A strong Kilmarnock side was expected to provide a stiff test for Queens early in their pre-season tonight. Instead it was the Queens side who provided a serious test for their Ayrshire opponents and, though we should be careful of getting too enthused with pre-season games given what followed last year's hammering of Motherwell, the signs and portents are good. This was nigh on Kilmarnock's strongest eleven I suspect. At no point was it really ours, although it was probably closest early in the second period. Never the less, it was the SPL side surely the happier to go away with the draw given that Queens twice led, hit the bar late on and generally had the better chances.
Killie should have grabbed the lead in ten minutes when a deep cross from the right was headed back across goal by Gary Wales and clawed away by Corr, only as far as Colin Nish who surely had to score from about four yards out. Incredibly though the keeper made an instinct block to keep out his effort and then fell on the loose ball. A couple of minutes later Steven Naismith did successfully tuck the ball behind Corr but he was offside in the build up. James Fowler was next to go close to the visitors as their impressive start continued. His 25 yard effort though was narrowly over the crossbar.
Football being the game it is though it was typical that when Queens produced their first attack of note in 19 minutes we took the lead from it. John O'Neill dinked a clever ball into the penalty area and Andy Thomson was taken out by a combination of Danny Invincible and Frazer Wright in attempting to latch onto the ball. Martin Sproule had no doubts and awarded an immediate penalty. John O'Neill is the Palmerston penalty king and he took his overall record from the spot at Queens to 24 out of 26 with a successful conversion.
Kilmarnock were set back on their heels for a while but in 36 minutes Peter Leven curled a decent free kick just wide of the top right corner with Corr beaten. Two minutes later Gary Wales was withdrawn and replaced with trialist Keith Lasley from Motherwell and on the stroke of half time another Leven free kick from almost at the corner flag curled towards goal and was so nearly turned in at the post by the substitute Lasley.
Queens made four changes at half time, introducing Henderson, Scally, Burns and O'Connor for Jim Thomson, Scott McKenzie, Scott Robertson and Andy Thomson. Meantime Kilmarnock replaced Trent McClenachan with Gary Locke. With Jim Thomson leaving the field Andy Aitken took over as team captain for the remainder of the game.
Queens started the second half much more brightly than they had the first with Graham Weir heavily involved in the opposition area. Never the less, the first decent effort was when Naismith prodded a shot just over the bar from 15 yards. Despite that it was a little against the run of play when Kilmarnock found a 55th minute equaliser. Danny Invincible struck a shot from 25 yards which appeared to strike Eric Paton on the back, completely wrong-footing Barry John Corr who was already moving the other way and had no hope with the deflection.
Queens response was to replace John O'Neill with John Henry and in 64 minutes Michael Mullen also came off the bench in relief of Graham Weir. Five minutes later Willie Gibson collected a ball from Jim Lauchlan and weaved a run down the left side leaving opponents in his wake before cutting inside and shooting narrowly over the bar from the edge of the box. In 71 minutes though Queens did recapture the lead when Michael Mullen burst through onto a big ball over the top and consummately buried the ball past young Graeme Smith in the visiting goal from the edge of the box.
In 73 minutes Lewis Sloan became Queens 7th and last substitute of the evening replacing Eric Paton with Paul Burns slotting in at right wing back to accommodate him and within 30 seconds Sloan created a chance for Mullen which this time Smith did manage to save. With 15 minutes to go Paul DiGiacomo replaced Colin Nish and his first involvement was to dribble past a number of Queens players before hitting a weak shot well wide of target. On 82 minutes Queens should have clinched the game when Mullen and O'Connor interchanged passes before the latter attempted to play in Mullen for an open goal only for James Fowler to pop up just in time and take it off the young striker's toes. From the resulting corner though Paul Burns produced a powering run which could easily have ended in goal too only for his curling effort to elude both Smith and the goalpost.
Against the run of play though Kilmarnock produced an equaliser in 84 minutes courtesy of a fine ball through the defence by Allan Johnston and a super finish from Steven Naismith which BJ Corr could do nothing at all about. Straight away though Queens so nearly grabbed what would undoubtedly have been a winner. Michael Mullen was proving a handful again and it took a foul to stop him five or six yards outside the box. From the free kick Willie Gibson curled an effort which Smith could only watch as it cannoned off his crossbar and away to safety. In the final minute of the match Sean O'Connor's turn and shot from Aitken's ball in forced a scrambling save from Smith and the resulting corner pinballed around a little before Michael Mullen finally ended proceedings with a firm shot straight at the midriff of Smith.
A fine positive outing then that bodes well for the Annan tournament this weekend.