It was three in a row for John Connolly's side tonight as the revitalised Queens team, despite enforced changes, ground out another difficult win. It's now FIVE months (September 30th at Arbroath) since Queens last lost a League match to anybody other than Thistle or Stranraer (Thanks to Graham Crofts for pointing that out). Granted we have lost five times to those top two sides in that spell but it does still show that Queens are more than a match for anybody else in this Division. This hard-fought win is just further evidence of that fact.
Tonight's fixture, having finally been given the go-ahead after doubts due to both the Foot and Mouth outbreak and the weather, saw a number of enforced changes to the side which beat Stirling Albion 10 days ago. Stuart King failed to recover from his knock and was replaced by Mark Angel. Jon Sunderland and Phil Nixon were unable to get time off work and were replaced in the squad by Dean Muir and Dennis Boyle, with Steven Pickering stepping up from the bench to replace Sunderland in the starting line-up. Finally, following an injury sustained in the pre-match warm-up, Colin Scott was forced to drop out of the side and was replaced by David Mathieson.
Queens made the brighter start of the two sides and after only three minutes, Warren Hawke collected a quick free kick on the left side and fed in to Peter Weatherson at the near post. However, the young striker, again watched by a number of scouts and managers tonight, failed to control the ball first time and Garry Gow was able to save at his feet. Stenhousemuir's best effort of the opening spell came in 14 minutes when Ronnie McQuilter had to move smartly to the left to get a good block in on a shot.
Queens best chance of the first period came in the 25th minute when Mark Angel broke down the left, beating two defenders. He fed the ball in to Graham Connell, who moved it quickly on to John O'Neill. O'Neill's shot was well struck from the edge of the box but turned wide for a corner by Gow. Five minutes later, Stenny's Miller seized upon a poor Pickering header, turned and struck early from 25 yards or so and Mathieson had to move quickly to tip the shot over. The half ended with ten minutes or so of Stenhousemuir pressure, their best period of the game. On 40 minutes, a long free kick to the back post saw Donald head back across goal and Des McKeown made an excellent clearance at the post as a striker closed in. The ball was never fully cleared though and Sandison crossed it back in where it was met at the back post with a cracking shot which Mathieson did well to save with his feet. A poor half of football ended scoreless but with the hosts in the ascendancy.
The second half was a different story altogether with much more control from Queens. It was only three minutes old when Warren Hawke headed a long ball down to John O'Neill, who stumbled into the ball but wrong-footed Gow. The helpless keeper could only watch as the ball rolled narrowly wide of the post. In the 53rd minute a header from Mark Angel dropped between Weatherson and O'Neill, who seemed to get in each other's way before O'Neill miss-hit the shot at goal. However, within a minute, at the other end, Des McKeown blocked a goal-bound shot.
On the hour mark, Andy Aitken collected a ball in defence and galloped forward. He advanced up the park before shooting from thirty yards or so but saw his effort miss the left hand post by a yard or two. The opener was only delayed by a minute though. In Queens next attack, Mark Angel found himself in possession about 25 yards out and opted to shoot for goal. Gow was just able to tip his effort over but Angel took the corner himself. His cross was perfect and found the head of the unmarked Peter Weatherson. The striker headed the ball down and into the back of the net for his fifteenth goal of the season.
If we hoped that would settle things down then we were to be proved immediately wrong. Stenhousemuir regrouped and, straight from the re-start, attacked down the left. Some sloppy defending allowed the cross to come in low to the six yard box where the poorly marked Brian McCalligan was given time to control the ball, turn and shoot past Mathieson. An equaliser within 60 seconds and such a poor goal to lose after the hard work of gaining the lead in the first place.
In the 73rd minute, Peter Weatherson, who had taken a knock in the first half, was replaced with Martin Hughes and John O'Neill pushed a little further forward to link up with Hawke. This was a signal for a number of the watching celebrities (who included Alex Smith and Bert Paton) to leave all at once. Warren Hawke was booked for dissent three minutes later, having shown his annoyance at not getting a free-kick following what looked from the stands like a clear foul.
After this the game seemed to die a death as both sides seemed reluctant to over-commit for the win. However, out of nothing, Queens suddenly found a winning goal. It started with a Paddy Atkinson cross from the right which beat Gow but was headed off the line at the left post as Des McKeown closed in. The ball was never properly cleared though and a loose ball in midfield was pounced upon by Steven Pickering and lifted into the box. Warren Hawke climbed high and headed the ball down perfectly for the incoming John O'Neill. The ball seemed to be stuck to his foot as he advanced into the penalty area unchallenged before lifting it over Gow from about eight yards. There was still time for "The Warriors" to have one last attack and Mathieson made an excellent stop low at his right hand post in injury time before the final whistle went.
This is the first time the team have won three successive games since December / January of last season when we won four on the spin, including a Scottish Cup tie at Montrose. Let's hope that this run is not the false dawn that one was. However, we are surely a much better equipped team now and, hopefully, will go onwards and upwards from this point.
Thanks to Ewan Lithgow for this report.