saw Stenny earn a soft foul in a dangerous position. But with the doomsayers fearing the worst, Gibson wasted the opportunity and the whistle sounded to end an encouraging opening half for the Spiders.
Half time Stenhousemuir 0 Queen’s Park 1
The interval talk among the visiting support reflected satisfaction at the improved performance … and nagging concerns that we hadn’t made our control count more on the scoreboard. The interval talk in the QP dressing room probably focused on the need for concentration; more of the same – and a more clinical finish in front of goal.
The start didn’t go quite to script, with Jamieson copping a soft booking only three minutes in for a foul on McBride. The free-kick produced nothing more than the opportunity for Queen’s to regain possession – and they made that possession count with a smashing second goal. The ball was worked up the left and when it arrived at the twinkle toes of David Galt, he slalomed past a couple of defenders and rolled it back into McGrory’s path. The youngster was composure personified as he accepted the invitation and smacked the ball into the net to give the Spiders a two-goal cushion.
Stenny tried to hit back, but Little, Clark and Jamieson were more than comfortable under the aerial threat they tried to provide. The only slight concern came when yet another free kick gave Gibson the chance to fire over a cross. For once O’Neil found space to get in a header, but it sailed narrowly over the top.
Confidence is a funny thing in football, and while the Spiders looked bereft of that commodity last week, today they were brimming with it. That was illustrated 10 minutes into the half when Salim spotted Smith well off his line and went for goal. His effort drifted wide, but the fact that the striker felt good enough to try his luck from around the halfway line suggested there was a growing optimism in the camp.
Mortimer came desperately close to making it 3-0 when he got on the end of a sweeping break to volley the resulting cross towards Smith’s right-hand post. Unfortunately for Billy, the keeper reacted superbly to turn the shot behind for a corner which came to nothing as the Goalkeepers’ Protection Society intervened when the cross came in and Salim was punished for a “foul”.
Just on the hour, the home side made their first change, replacing Munro with Mark McGuigan. The big sub has caused us all sorts of problems in the past, and there was just a niggling fear that his aerial presence might undo some of our good work.
We needn’t have worried as the players worked their socks off in midfield to deny Stenny the opportunity to pump balls into the box. And any time the cross did come in, Jamieson and Co did their jobs well to ensure Muir had one of his easier afternoons between the sticks.
As we entered the final 20 minutes, what had been a good afternoon got even better. Lidouren won possession deep in our half and found his midfield mate McGrory who took us deep into Stenny territory before slipping the ball across to Galt. David loves the opportunity to drive in on goal and shoot. He did it to perfection and as the ball flew past Smith and into the net, even the eternal worriers like your scribe reckoned we were now good for at least a point.
Stenny brought on Halleran for O’Neil at the restart in a final attempt to turn the afternoon around. Gibson did go close with a shot from the edge of the box, and Muir had to come and claim when the home side won two corners in quick succession. But as far as goal threats go, that was as much as the Warriors provided.
Queen’s continued to look the part and Galt had Smith scrambling to save an outrageous attempt from a free kick that was so far from goal the home side only mounted a token one-man wall.
Moments later, Galt was taken out crudely by Munro, who could have no complaints about the yellow card he received.
With time running out, the Gaffer decided to give Galty a wee rest and replaced him with Mr Perpetual Motion, Kieran Moore. The sub’s first action was to set off on a galloping run, which was halted by Scullion in the only way possible – an illegal tug at the shirt, for which he also went in the book.
The final whistle sounded soon after to bring a good day at the office to a close. There’s no denying this was a big win for Queen’s, and some of the football was truly pleasing on the eye. What will have been even more pleasing for Mark Roberts and his coaching team will have been the fact that the pretty football also produced concrete results on the scoreline – which has not always been the case this season.
This was a good indication of what this QP team can do. But before we get too carried away, let’s think back to August and the excellent performance we produced at Brechin to win by the same scoreline. We all know what happened after that game … let’s hope this time we use the Stenny result to go on to even better things.
Keep the Faith!
Queen’s Park: Willie Muir, Billy Mortimer, Ciarán Summers, Calvin McGrory, Nicky Jamieson, Creag Little, Cameron Clark, Luke Main, Salim Kouider-Aissa, David Galt, Joffrey Lidouren. Subs: Trialist(gk), Kieran Moore, Reagan Thomson, Cameron Foy, Jack Purdue, Scott Gibson, Alfredo Agyeman.