And so another brilliant season ends for Queen of the South and with yet another new peak scaled. A first win of the season against last year's SPL team St Johnstone, achieved despite starting two teenagers and a goalkeeper making his first appearance of the season whilst the home side were pretty much at full strength. This now means that we've beaten every team in this division at least once except Inverness. What a marvellous achievement for a part-time team and all sorts of credit should go to John Connolly, his management team and his players.
The team news made for very interesting reading indeed when we arrived at the stadium. With Colin Scott unavailable due to injury, Jamie Campbell came in from the cold, having already been informed he would be leaving the club, to make his first appearance of the season. Elsewhere, almost the entire midfield was changed from last week. As expected, Brian McColligan returned to replace the suspended Player of the Year, Steve Bowey. However, he was joined in the starting line up by both teenagers, Paul Burns and Willie Gibson at the expense of Ben Dawson and Brian McLaughlin. McLaughlin had to be content with a place on the bench alongside Derek Allan (back from illness), Paddy Atkinson and two more youngsters, Stuart Robertson and Sean Ferrie.
Surprise between the sticks
The game though started as a typical end of season affair. Indeed it was 14 minutes in before I made my first note of the game, and that was St Johnstone being forced into an early substitution with Paddy Connolly picking up an injury and being replaced by Ross Forsyth! The first remote chance arrived in 20 minutes when Eric Paton's free kick from 45 yards was missed by everybody trying to get a head on it and ignored by the goalkeeper as it drifted very close to the left post. Three minutes later Paul Hartley almost created something for the home side, making the byeline before crossing into the danger area, but young Burns headed away and when the ball came back in again Jim Thomson hacked it away from the six yard box. From the resulting right sided corner Malone had a free header from 10 yards but was well off target.
Weak penalty claim turned down
Just past the half hour mark St Johnstone were presented with a great chance. Jim Thomson appeared to lose the bounce of the ball in the wind and suddenly found himself being closed down by three attackers. Though he managed to prod the ball away from the closest of them, it ran clear to Stuart Noble presenting him with a free run in on goal. He charged into the penalty area on the left side before shooting powerfully only for Campbell to make a good save, parrying the ball away for a corner. Five minutes later Noble found himself with another run in on goal but again was thwarted by Campbell this time diving to save at his feet.
Superb save by Campbell
Although St Johnstone had the two best chances of the opening half, it should be stressed that Queens had generally dominated play with young Paul Burns in particular instrumental in the engine room. So it was fitting that he should be heavily involved in our best chance to that point after 40 minutes. Burns and O'Connor combined to set up McAlpine for a good cross into the penalty area which was anticipated by Eric Paton at the back post area and Cuthbert had to be smartly across his goal to collect the header at his right post. A minute later, a great little touch by Weatherson put O'Connor through on goal behind the defence but he dallied in getting the shot off and was well tackled from behind before he could test Cuthbert.
Cuthbert gathers at the far post
The second half began with Queens having made their first change. O'Connor had picked up a little knock in the first half and so Brian McLaughlin got his chance to make what was probably a farewell appearance for the club as an auxiliary striker. A minute in Mark Baxter had three goes at leaving Willie Gibson in a heap before finally succeeding but somehow referee George Clyde awarded a foul but not a booking. A minute later again Joe McAlpine exacted his own revenge on Baxter with a sturdy challenge of his own which DID see the full back have his name go into the book.
In 48 minutes Stuart McCluskey headed narrowly wide from a corner but Campbell probably had the goal covered anyway. Four minutes later Paton sliced an effort over the bar from the edge of the box after collecting a half clearance from Dods. On 55 minutes though came St Johnstone's best chance of the game when Parker got clear on goal on the right side of the penalty area. He shot early and across Campbell but the keeper had his angles right and the ball also missed the far post with a couple of feet to spare.
The goal which would win the game finally arrived in 65 minutes and fittingly both the youngsters were involved. Burns won the ball on the left side and intelligently played Gibson away down the left wing. Gibson threw in a great deep cross and Weatherson distracted Cuthbert with a near post leap whilst Derek Lyle arrived at the back post to head his first goal since November 2002! The young keeper did well to get back across his goal and put a hand on the ball but he couldn't keep it out. Three minutes later McCluskey again headed narrowly over the top from a corner as the home team tried to hit back.
On 73 minutes the goalscorer became the goal saver with a fabulous clearance to deny the Saints a certain equaliser. Keigan Parker broke dangerously into the box on the right side and dragged the whole defence across to deal with him before sliding a teasing cross along the six yard box. Eddie Malone was arriving and seemed to just have to pick his spot only for the bold Lyle to appear out of nowhere, covering for his full back, and hammer the ball clear. He took a bad knock for his trouble though and was only able to continue briefly after treatment. St Johnstone though made an immediate change with Martin Maher brought on for John Robertson. Five minutes later, Lyle did finally give in to his pain and was replaced by Derek Allan which meant Eric Paton moving back to a more familiar right midfield role.
With ten minutes left, a ball into the box just eluded Weatherson and was partially cleared but only as far as Burns on the edge of the box and the youngster showed he wasn't afraid to have a shot with an effort which just cleared the crossbar from 20 yards. There was little further action of note though and St Johnstone's third change, with five minutes left bringing on Mark Ferry for Mark Reilly, made no difference at all to the outcome.
Fantastic fans again
So it was a happy group of players and fans who saluted one another at full time. Who would have believed last August that we'd manage to finish top half in our first season back in Division One? I don't normally single out players in match reports but young Paul Burns deserves special mention for his showing today. He never stopped playing in the midfield, was involved in most of the good things we did and generally looked a good prospect. Willie Gibson too showed up well on his full debut and put in a great cross for the goal.
That's it for another season then, roll on August and more of the same please.