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|STENHOUSEMUIR 4-3 QUEEN OF THE SOUTH||5th August 2000|
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Well, certainly an interesting start to John Connolly's first season in charge!
Horrific traffic snarl ups on the M74 and M73 meant I missed the kick off of this one though fortunately only by a couple of minutes. I don't think I'd missed anything terribly important though, all the good stuff was yet to come. Most of the early action had a pre-season feel about it as both sides tested the other out without over-committing.
The first serious effort on goal came in the sixth minute when Mathieson comfortably held a long range effort and two minutes later he was called on to punch clear a free-kick under pressure from two Warriors. Shortly afterward, Mark Weir threw in a good cross which was missed by all as Queens tried to assert themselves and on the quarter hour mark John Sunderland just failed on the slide to connect with another low Weir cross. A minute or two later Weir went down under a challenge in the box but nothing was given.
However, the first goal of the season was not long delayed and it was a nightmare for us defensively. Stenny broke into the box from the right but Andy Aitken seemed to have the situation sorted out only for Tony Nelson to come in and appear to get in his way. The ball broke out from the mix up to leave Stenny's David Wood in the clear in front of goal. He made no mistake, burying the ball to the left side of the goal and giving Mathieson absolutely no chance. 1-0 to Stenhousemuir.
Queens tried to hit back straight from the kick-off and Mark Weir was still looking the man most likely. He picked up a loose ball and drove into the box again only to once more go down under a gang challenge from the Warrior defence. Once more the referee, Bobby Orr, waved play on. Two minutes later Peter Weatherson collected a Sandy Hodge throw and hit the bye-line before crossing to the far post. Warren Hawke met the ball but mistimed the header a little, sending it well over. Back came Stenny though and a long free kick from the left was headed back from the back post area over Mathieson but Andy Aitken was on hand to head the ball clear from the goal line. Within another minute Mathieson was called upon to make great save, diving backwards to tip over a chip from outside the box. This fine period for the home side was completed on 24 minutes with a second goal. An attack was only half cleared and the ball was played back in to find Isaac English clear on goal, having beaten the offside trap. Like David Wood before him he too made no mistake, hammering the ball into the roof of the net past the despairing Mathieson. 2-0 to Stenhousemuir.
Again Queens tried to hit back and Peter Weatherson had a long range effort parried out for a corner. In the 34th minute the Stenhousemuir No 6 was booked for a high challenge on Peter Weatherson on the halfway line. The resulting free-kick, taken with Weatherson still off the field receiving treatment, was hit long to the back of the penalty area where John Sunderland met it and headed down to Warren Hawke. Warren turned and managed to get a slightly mis-hit shot on target which Stenny keeper Garry Gow could only parry out. Mark Weir came in from nowhere to get to the loose ball first only to see his strike come pack off the left hand post. Two minutes later Weir and Hodge worked a fine move down the left only for Hodge's low cross to fizz across the 6 yard box untouched.
However, Queens were unable to sustain this pressure and just before the interval gave away a very poor goal. We were awarded a free-kick in the right-back area which was taken by Paddy Atkinson. Atkinson's kick went straight to one of the Warriors on halfway though and was first timed forward into the Queens box. Andy Aitken reached the ball first but seemed to clear the ball against his own standing foot. The ball fell perfectly for David Menelaws to strike into the net. 3-0 to Stenhousemuir and not looking good for us.
A much improved second half was needed and Connolly began this by making a tactical change. Phil Nixon came on for the ineffective Denis Boyle to add some height and steel to the midfield. Queens started positively and two minutes into the half Weatherson picked up the ball near the corner flag on the right. He beat two defenders and cut into the penalty area before laying the ball off to Warren Hawke. Hawke immediately fell under a defensive challenge giving rise to our third penalty shout but again Mr Orr waved play on. Mark Weir picked up the loose ball but struck his shot from the edge of the box over the top.
There followed a twenty minute period in which very little happened and we began to think the game was going to drift to a conclusion. We couldn't have been more wrong!
It all started pretty much out of nothing in the 68th minute. Mark Weir again picked up a loose ball on the left and managed to find Peter Weatherson on the left edge of the six yard box. He drew the keeper out and then crossed the ball across the face of the goal where the waiting John Sunderland managed to bundle the ball home. 3-1 to Stenhousemuir. The ground announcer managed to credit Warren Hawke with the goal but it was definitely John Sunderland who knocked it home. Ironically, Sunderland had not had a great match and this was his last touch. Dean Muir had been standing waiting to come on before the goal and he replaced Sunderland before the restart.
Queens now had their tails up and two minutes later Andy Aitken picked up the ball in his own defence and ran the length of the park but finished weakly. However, the match turned again on 72 minutes. Tony Nelson won a challenge to set Queens away again only for another challenge to halt the attack with a free-kick to us. In the meantime though Nelson and his opponent had got involved in an altercation whilst lying on the ground. This ended with Nelson seeming to stamp on his opponent as he got up. The stand side assistant referee had a perfect view of the incident and called Mr Orr over. The inevitable red card followed and the match was surely now finished as a contest.
Not likely! This only served to strengthen the Queens resolve and on 75 minutes we pulled another goal back. A right sided corner was taken short to Mark Weir who managed to reach the edge of the box before playing the perfect cross on to the head of Andy Martin. Martin's flick header was in the net before Garry Gow could react. 3-2 to Stenhousemuir. Before the restart Stenny's Jimmy Fisher was booked, again for an incident seen by the stand side assistant.
In the 78th minute we so nearly levelled the match. Sandy Hodge went on one of his trademarked storming runs down the left and forced a corner. This was crossed to the near post area where Andy Martin again rose to head goalward only to see it headed off the line. Brian Fairley, the Stenny manager had seen enough and decided to tighten up by bringing centre half David Lorimer on for Isaac English and, within a minute, we too completed our substitutions by bringing on Brian Caldwell for Warren Hawke.
With just four minutes remaining it seemed that Queens had rescued an outrageously unlikely point. Paddy Atkinson took a free-kick from the right side just inside his own half and delivered it long and perfectly to the back post area of the box where Andy Aitken rose to bullet a header beyond Garry Gow. 3-3 and Andy's joy was clear to all as he celebrated joining his centre-back partner on the score sheet.
As ever with following Queens, the slap in the face was still to come though. Queens won another corner but nothing came of it and Stenny broke up the left. Caldwell managed to slow the break with a challenge and Andy Martin got back to concede a corner on the left but this only delayed the moment. The kick was an inswinger and David Mathieson decided that, rather than risk a catch, he would punch clear. Unfortunately he completely missed the ball leaving David Menelaws with the simplest of tasks to nod into the empty net from his position standing on the goal-line. 4-3 to Stenhousemuir and a real sickener for the players who had put so much into fighting their way back into the game despite being short handed.
This wasn't a vintage performance by any means and there is still a lot of work to be done, particularly in the defence but there were also some very positive signs. Last year's side would surely have folded given the half time situation and either lost heavily or settled for the three goal defeat. This time, real application, effort and spirit were shown and this is certainly encouraging. We won't have long to wait to see how the players react to the defeat as we're straight back into action on Tuesday in the CIS Cup against Forfar (who also lost today, to our neighbours Stranraer).