A hugely improved performance from Queens this week as they outclassed the previously impressive looking Berwick Rangers side. Following last week's disappointing derby showing against Stranraer, John Connolly made a couple of team changes. Sandy Hodge and Dean Muir returned to the starting line-ups in place of Ross Atkinson and Peter Weatherson, who had to make do with a seat on the bench. The tactics were changed to a flat back four, with Phil Nixon slotting in to a central midfield berth alongside Tony Nelson.
Queens started quickly and, within a minute, Sandy Hodge had sent Warren Hawke away down the left to earn the first corner of the game. Muir's corner was met six yards out in a crowded box and only just clawed away by Berwick keeper, McLean. Queens kept up the pressure and in the seventh minute Sandy Hodge headed on a Mathieson goal kick into the path of Steve Preen. Preen broke into the box but spurned the chance of a shot himself, instead laying wide to Dean Muir. Muir's first effort was blocked and, when the ball came back to him, his second effort was parried out for another corner.
However, the home side soon settled into their best period of the game and in the 11th minute Andy Aitken picked up the first booking of the game for an awkward challenge which ended up injuring himself far worse than his opponent. In the 16th minute, the "Wee Rangers" beat the offside trap and broke up the right. A dangerous square ball followed but Steven Pickering appeared to clear the ball. Ten minutes later, the dangerous McDonald lashed an effort just over the top.
Queens were soon back in the ascendancy though and took the lead in the 33rd minute. The referee awarded a slightly dubious free kick halfway inside the Berwick half. Muir's kick found the head of Preen, who really should have scored with a free header but headed across goal and the effort was scrambled out for a corner. From Paddy Atkinson's corner though, Warren Hawke powered home a near post header against his former side.
Any thoughts that Queens might attempt to sit on the lead evaporated three minutes later when it was doubled. Sandy Hodge was the architect this time with a storming run down the left. He beat two Berwick defenders before crossing perfectly for the unmarked Steve Preen to head home at the back post, his first goal for Queens.
Before half time, Rangers' Gary Wood deflected a McDonald strike just over the top and Tony Nelson joined Aitken in the referee's notebook for his second foul in a matter of minutes.
Queens started the second half in the same fashion that they played the first half and were immediately on the attack. They forced a series of early corners, one of which saw the again unmarked Preen fail to make any contact with Atkinson's cross when any sort of a touch would have meant a third goal. However, bad news was just around the corner and, in the 53rd minute Andy Aitken caught McDonald with a needless challenge out at the touchline. The referee had little hesitation in sending him off and reducing us yet again to ten men. Connolly re-organised by sending Phil Nixon back into his more accustomed centre back role and dropping Warren Hawke back into the midfield, leaving Preen alone up front.
If this was expected to lead to a "backs to the wall" defensive effort, we couldn't have been more wrong. Queens continued to dominate the game, playing cleverly and quickly on the break. In the 56th minute, Muir's left wing corner was only half cleared and played back in by Sandy Hodge. The waiting Warren Hawke pounced with a half volley but put the chance over the top. Two minutes later, Preen found himself clear down the left but, with Nelson and Muir free to his right, he stumbled trying to beat the last defender himself. In the 69th minute, Preen went down under a challenge in the penalty area. There wasn't a lot to the incident and it probably wasn't a penalty but neither did it look a dive. However, Preen picked himself up to be booked for his troubles.
A minute later, Berwick came as close to scoring as they did all afternoon. A throw from the left found it's way to McDonald whose header beat Mathieson but landed on the top of the crossbar and went over. Back came Queens again though and, in the 75th minute, Sandy Hodge won a tackle and found himself bearing in on goal with Preen alongside and only the keeper to beat. He tried to draw the keeper out before squaring to his team-mate but delayed too long and, when the pass finally came, it was cut out for a corner by a returning defender. This was Preen's last involvement and, before the corner was taken, he was replaced by Peter Weatherson.
The home side mounted one final spell of pressure, trying to drag themselves back into the game. On 77 minutes, a break down the right saw Gary Wood get in an effort which beat Mathieson but somehow eluded the far post as well. Three minutes later, Phil Nixon heroically threw himself in front of a shot on goal at the edge of the box. He immediately crashed to the ground in obvious distress. After lengthy treatment, Nixon was stretchered off the field and taken to hospital. Cane Young came on in his place and Sandy Hodge became Andy Martin's third centre half partner of the day. On 83 minutes Queens made their final change when Caldwell replaced Nelson.
The action was by no means over yet though. In the 85th minute, Cane Young did well to win possession on the right and broke to the edge of the box before picking out Peter Weatherson. The young striker miskicked though, trying to take the shot early. Two minutes later it was Sandy Hodge picking up a loose ball in his own half and embarking on one of his storming runs, half the length of the pitch, before shooting across the face of goal.
With two minutes remaining, Queens finally added the third goal that their second half performance richly deserved. Peter Weatherson picked up the ball midway inside the Berwick half and spread the ball out wide right. Dean Muir ran himself into the ground and just caught the ball before it went out of play. He played an early cross to the near post where Weatherson prodded the ball against a defender. However, the ball broke back to him and, at the second attempt, Weatherson made no mistake, blasting home from six yards out.
The action still wasn't over though and, with practically the last kick of the ball, a fourth goal was added. Again it was all about Weatherson and Muir. This time it was Weatherson who released Dean Muir with a clever flick on the halfway line. The young wing-back found himself clear of the defence and racing in on goal from forty yards out. He was tiring all the time though and had just entered the box when he was caught from behind by a tackling defender. The ball spun clear of the challenge, past the stranded goalkeeper and nestled in the bottom left corner of the net. It wasn't entirely clear who got the final touch on the ball and, for me, it may well have been an own goal but Muir took the plaudits.
There was barely time for the restart and a fine victory had been achieved. It remains to be seen at what cost though. Andy Aitken will now be suspended, at least for next week's game against Forfar, and the injury to Phil Nixon looked serious enough to keep him out for some time.