A disastrous night for Queens tonight against our regional rivals. Well, maybe disaster is too strong a word. We must be now both out of the promotion fight and free from relegation fears so the game was comparatively meaningless. However, we did fail to score for the first time in 25 games, lost for the fourth time this season to Stranraer and, generally, played as poorly as we have done for quite some time, even worse than in the recent Forfar and Arbroath games. Maybe we've played too many games in a short time but most of our rivals have been doing the same.
The starting eleven showed just one change from the team which drew with Berwick on Saturday, Martin Hughes returned in place of the missing Alan Hogg as we reverted to a more defensive line up with only Weatherson pushed right up. None of the other front players at the club even made the bench tonight for whatever reason so the options were limited.
We started brightly enough. In the very first minute, Jon Sunderland took possession in midfield and played a ball to Weatherson. He moved it on to O'Neill, who was pushed out left but wrong-footed the Stranraer defence with a clever back-heel to play in Stuart King. However, King has never looked quite as sharp since returning from recent injury and illness problems and a last ditch sliding challenge just beat him to the ball and played it out for a corner. Nothing came of it and it was the "Clayholers" who made the breakthrough with their first attack in the fourth minute. A ball was played into the box and found Ian Harty with back to goal but in plenty of space about eight yards out. He was allowed the time to turn without any sort of a challenge on him and shoot for goal. Although the shot seemed to be miss-hit a little into the ground, it still found it's way to the back of the net underneath the diving Campbell who seemed to react slowly to the situation.
In the tenth minute, another piece of lax defending allowed the Stranraer No 10 a chance but Campbell just managed to clutch his early strike from the edge of the box. Within a minute though, a tremendous through ball from Hughes presented King with another chance but his first time shot was blocked. In the 14th minute, Peter Weatherson became the first player booked when he showed dissent at a throw in awarded against him. In the 20th minute, Queens seemed a little fortunate not to fall further behind. A corner was swung in from the right but Campbell dropped the ball in trying to catch it. The loose ball was eventually turned into the net but Mr Smith had already blown for a foul on the new 'keeper.
Queens were still getting half chances though and a Graham Connell 20 yarder missed by a couple of feet in the 28th minute. From Jon Sunderland's 37th minute free kick, Ronnie McQuilter just failed to get enough purchase on a header to equalise and the loose ball was hacked clear. Three minutes later, Sunderland became the second booking for pulling back an opponent and Duncan George joined him for a dangerous challenge as things began to get a little bad tempered. Just before the break, Ian Harty should have doubled the lead when the ball was cut back to him from the bye-line eight yards out but he blasted well over.
The second half began exactly as the first had ended with Stranraer making for the bye-line three minutes in but the cut-back deflected along the line and away. Connolly had seen enough and made his first change, bringing on McKeown for King. However, within two minutes of the change, an Atkinson error let in Harty yet again for a run in on goal. Campbell came out to meet him at the edge of the area, half-blocked the ball and Walklate completed the clearance. We couldn't seem to get a grip on Harty at all and, within three minutes, Andy Aitken just failed to cut out a big punt from the back and he was clear on goal again. This time, as Campbell again raced to meet him at the edge of the box, those terrible "balance problems" which seem to have blighted his career re-appeared and he hit the ground without any contact from the 'keeper. Fortunately, Dougie Smith wasn't fooled and ran 40 yards to produce Harty's "usual" yellow card for diving.
In the 71st minute Muir came on to replace Sunderland and, four minutes later, Connell became the third Queens player in the book for a late challenge. A minute later came Queens best move of the match. Connell gained possession in midfield and picked out a forward ball towards Weatherson. Peter headed the ball perfectly into the path of Jon O'Neill who hit the ball early back across the 'keeper from the left side of the penalty area. However, the other O'Neil in the Stranraer goal successfully blocked the shot and gathered at the second attempt.
That was about it for Queens as an attacking force and it was no real surprise at all when Stranraer caught us out on a fast break to finally kill off the game. It came in the 83rd minute when Queens were awarded a free kick around the halfway line. Almost everybody pushed forward but the ball found only a Stranraer head and it was punted back beyond halfway. Ian Harty easily outpaced the remaining defence and, for the third time in the game, found himself with a clear run on goal. This time he tried a different tactic and lobbed the advancing Campbell from outside the box. The keeper was absolutely helpless to do anything but turn and watch the ball hit the back of the net.
That was the end of the significant action and Stranraer comfortably held on for a deserved three points. Without wanting it to sound like sour grapes, this Stranraer side was nowhere near as good as the one which had easily beaten us three times before this season. It's easy to see how their promotion challenge has faltered over the last couple of months. However, they were still worthy winners on the night, if only because they were the better of two bad teams more than for any other reason.
Thanks to Ewan Lithgow for tonight's report.