This was one of those games which had everything really, except unfortunately the point for Queens which their hard work and endeavour of the second half deserved. A trip to the other end of the country to face a rampant Caley side with nine wins from their last ten games was certainly a daunting task but one which you felt Queens would be up for after their recent turn in fortunes. John Connolly made a couple of changes to the squad which beat Ayr last week. Paddy Atkinson returned to the starting eleven in a left midfield role in place of Brian McLaughlin who dropped to the bench despite scoring the winner last week. Alan Gray returned to the bench to replace Joe McAlpine.
It was a slow start to the game for both teams but after six minutes Inverness took the lead from the game's first attack of any note. The ball was worked across the pitch from right to left with crisp passing and reached Barry Robson who cut inside and slid a pass towards Dennis Wyness. The in-form striker immediately toed in past Jim Thomson and perfectly into the path of his strike partner, Paul Ritchie, who poked the ball into the bottom right corner giving Goram no chance. Four minutes later, that man Wyness again picked up a loose ball on the edge of the box and fired towards the bottom right corner, forcing a fine tip round the post from "The Goalie". Shortly after, Brian McColligan picked up the first booking of the game for a foul on Ross Tokely. It seemed a little harsh as he appeared to get a lot of the ball from where I was sitting but Tokely crumpled and, having committed another foul a couple of minutes earlier, Mr MacDonald decided to exert his authority early. How that would come back to haunt us later!
Queens first showing at the other end was a Peter Weatherson 25 yard free kick which looped over the wall but wide of the left hand post after 20 minutes. However, five minutes later the home side should really have doubled their lead when an in-swinging right sided Robson free kick was met with a free header from Ritchie on the six yard line but he stooped to head wide of the left post this time. Just after the half hour mark, a magnificent run by McBain led to a pull back being rifled goalward but Jim Thomson blocked it. The Caley fans appealed loudly for a penalty but, tellingly perhaps, there was no appeal on the field. Two minutes later, Wyness appeared to elbow Andy Aitken in the face in a halfway line jump for the ball but, as the defender crumpled in a heap, the striker was waved on to run at goal. Fortunately covering players were able to halt the former Aberdeen man but at the cost of a free kick which Robson duly hit well over the crossbar. On 35 minutes the home side again came close to scoring when Wyness put McBain through on goal with a great pass but Goram came to the rescue with a fine block.
In the 37th minute though Queens nearly bounced back with Sean O'Connor chasing a long clearance from the back, catching it and beating his man before passing the ball just behind Derek Lyle who had got up to join him and would have been clear on goal. However, a minute later, and completely against the run of play to that point, Queens did equalise, and in some controversial circumstances. Robbie Neilson made good ground down the right and reached the goal-line before standing a cross up to the back post. Paddy Atkinson managed to get above the defender to send a looping header over Mark Brown but it seemed to be missing the post until Sean O'Connor reached out a long leg and diverted it into the goal from about a yard out. As Queens started celebrating though it seemed the goal would be disallowed as the stand-side assistant stood with his flag raised, not for offside as most thought, but apparently for a high foot from big Sean. Mr MacDonald went over to discuss the incident and must have decided that there was no dangerous play though for he awarded the goal.
However, the first half action was far from finished yet and on forty minutes Jim Thomson appeared to pull Wyness back in the box but play was waved on and the ball cleared. Seconds later though big Jim went through the back of Wyness on the halfway line and earned the game's second yellow card. There could be little complaint about that one. On 43 minutes, big Bobby Mann strode forward from the back and hit a drive from 35 yards which was deflected wide of the left post with Goram left stranded. The resulting corner was cleared to the edge of the box and returned on the half-volley by Robson but Goram made a tremendous save to tip his strike over for another corner. This time the kick was half cleared again but crossed back into the box. Sean O'Connor appeared to go shoulder to shoulder with Caley's McBain but the smaller man hit the ground and the referee pointed to the spot. Barry Robson stepped forward and, after some argument about the spotting of the ball, hammered the kick into the top left corner to restore the home lead. The bad news hadn't finished for the half though as in the final minute we earned a free kick on the left side. The cross into the box was headed away as far as the edge of the penalty area where Peter Weatherson tried to reach the ball ahead of Roy McBain but lost the race and caught the Caley player at waist height in the challenge. Referee Mr MacDonald had little hesitation in flashing a straight red card. It was one of those challenges which, if it was done against one of our players we'd have shouted for a sending off. However, whilst it was possibly reckless and painful, it wasn't a malicious challenge and I thought yellow might have been enough. It will be interesting to see it again on camera tomorrow as the cameraman would have had a better angle than me to see it.
Andy Goram watches the action unfold - Photo courtesey of the Duke of Galloway
If the first half finished badly, the second half just got worse! Two minutes in and Hart just failed to reach a Wyness through ball as Goram rushed from goal to clear. Two minutes later and a hard job to get back in the game became virtually impossible as Brian McColligan joined Peter in the proverbial "early bath". Queens were on the attack down the left side and McColligan tried to break into the penalty area. Just as he was crossing the line into the box a defender stretched out a leg and Brian hit the deck. As the Queens squad and bench appealed for a penalty, Mr MacDonald ran up and flashed a yellow card at the former "Bankie" for diving. That was his second yellow and it was duly followed by red. A couple of minutes later things just went from bad to worse as the lead was extended to 3-1. Queens managed to earn a corner but over-committed forward and, when the ball was cleared upfield, Barry Robson found himself one on one with Anderson. The defender did well to hold the winger up until support arrived but then they all stood off him and allowed him time to size up a wonder drive into the top left corner from 25 yards out with Goram again helpless.
Down to nine men, away from home, playing the division's form team Queens shouldn't have had a prayer of getting back into the game. Yet they played more quality football with nine than they did with eleven and pulled a goal back almost immediately, again with a little bit of controversy about it. Derek Lyle broke into the box from the right side and was gang tackled by three Caley defenders. Somehow the ball ricocheted to Sean O'Connor who was standing at least a yard offside in the middle of the penalty box and he duly despatched the ball past Brown. I can only assume the last touch towards Sean came from a home defender which then played him onside. A minute later, O'Connor again broke up the left, leaving defenders trailing, and almost played Bowey in on the edge of the box but again the ball fell just behind the blond midfielder.
Inverness were soon back on the attack though and McBain ran from his own half on a glorious "mazy" before crossing to Wyness who headed over from two yards out with the goal at his mercy. Immediately John Connolly made his first change, replacing the clearly tiring O'Connor with Paul Shields. Within a minute though Wyness again slipped Paul Ritchie in on goal and, despite looking suspiciously offside, the striker became the third player in the game to hit a double, shooting across Goram into the bottom right corner. Caley were looking for more goals and immediately made two attacking substitutions of their own, replacing Munro and Duncan with Charlie Christie and Liam Keogh. On 64 minutes Ritchie narrowly failed to hit his hat trick, shooting wide of the left post after being played in by Christie and, two minutes later, Robson failed to hit one too when Goram was able to smother his drive from the edge of the box. In the 67th minute, Queens were on the attack but lost possession at the edge of the Caley box. Ross Tokely was able to charge from one end of the park to the other before cutting the ball back into the six yard box where it was met by Ritchie (I think) who beat Goram but struck the foot of the post. The rebound came out as far as Wyness who again shot past Goram but into the side netting.
With just under 20 minutes remaining Connolly threw on John O'Neill for Lyle and dropped into playing with just one forward up. The move paid almost immediate dividends when Atkinson hit a long cross to the back of the penalty area from just over the halfway line and Shields headed on to send Robbie Neilson clean through on goal. He was hauled down from behind by Robson and again Mr MacDonald had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Having given the penalty though you do have to wonder how Robson escaped a red card of his own given that Neilson was heading straight for goal and there was no covering player around. John O'Neill did his customary job from the penalty spot, burying the ball in the bottom left corner. Before the game could restart McLaughlin replaced Atkinson. In the 77th minute Queens gained a free kick on halfway and sent Jim Thomson forward. The ball was hit long, nodded on by Thomson and it took a good defensive block to prevent Paul Shields from hitting the target with a shot on the turn. As Caley broke forward in the aftermath, Steve Bowey became the latest player in the book for a two footed slide tackle on McBain again. Five minutes later and it was John O'Neill's turn to see yellow for a trip on Christie. From the resulting free kick about five yards outside the box Bobby Mann curled a shot towards the top left corner but Goram was equal to the task with a tremendous tip over the top.
As time moved into the 90th minute, Robbie Neilson twice came over to the left to send long throws into the Caley box creating more than a little panic in there but the home side survived and put the final nail in our coffin in injury time. O'Neill was careless with a lay-off and Caley were able to hit a low cross over from the left side which found Paul Ritchie standing six yards out. He was able to place the ball into the net easily despite Andy Aitken's efforts to join the red card sinners by handling it on the line.
So an end to our sound defensive run of late and another defeat dropping us one place in the league. However, make no mistake about it, there are a lot of positives to be taken from this game. Caley are probably the best side in the League at the moment and, despite having two extra men for almost half the game, they couldn't kill us off. Indeed Queens were the ones playing most of the football in the second half. Unfortunately we will be without both Weatherson and McColligan for next week's visit of St Mirren and that may prove costly but if we show the attitude we did in the second half today when it would have been much easier to fold or defend and sit on what we had then we should be able to bounce straight back.