The highest crowd in the SFL today witnessed what was an entertaining match between two side intent on playing open attacking football, in the end the sharing of the points was fair but it could so easily have swung either way in the last few minutes.
The Queens line-up saw some changes to the usual 'Saturday' side with McAlpine making way for McLaughlin and the injured Atkinson being replaced by McColligan, sort of. The formation lined up as a 4-4-2 with Gray at right back, however with little other cover down the right the defence were often playing with just the three men as the formation altered to suit Gray getting further forward. On the bench were O'Neill, McAlpine, Crawford, Scott and because of our serious injury list youngster Willie Gibson from the Under 18's who only made his own comeback from a season long injury last Monday night.
The game almost started in a disastrous fashion for Queens as Alan Gray slipped and allowed his opponent past down the wing, the resultant cross ball though was well cleared by Andy Aitken, Saints were intent on applying some early pressure and were pinning Queens back in the opening minutes. Queens however were soon re-composed and almost created a goal from an Eric Paton free-kick that surprised everyone as he played in Peter Weatherson down the left to cross from the bye-line but with no takers. Similarly, moments later, Peter Weatherson played-in Brian McLaughlin and the winger hit the bye line but his cross too went without takers.
Paton feeds Nellie from the free-kick
St.Johnstone almost scored in twenty minutes when the ball was headed around in the home sides box without being effectively cleared, the final effort though was wide of target, it was their best chance of the game so far.
Moments later and Queens came close when Eric Paton lifted a ball over the heads of the Saints defenders that Peter Weatherson needed and extra half boot size to connect with it. It was end to end stuff and on thirty minutes another slip by Alan Gray on the right side of midfield allowed the Saints winger to cross to his man at the back post where it was collected and rifled goalward, his effort was poor though and it flew past without giving Goram any problem.
Derek Allan powers a header from a corner goalward
The game died down for the last few minutes of the half and the teams went in level.
HALF TIME 0 - 0
The second half started quietly but soon livened up as first Bowser was clattered from behind then Andy Aitken was taken out of the game in the corner area, only to be booked for complaining and then Alan Gray found his name in the book as he became the meat in a St.Johnstone sandwich. Naturally this injected a bit more urgency about the proceedings and St.Johnstone almost took advantage by breaking into the box, the combination of Paton and Goram though saved the day as the ex-Scotland 'keeper blocked with his legs and Paton cleared from an inrushing forward.
Whilst Queens had been largely held in the middle of the park for most of the half the last fifteen minutes saw us step up a gear, firstly Derek Lyle made an opening as he chased down Ian Maxwell, the striker winning the ball out wide and almost first time crossing it to the incoming Peter Weatherson and his marker, the two of them both missed the ball and the Saints goal escaped.
St.Johnstone were still in the hunt and Andy Goram had to get down well to a long range driven effort to make a good save and then Paul Hartley responded to the taunts of the crowd to send a curling effort just over from wide left.
Hartley watches as the ball curls past the goal
With Saints already having used all three substitutes it was John Connolly's turn to make some changes as he introduced firstly Joe McAlpine for Alan Gray and swapped Brian McLaughlin to the right and then makeshift striker John O'Neill for Derek Lyle. In between times Queens picked up their fourth booking of the game as Brian McColligan was yellow-carded for persistent fouling, the total of four being four more than we had received in all of our previous league outings this term and in a game that could never be described as dirty, purely competitive.
The changes immediately injected new energy into the Dumfries attack with McAlpine and O'Neill combining well and O'Neill almost breaking through the visitors defence but with only one man to beat he was hauled down and as he attempted to regain his feet following the challenge the referee awarded a free kick against him.
The game was played out with both sides committed to the end but with neither able to break down their respective opponents defences. All in all an entertaining game with a result that was probably fair.