If there was still any doubt remaining in anybody's minds about Queens first division status for next season then it was comfortably removed this afternoon at a rainswept Somerset Park. The second single goal victory of the season away to Ayr was achieved without the home side ever really troubling us and combined with another Alloa defeat leaves us 14 points clear of them with just 10 games remaining. More to the point perhaps it leaves us 5 points behind the home side today and still with a game in hand which means finishing in the top half of the table is still a realistic possibility.
There were no great surprises in the starting line up today. With John O'Neill suspended, Brian McLaughlin stepped in for him and partnered Peter Weatherson up front. There was a welcome return to the sixteen though for Sean O'Connor after his recent knee injury at Aberdeen. Surprisingly perhaps Ayr left James Grady cooling his heels on the bench and started with Stewart Kean and Stephen Whalen up front.
Queens it was who made the first chance of the afternoon as after only five minutes Weatherson picked up a loose ball in midfield and placed a perfect ball behind the back four for Bowey to run onto. "Bowser" took the ball past Craig Nelson but was forced wide left in doing so and he could only hit a defender with his cut back rather than Derek Lyle who was trying to get there. It was the 12th minute before we saw anything from Ayr as an attacking force. David Craig picked up a poor free kick clearance and drove forward before hooking the ball low across the penalty area. Incredibly Stewart Kean completely missed his kick at the back post just 6 yards out when it was easier to score. In the 17th minute Ayr broke again after some scrappy play and Scott Chaplain struck a blistering shot from almost 30 yards which Colin Scott did very well to tip over the bar on the dive. Three minutes later Jim Thomson blocked a seemingly goalbound effort from James Latta about six yards out.
However, this proved to be a false dawn for Ayr and Queens soon took command of the game. With 23 minutes on the clock Lyle knocked a high ball into the box which Weatherson got a toe too and it almost looped over Nelson. The keeper though just managed to get a fingertip on the ball and then recovered to punch clear as Joe McAlpine tried to seize on the rebound. Three minutes later though Queens did break the deadlock. Derek Lyle completely fooled Mike Dunlop wide on the right and forced the defender to trip him up with John Underhill duly awarding the free kick. Joe McAlpine floated in the cross ball and no defender tracked the run of big Jim Thomson as he knocked a free header past Nelson from six yards.
With five minutes of the opening period remaining there was a controversial moment as Derek Lyle picked up the ball on the right touchline and beat two opponents before playing a one-two with McLaughlin which saw him clear in on goal. However, McLaughlin was clattered from the back by McManus after returning the ball and Mr Underhill stopped play to award us a free kick when the advantage was there to be played. McManus was doubly lucky when he also somehow avoided a booking for the tackle! The only remaining action of the first period came in the final minute when Scott Chaplain mis-hit a shot across Colin Scott from the edge of the penalty area and the goalkeeper did well to get back across his goal to scramble it wide of goal.
The second period started even more slowly than the first had ended and nothing at all happened until the substitutes started being introduced. The first change came on 58 minutes when Campbell Money put Grady on for Latta. Six minutes later Scott made another half decent stop from a Whalen shot on the turn. Direct from Scott's clearance McManus finally picked up a well deserved booking for taking out Brian McLaughlin yet again as the former Ayr player ghosted past him once more. Joe McAlpine curled the resulting free kick just over the top of the right post from 20 yards. Ayr's response was to immediately make a second change, introducing McVeigh in place of Kean. In the 69th minute a dangerous ball dropped into our six yard box and it took a great last ditch clearance from Derek Anderson to prevent an equaliser flying in. Anderson injured himself making the clearance though and needed lengthy treatment before returning to the action.
With 10 minutes remaining, Anderson finally succumbed to the knock he had received and was replaced with Stephen Renicks which meant Derek Allan coming into the middle of the back four to partner Thomson. At the same time Ayr made their final change with Aaron Black replacing Mark Smith. With five minutes remaining Sean O'Connor made a welcome return to action replacing Weatherson. Two minutes from time Ayr almost did find an equaliser as Grady turned a ball across the face of goal from wide on the right which was missed by everybody until Renicks turned it over his own bar at the left post. From the resulting corner Colin Scott punched clear from almost on the goal-line. As the game moved into injury time and Ayr became increasingly desperate, defender David Craig, almost playing up front by now, struck narrowly wide of goal from the edge of the area.
So a comfortable win in the end though the game itself was not an action packed one and had very few really good chances for either side. It was another tremendous defensive performance with Jim Thomson in particular immense at the back as well as scoring the only goal. You get the feeling that we'll need more of the same and maybe better to keep Inverness at bay on Tuesday night.