The honeymoon period back in Division One ended today at the hands of Ross County. Following the wholesale changes to the team for the midweek trip to Peterhead, it was back to the side which faced Clyde on the opening day with just the one exception, Derek Lyle starting up front instead of Peter Weatherson.
Queens started in positive mood with Alan Gray going on a mazy run through the County defence inside the first minute, though his shot from 20 yards was comfortably wide of the left post. In the seventh minute, from a free kick just inside the County half, Queens worked a neat move which saw Paton free Paddy Atkinson overlapping into the penalty area and he hit a dipping shot over the goalkeeper but also over the crossbar. Three minutes later Lyle headed a McAlpine cross over the top after finding space in the box. Alan Gray also had an effort deflected into the keepers arms before, on the quarter hour mark, the two strikers combined well for O'Connor to shoot low to the bottom right corner but Tony Bullock in the County goal did well to get down and make the save.
The first quarter hour had been completely dominated by Queens but Ross County finally woke up in 19 minutes when only a last ditch stretching interception by Derek Anderson prevented a pass sliding through to Conor Gethins clear of the defence. The loose ball was picked up by Eric Paton but he gave it away cheaply and another pass did find the dangerous Gethins in space but though his effort did beat Goram, he was offside. Two minutes later Queens really should have taken the lead. Derek Lyle picked up a loose ball just inside his own half, turned and just ran through the County defence leaving about four players trailing in his wake. Finding himself through one on one on Bullock though he opted to hit early for the top left corner and the keeper was able to parry the ball and grab the rebound before anyone else could reach it. A further minute later he might have scored again when McAlpine reached the byeline and pulled a great low cross back across goal. It was missed by everyone in the middle of goal but a stretched defensive leg just poked it away from Lyle's boot at the back post. In the 25th minute, a second cross in from a corner found Derek Allan in space also at the back post area but, though he had time to control the ball, a defender got there in time to block his goalbound shot.
From the half hour mark though the "Staggies" stepped up a gear. First full back Mark McCulloch struck a fine shot from thirty yards which saw Goram throw himself full length towards his post so close was it but fortunately it went wide and then, following a six yard box scramble, Steve McGarry had a shot at goal from eight yards which deflected and almost bobbled past Goram before the veteran goalie could grab it. However, Goram was over-eager to clear hi lines and his clearance was blocked leading to another dangerous cross headed just past the post. In 34 minutes, another deep cross from right to left by County saw Steven MacKay hit the side netting with a low first time shot. Three minutes later, Gethins set up McGarry for another shot at goal which this time looped over Goram but also over the bar.
The defence were really struggling to cope with Ross County now and a goal seemed inevitable. Unfortunately when it came it was on the break from a dangerous Queens move in the 40th minute. Lyle rounded big Brian Irvine on the right and sent in a dangerous cross which was just hooked away from trouble at the back post area. County broke straight upfield and, after a Bowey challenge failed to get the ball out of play, released Gethins clear down the right. Steve Ferguson was galloping through the middle with only Derek Allan for company and the defender was forced to move towards the near post to stop Gethins bearing straight in on goal. However, Gethins was able to hit a perfect cross just over Allan's head for Ferguson to head powerfully beyond Goram into the bottom right corner of the net. "The Goalie" got a hand on the ball but couldn't keep it out.
County started the second half in no mood to let Queens back into the game. In the 50th minute, Gethins sent in another cross to Ferguson which this time the midfielder controlled well before striking over the bar from about twelve yards. Three minutes later an excellent run into the box from Gray led to a corner on the right for Queens. McAlpine's corner was met by Allan but his goalbound header didn't have enough power to trouble Bullock. Back up the other end and another long cross from the right, this time from McGarry, saw Ferguson again head goalwards but narrowly wide with Goram beaten.
Queens came closest to equalising in the 57th minute when, following some nice passing around the midfield, Bowey found space to let fly from 25 yards and his effort hit the outside of the left post with Bullock stranded. Just after the hour mark County brought Martin Wood on for Steven MacKay and we replaced the very quiet Eric Paton with John O'Neill. In 72 minutes, following more good work by Bowey in midfield Queens found themselves bearing down on goal with a three against two situation. The move ended with O'Connor's shot from the left side of the box being charged down and the industrious Ferguson prevented O'Neill latching onto the rebound.
In the 76th minute County should have doubled their advantage. A great ball through the heart of the defence let Conor Gethins clean through on goal. Goram advanced to meet him though and did well to save at the young striker's feet before also parrying the rebound from McGarry before Allan hooked the ball away. Two minutes later, John Connolly brought McLaughlan and Weatherson on in place of Atkinson and McAlpine in a bid to change the fortunes and County brought on Alex Bone for Conor Gethins. The move almost paid immediate dividends when McLaughlan's cross was met by O'Connor rising above everybody else six yards out but his header glanced wide of goal. With six minutes left, following a long Goram kick and a flick on from O'Connor, Lyle hit a shot which was caught above his head by Bullock. It looked like this would be the last action of any note as the hosts cleverly played out time but the referee somehow found a couple of minutes of injury time in a match in which neither physio was on the pitch and in the last seconds of that time, McGarry fed a ball to substitute Martin Wood in the middle of the park and he curled an immaculate shot into the top right corner of the goal from 25 yards or so leaving Goram without a chance. The full time whistle came immediately as soon as the game restarted.
To be fair this wasn't a bad showing from Queens. They looked up for it from the beginning and really should have taken the lead with one of the many chances in the first half hour, particularly when Lyle was clean through. It would have been interesting to see how County would have coped had we scored first. However, they over-ran us for the fifteen minute period before the break and in the end that was enough to win the game. This is a good side though and I'd be surprised if they don't finish the season well up the table. It's back to cup action on Tuesday against Morton before St Johnstone bring their 100% league record to Palmerston next Saturday.