"Relegation certainties"! That's how many St Mirren fans described us at the start of the season on at least one website. They will be laughing on the other side of their faces now. Queens won in their own backyard and fully deserved to do so. In fact, but for some decent goalkeeping from Craig Hinchcliffe and some poor finishing from Queens the victory would have been by a much greater margin. This was an excellent showing, bouncing back from last weekend's home defeat and ending the day just a point from the top of the division.
John Connolly sprang a few surprises with his line up today. After playing the same eleven in four straight league matches he made no less than four changes in an attempt to freshen up the side. In for a first game of the season came Colin Scott at the expense of John Dodds. In for a first game ever at the expense of Willie Gibson came Paul Talbot. The whole front line was changed too with O'Connor and Burke starting in place of Wood and Lyle. Lyle moved to right midfield, Paton to right back and Derek Allan dropped right out of the squad. Another new face appeared on the bench with a first listing in the sixteen for Emilio Jaconelli. In the home side of course was the familiar face of John O'Neill, Queens top scorer for the previous two seasons. Another familiar face in the crowd was that of Jon Crawford. Nice to see "Craw" sitting with Messrs Allan, McColligan and Gibson watching the game. Hope he enjoyed it!
Queens started the brighter and threw in a number of dangerous early crosses as well as a 20 yard range finder from Paton but it was the home side who created the first good opportunity after three minutes. Alan Russell beat the offside and gained space down the left before feeding the ball back to Laurie Ellis. Ellis put in a great cross to the near post where Gillies had found space but with goal beckoning he failed to get enough on his header and it flashed across the face of goal and harmlessly wide. John O'Neill's afternoon then ended disappointingly early for him. He seemed to pull a hamstring making a burst forward from midfield after just 8 minutes and was replaced with Robert Dunn. The move was greeted with the expected ironic cheers from the Queens support.
St Mirren finally came out of their shell and had their best spell of the game just before the half hour mark. On 23 minutes Jim Thomson did magnificently to throw himself in front of a Lavety volley from all of 6 yards and, two minutes later, the same player rounded both JT and Brian Reid in the box before shooting narrowly past the left post with a cross goal effort. At the other end on 28 minutes Paul Talbot almost caught Hinchcliffe out with a cross-come-shot from a right sided free kick. His effort nearly sneaked in at the back post in a very similar manner to Roy Maakay's winning goal against Celtic in midweek.
The defining moments of the match came on 31 minutes. Derek Lyle beat one player on the right side and then knocked the ball past Robert Dunn as well. Dunn reacted with a petulant little trip, a clear foul but to be honest pretty innocuous. However, Del appeared to land awkwardly and immediately called for treatment. As he was right in front of the dug-outs, KC was there in a flash but the diagnosis was bad. A stretcher was called for and, after a delay of five minutes or so for treatment, Lyle was stretchered off with his left leg in a splint. Whether anything was broken or it was ligament damage remains to be seen. Paul Burns was his replacement. When the game finally restarted though it was Queens who immediately took the lead. Robert Dunn was woefully short with a passback, allowing Alex Burke to nip in. He beat Hinchcliffe to the ball and then, as the keeper desperately tried to make it back to his goal, crossed right along the bye-line for the in-rushing Sean O'Connor to knock home from no more than a yard out.
The home side tried to hit back and on 43 minutes Lavety headed across the face of goal only to find no takers. Two minutes later Mark Crilly became the first player booked for tripping Burke from behind after Burke had got past him in midfield. As the game moved into first half injury time though Queens doubled their lead. The home side got themselves into all sorts of trouble at the back and gave the ball away under pressure from Bowey and O'Connor. A loose clearance went only as far as Joe McAlpine who beat one opponent before crossing back into the box. With the marking at sixes and sevenses Alex Burke had all the time in the world to control the ball and then knock it over the advancing Hinchcliffe and into the back of the net from about 8 yards out.
Eric Paton sends the ball to Sean O'Connor
You would have thought that would be it for the first half as the home fans started to make their displeasure known. However, out of nothing St Mirren found a foothold in the game 5 minutes into injury time. Ricky Gillies was barged over by a combination of Reid and McAlpine in the box and referee Mr Richmond had no hesitation in awarding a penalty kick. Gillies picked himself up and coolly slotted the ball into the bottom left corner despite Scott going the right way.
Queens started the second half looking to finish the game off. Only a minute had passed when Burke played Bowey into the penalty box with a great chance but his shot from 12 yards out lacked sufficient power and accuracy to beat Hinchcliffe. Two minutes later Eric Paton only just failed to find the top corner with a 20 yard free kick from the left side of the penalty box. The game then became a bit towsey with a number of bookings over the following quarter hour about all there was to write about. For the home side, Ellis, Murray and Lavety joined Crilly in the book whilst David Bagan also saw yellow for tripping Lavety.
Paul Talbot nods on to Alex Burke
After Sean O'Connor headed a McAlpine cross narrowly wide on 65 minutes John Coughlin made his final two changes, replacing van Zanten and Lavety with Twaddle and Annand. The change nearly paid off immediately when Joe McAlpine blocked a goalbound effort from Alan Russell on the line. However, on 71 minutes the home side found themselves reduced to ten when Mark Crilly received a second yellow for another foul on young Paul Burns. It seemed a pretty obvious decision so it was hard to see why he was upset about it. To be honest, after that St Mirren never even looked like finding an equaliser.
Queens so nearly clinched the game with fifteen minutes remaining. Yet another dreadful mix up in the St Mirren defence saw a ball played through towards Alex Burke running beyond the whole defence. Hinchcliffe raced 20 yards from his penalty box to just beat Burke to the ball only for it to drop to Paul Burns on halfway. After taking a touch to control the teenager tried a shot from all of 45 yards over the stranded keeper but it dropped frustratingly a foot or so wide.
With 12 minutes remaining Connolly freshened the line up by introducing Gary Wood in place of Alex Burke who had run himself into the ground. A minute later Wood charged down a clearance and set O'Connor clean through on goal. However Sean's finishing let him down and a scuffed shot from the edge of the box was no test for Hinchcliffe. With five minutes to go, O'Connor headed goalward from Talbot's left sided cross. It had goal written all over it but somehow Hinchcliffe managed to claw the ball away when it seemed to be already past him. As the game moved into injury time O'Connor again and Eric Paton both had decent efforts which failed to really trouble the home keeper.
So another excellent result for Queens. Who would have believed after the first game at St Johnstone that we'd be a point off the top after 6 matches? Having said that though, we remain in the bottom half of the table in what is an amazingly tight league at the moment. Neither Ayr nor Brechin managed a win today either so the safety gap to the bottom grew a bit. A performance like this again on Tuesday will be needed though if we are to win at Dingwall and set up a glamour CIS Cup tie.
Photo's by David Gow