That's much more like it. We maybe didn't win, and it maybe wasn't the most fluent of footballing performances, but there was no doubting the appetite of the players for the battle ahead of them today and if we can display this sort of attitude for the rest of the season then we will soon battle away from the bottom of the table.
Iain Scott again rang the changes ahead of the trip to face the high-flying and unbeaten "Staggies". In came Tommy English, Eric Paton, Stephen Payne and Gary Wood (this time as a forward again); out went McLaughlin, McColligan and McNiven to the bench and young Stuart Hill out of the squad altogether to accommodate our Nigerian "A Trialist".County were along expected lines with former Queens favourite Alex Burke pulling the strings.
Queens started the brighter but after four minutes, from virtually their first piece of possession, County almost opened the scoring. Steve McGarry made progress down the left side and cut the ball into the penalty area for Fergus Tiernan to lash goalward. It was a fierce strike but fortunately fairly close to keeper Colin Scott and the goalie was able to parry the ball over the top for an excellent save. Three minutes later at the other end John O'Neill went down under a challenge in the County penalty area and looked for a penalty but to be fair there was little appeal from his colleagues and I thought it would have been generous. A minute later though it was the Pole, Maciej Nuckowski, with a header which again exercised Colin Scott and brought applause from the home support and on 24 minutes again the big forward curled a decent effort at goal from 20 yards that Scott again moved well to smother comfortably. A minute later, the best chance to date when Burke's clever pass sent McGarry clear down the left channel and his shot should perhaps have troubled Scott more than it did as the keeper blocked at his feet.
Queens were holding their own though and just after the half hour a fine move down the left side was switched crossfield by O'Neill and Stephen Payne was given a shooting chance just inside the penalty area on the right side. His fine drive tested Garden fully but was turned out for a corner. The opening goal was not long delayed though and arrived on 32 minutes for Queens, the first time all season we have taken the lead in a league match! A quick break down the left again was nearly spoiled when O'Neill and Gibson seemed to get in each other's way. They sorted themselves out though and O'Neill released Gibson to the bye-line. He looked for Gary Wood at the back post with his cross but it was deflected skywards by McCulloch and, as the ball dropped about seven yards out centre of goal, in came John O'Neill to power a header into the bottom right corner though Garden could maybe have done better with it. It was a brave header and he took a head knock for his troubles. At the same time the County physio was on giving some treatment to Brian Reid who had suffered a knock at the other end in the build up. This proved to be the more serious of the two knocks and, six minutes later, Brian had to come off. With no defender on the bench that meant a sooner than expected debut for our as yet unnamed Nigerian "Trialist" and Gary Wood switching back to centre half as Jim Thomson's partner.
With four minutes of the half remaining came the first major talking point of the day as referee Mr Andrew Hunter adjudged that Jim Thomson had passed the ball back to Colin Scott with his lower leg before the keeper picked the ball up in his penalty area. Both Thomson and Scott were adamant that the centre half played the ball above the knee but Mr Hunter was having none of it and to be fair from where I was I thought he was right. Fortunately it mattered little as "Burkey" hammered the ball straight into the defensive wall. Two minutes later Gary Wood picked up the game's first booking for a fairly cynical trip on Nuckowski after he'd tricked his way past the auxiliary centre back. That would come back to haunt him later sadly. In injury time Tiernan again went close for County but Colin Scott tipped the ball round the post again. That was the end of the action though. Incredibly our "Trialist" managed to pull a hamstring chasing a deep pass in injury time and had to replaced with McNiven after just 8 minutes on the park and one touch of the ball!
The home side were clearly given a half-time rollicking by John Robertson and appeared for the second half a good five minutes before the Queens side and the officials and it was immediately clear his words had good effect as they set about a 45 minute siege of the visiting goal. On 54 minutes a fine backheel into the box wrong-footed most of the Queens defence and left Mark McCulloch to hammer a shot across the face of goal from a tight angle under some pressure from Jim Thomson. Three minutes later it was Don Cowie bursting into the same space and this time lifting an effort across the face of goal and beyond the far post again. Two minutes later and John Robertson made his first change replacing the ineffectual Nuckowski with David Winters. Queens were finding it hard to clear their defence at this time so Iain Scott threw his final tactical switch into the fray with McColligan coming on to shore up in front of the back four in place of Willie Gibson on 67 minutes. At the same time Robertson made his second switch, adding the height of Kevin McKinlay into the midfield in place of Steven McGarry.
On 70 minutes there was an almighty scramble in the Queens penalty area after McKinlay won a back post header. The ball dropped into the six yard box and their were a couple of fine blocks, most notably a brave one that caused Jim Thomson injury, before Tommy English won the ball in his own six yard box and hammered clear. If things were desperate at the back already for Queens they were about to get worse. On 74 minutes, Winters seemed to be past Gary Wood before Wood pulled him back. There was only one decision Mr Hunter could make and out came the second yellow card for Gary followed by the red one. That meant McColligan dropping into the centre of defence to partner Jim Thomson and O'Neill dropping a bit deeper into midfield. The free kick from 30 yards was driven through the wall but comfortably saved again by Scott.
John Robertson made his final gamble with 12 minutes remaining bringing on Gary McSwegan for Fergus Tiernan and going to 4-3-3 and it was to pay off for him. McSwegan it was who forced a corner out of Tommy English with seven minutes to go. Although the first one was short and wasted, the ball went behind for another one and this time Webb headed down in the six yard box and Martin Canning was on hand to hammer the ball in from close range. The bad news wasn't over yet though. John Rankin went into the net to try to retrieve the ball quickly and seemed to get involved with McColligan. As he ran out of the penalty area Steve Bowey took a wild kick at the County midfielder and, though referee Mr Hunter completely missed the incident, both his assistants saw it clearly and there could only be one result. Bookings for "Colly" and Rankin and a red card for Bowey. John O'Neill then picked up a booking for complaining about it though that could only have been through frustration because there really could be no argument about the red card.
The nine men made a decent fist though of keeping the new league leaders blank over the final ten minutes of play. In fact they only managed one more good chance which arrived as the clock ticked onto the 90 minute mark. Lionel Djebi-Zadi appeared to control the ball with his hand before firing over a fine cross which beat Jim Thomson in the air for the first time all afternoon and a County forward headed down into the ground. The ball seemed set to rear up over Colin Scott but somehow the keeper adjusted his position to make yet another fine save and earn the point. In fact, out of nothing it was still nearly three points as in the 95th minute Stephen Payne picked up a loose bouncing ball outside the County area and fairly hammered a half-volley over Garden which seemed destined for the top corner of goal. To be honest I still don't know how it missed as it looked in all the way.
So as I said at the start, a much better performance and attitude from Queens which at least lifts us level with Brechin City on points if still bottom on goal difference. With Airdrie the next side 5 points ahead, the next game at Palmerston against the "Diamonds" takes on huge importance and of course will be faced without both Wood and Bowey.