A tremendous battling performance by Queens in Clackmannanshire this afternoon brought a fine win over traditional bogey team Alloa but failed to lift the side out of the bottom two following surprise wins for Clyde and Arbroath. To nobody's great surprise, John Connolly kept faith with the same team and formation which drew with Arbroath last weekend.
It was Terry Christie's men who started the brighter and, after three minutes, a free kick in from the right touchline was headed narrowly wide by Steven Thomson, climbing highest in the box. A couple of minutes later, Derek Ferguson floated a dangerous cross in from the left side which narrowly missed the far post after everybody missed making any contact. Queens first chance of any note arrived in the tenth minute when Robbie Neilson did very well down the right and allowed Derek Lyle to break into the penalty area. Turning inside his opponent, Lyle shot low to the near post but failed to get enough power in his effort and James Evans was able to smother the ball. Two minutes later, Jim Thomson was caught in possession in his own penalty area but recovered to block the attempted cross with his chest. Alloa's players and fans though were convinced he'd used an arm and claimed for a penalty. Referee, Tom Brown, was having none of it though.
In 14 minutes, Alloa broke away up the right side and Derek Anderson blatantly obstructed his opponent on the edge of the penalty area, earning himself the game's first booking. Fortunately the free kick came to nothing and it was Queens next to threaten. Paul Shields headed a cross down towards Peter Weatherson who controlled the ball on his knee before volleying goalward from 20 yards or so. Evans was again able to make a comfortable save though. In 22 minutes, "The Goalie" showed all of his class to make a tremendous save from Andy Seaton's cross-shot. The defender turned inside and struck an awkward effort from just outside the penalty area. Somehow nobody in the area managed to connect with it and, at the last minute, having realised the cross was going to sneak in at the back post, Goram leapt to his left to smother the ball one-handed. Three minutes later, a dangerous left sided cross was headed partly away by Joe McAlpine but the ball was crossed in again and Evans just failed to get enough contact on his header to keep the ball on target.
Yellow card number two arrived on the half hour mark for Andy Aitken after he completely mistimed a challenge on the very edge of the penalty area. The free kick was played in dangerously again and this time it was Robbie Neilson doing well to clear the ball at the back post under pressure. Five minutes later, a long ball forward from Peter Weatherson nearly freed Lyle behind the defence but Evans raced from his goal to head away just outside the penalty area. A minute later, Peter Weatherson really struck a volley sweetly from the edge of the box but Max Christie made an extremely painful block (if you know what I mean!). Steve Bowey's rebound was again charged down before his second effort went just over the top.
First half action
It was all Queens now and on 37 minutes, Peter Weatherson did well to set up Bowey for a shooting chance from 20 yards and his screaming effort narrowly missed the top right corner. Within seconds, Jim Thomson took a quick free kick in his own half, releasing Lyle down the right. Lyle fed the overlapping Robbie Neilson who put in a deep cross to the back post area. Bowey challenged for the ball and it broke out to O'Neill, who in turn played in Weatherson at the edge of the box. "Pedro" hit a powerful drive which Evan blocked but couldn't hold and the young 'keeper did well to flap the rebound away from Shields as the forward followed up.
It seemed a goal had to come and it very nearly arrived in 40 minutes when Weatherson picked up a poor clearance and cut into the box before finally beating Evans with another fine shot. This time though he was denied by the woodwork as his effort hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced down on the wrong side of the line for our liking. Two minutes before the break though, the goal did finally arrive. For the first time Jim Thomson went forward for a long throw by Neilson. His presence unsettled Evans and the 'keeper could only flap the ball down to the waiting John O'Neill. The reigning Second Division Player of the Year knows exactly what to do in those situations and hammered the ball into the bottom right corner of the net. There was still time for the impressive Neilson to make another critical headed clearance away from his own goal before the half time whistle sounded.
Terry Christie obviously wasn't impressed with the half-time situation and made two substitutions during the break, replacing Gareth Evans and Gareth Hutchison with Jimmy Fisher and Richard Walker. There was an early scare for Queens when Andy Goram missed a punched clearance and the ball was scrambled to safety. In the 53rd minute, the three forwards combined for Shields to head a Weatherson cross towards the top right corner but Evans was able to gather the ball. A minute later, Shields made the bye-line and pulled back towards O'Neill who was tackled as he shot and the ball trickled agonisingly wide of the left post with Evans stranded. Alloa were still threatening occasionally though and poor attempted clearances by Aitken and McAlpine left Ross Hamilton with a shooting chance but he shot two yards wide of the left post.
In the 64th minute, Queens nearly doubled their advantage. Shields did very well to release Bowey on the left side behind the defence on a break forward. The midfielder looked to be shaping for a cross but surprised Evans with a strike for the top left corner. Unfortunately the crossbar again came to Alloa's rescue. Two minutes later Brian McLaughlin replaced Shields as John Connolly looked to freshen up the front pairing. Within a minute the diminutive ex-Celt slid a great pass through to Lyle which Evans did very well to both save at the striker's feet and smother the rebound before Bowey could capitalise. On 69 minutes though Alloa showed they weren't finished yet when Ian Little seized on a poor clearance and cut into the box before firing into the side netting.
Second half action
In 81 minutes, Derek Lyle ran across the park before shooting from the edge of the penalty area but Evan saved easily. The forward though pulled up injured as soon as he'd struck the shot and, after a short spell of treatment, it was decided he couldn't continue. Brian McColligan duly came on, with O'Neill pushing a little further forward to partner McLaughlin. With five minutes remaining, Alloa made their final throw of the dice, sending on former Stranraer captain Billy McDonald in place of full back Andy Seaton. With two minutes remaining, O'Neill really should have wrapped up the points after great work by McLaughlin dispossessed an Alloa defender in his own six yard box but somehow O'Neill's shot went over the top when it seemed easier to score. It was his last contribution as he was immediately replaced by Eric Paton in what was presumably a time wasting move. There was still time for Robbie Neilson to finally pick up our third yellow card of the day with his fourth attempt. After getting away with a third foul that could have been considered worthy of a booking he threw the ball away and was duly cautioned. There were no further panics on the field though and Queens clinched a well-deserved three points.
This was a match Queens thoroughly deserved to win. After coming out of the blocks a little slowly, they dominated the final hour of the game and really should have scored more goals. However the three points were what mattered and they became all the more important at the final whistle in the light of Arbroath's shock win over Falkirk and Clyde's surprise win in Perth. We remain within a win of Arbroath and Ross County. Next week's brought forward clash with Clyde will bring a chance to move up a place or two with the other sides not playing until the following weekend when we will be in Cup Final action.
Report - Ewan Lithgow
Action Photographs - David Gow