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St.JOHNSTONE 2 : 2 QUEEN OF THE SOUTH 20th December 2003
1 S1
S1 - 78
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Name or IFC No.
Same old, same old! Yet another 2-2 draw at St Johnstone, yet another match ending shrouded in controversy, yet another St Johnstone draw snatched from the jaws of defeat against QoS. This is the 4th draw between the two sides in the last 7 matches and in all 4 St Johnstone have needed late equalisers to get a point. It gets very frustrating after a while!

The game only just got the go ahead following a 2pm pitch inspection and the Perth groundstaff spent much of half-time keeping the pitch playable. To be fair the pitch held up much better than I expected and was probably not significantly worse at 4:45pm than it was at 3pm despite the snow cleared off it before kick off and the incessant rain which fell throughout the game. John Connolly made two changes from the side which edged past Brechin last weekend. Gary Wood's heroics in scoring the winner last week earned him a starting role at the expense of Derek Lyle whilst Brian McColligan returned in place of Paul Burns. The home side gave a debut to former Ayr 'keeper Craig Nelson after Kevin Cuthbert took the blame for Ayr's late equaliser last week. As expected, former Doonhamer Brian McLaughlin lined up on the left side of the St Johnstone midfield.

The game was five minutes old when Peter McDonald was presented with an excellent chance to give the home side the lead. A long ball over the top of Brian Reid by Ross Forsyth left him racing clear into the left side of the penalty box but, as John Dodds narrowed the angle, McDonald struck powerfully across the face of goal and wide. Two minutes later Queens showed for the first time when Gary Wood stretched but just failed to reach Paton's right sided cross and slid into the goalpost in the act of trying.

The next 20 minutes saw the Perth side control most of the possession without really ever looking like scoring a goal. Queens for their part were happy to let the home side wear themselves out in the heavy conditions. On 26 minutes though Sean O'Connor suddenly found himself with a chance, through on goal from an acute angle on the right side. He forced a fine save out of Nelson as he looked for the bottom left corner.

The game erupted into action just after the half hour mark. First on 32 minutes, John Robertson picked up the game's first booking for a lunge at Andy Aitken. Within a minute the home side had captured the lead and a farcical goal it was! Simon Donnelly found himself as the spare man on the right side as St Johnstone attacked and hit a good low shot from 15 yards out which John Dodds did very well to block. The loose ball ran clear to Jim Thomson inside his own 6 yard box. He had time to clear but the ball seemed to bobble on the surface and, unsure of his footing, Big JT succeeded only in knocking the ball into his own net for a disastrous own goal.

Within 30 seconds the home side should have doubled their lead as Peter McDonald burst into the box and shot against the bar from 15 yards with Dodds stranded. The rebound just eluded Brian McLaughlin on its way back out fortunately as he would have had an open goal in front of him. However, within two minutes Queens were level. A solid spell of pressure saw the home side unable to clear their box for some time before a right sided throw in was given away. We may not have the weapon of Robbie Neilson these days but Paton's throw still caused chaos in the home defence with at least two St Johnstone heads flicking on before the ball landed at the feet of Sean O'Connor six yards out. Sean wasted no time in burying the ball behind Nelson and into the net.

The remainder of the first half was much more even but the best chance fell to Queens in the final minute after a dreadful kicked clearance from Craig Nelson fell directly to Sean O'Connor. Sean played in Brian McColligan who seemed to want to dribble his way through the home defence rather than shoot early and eventually the final defender won the ball before he could shoot. McColligan obviously felt he had been fouled though and appealed unsuccessfully to Kenny Clark for a penalty

The first chance of the second period fell to Sean O'Connor ten minutes in as he beat the defence to a Wood through ball but Nelson did very well to parry at his feet and deflect the ball out for a corner as John Robertson lay injured as a result of a collision with Nelson. Three minutes later came an even better chance as Paton's cross from a right sided free kick picked out the unmarked Gary Wood in the penalty area but he missed the target with his header from just outside the 6 yard box. Even then David Bagan only just failed to slide the ball in at the post following up and got an injury as a result. The Perth side hit back though and, on 63 minutes, Peter McDonald's chipped effort from 20 yards out was acrobatically tipped over by Dodds. Billy Stark decided to make his first change on 69 minutes with Keigan Parker replacing Simon Donnelly. Queens though were still making chances and another arrived on 76 minutes. Dodds big punt from his penalty area was flicked on by O'Connor and seized upon by Alex Burke. He controlled the ball before chipping early over Craig Nelson from 30 yards out. Unfortunately the ball beat Nelson but also narrowly missed the left post as time seemed to stand still. That was Sean O'Connor's last involvement as the big forward, clearly tiring after his recent knee operation, was replaced with Derek Lyle. A minute later Gary Wood found himself booked for squaring up to an opponent after a physical challenge on him.

With eight minutes remaining Queens grabbed a deserved lead on the basis of the second half performance. Eric Paton's left sided corner was bulleted into the top left corner of the net from ten yards by the head of Brian Reid with his first goal for the club. A minute later Ross Forsyth joined the names in Mr Clark's book for a cynical block on Derek Lyle on the halfway line as he tried to break clear. With time beginning to run out Billy Stark made his final two changes replacing Forsyth and Ryan Stevenson with Paul Lovering and Martyn Fotheringham.

That should have been that but, as we entered the 4th minute of injury time, St Johnstone found an equaliser out of nothing having never looked like scoring in the closing minutes. A right sided cross was cleared away and the danger seemed to have passed before the ball was sent back in from the left. Somehow Mixu Paatelainen found himself alone inside the six yard box with the whole defence seeming to assume he was offside. He tucked the ball behind Dodds easily enough but even then there was a slight delay before Mr Clark awarded the goal, only after double checking with his assistant that the goal was valid. Several Queens players exchanged words with the referee before the game restarted and, when it was over seconds later John Connolly had to be led away after striding onto the park to "talk" to Mr Clark.

To be honest I thought a point would have been a good result before kick off in this game and, over the 90 minutes, it might even have been the right result, though Queens second half performance perhaps should have been enough to earn a win. On that basis, we maybe shouldn't be too disappointed to have got one. However, in the circumstances it is a disappointing draw and a win would have really opened up the top of the division again for us. We are though still in contention and the others know by now we are not to be taken lightly. This should still be a Happy Christmas for Queens fans. Seasonal best wishes to all!

Ewan Lithgow

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