And so the winning run came to an end, as we always knew it would eventually I suppose, but in a disappointing manner. Queens went into this match on a five game winning run and having beaten their Dingwall rivals five times in a row without conceding a goal. Unfortunately neither run became six games and I couldn't really complain either as, on the day, we just didn't really perform, certainly not as well as we have been of late anyway.
After last weekend's heroics it was no surprise that the same eleven took the field to begin the game. There was a change on the bench though as Gary Wood took ill at the team hotel and was replaced by Derek Lyle, a surprise inclusion after passing a fitness test this morning. The game started very slowly though and it was seven minutes before any chance worthy of note arrived. After Joe McAlpine had a shot blocked the ball broke to David Bagan to strike from the edge of the box. He hit the ball well but an out-rushing defender blocked the ball with an arm and it spun up nicely for Colin Stewart to catch on his goal-line. There were some appeals for a penalty but, to be fair, it was much more ball to arm than arm to ball. In 27 minutes, an excellent passing move down the right side involving Paton, Bowey and Bagan saw Paul Burns freed into the penalty box. He fired the ball across the face of goal forcing Stuart Malcolm to hack over his own crossbar on the stretch. From the resulting corner the ball fell to Andy Aitken inside the penalty area and he prodded the ball goalward via a deflection off of a shin which took it past Colin Stewart. However, it was cleared off the line by the man on the post. On the half hour mark Joe McAlpine's cross was headed out to the edge of the box by Malcolm from where Eric Paton headed well over the bar.
Ross County showed their hand for the first time in 35 minutes when Winters had a free kick from 25 yards well tipped over by Colin Scott. From the resulting corner kick the ball was again headed goalward but this time Paul Burns did his job at the right post and headed clear. However, Queens were not long in re-asserting dominance and Brian Reid tested Stewart with a volley from a corner before Burns fired narrowly over the bar from 20 yards after a fine run. Burns was having a storming first half and five minutes before the break the youngster made the bye-line again before firing in another low cross which McCulloch hacked away from his own line. On 43 minutes Brian Reid first rose to meet a corner with a header up in the air and then volleyed the dropping ball narrowly past the left post with Stewart stranded and only able to watch. A minute before the break Alex Burke nearly created a goal with a driving run from halfway. His incisive pass was first missed altogether by Bowey and then hit low for goal by McAlpine only for Colin Stewart to react brilliantly and turn the ball round the post. In the scheme of the game that would prove to be a crucial save at the end of the day.
The second half began with County asserting themselves much better and putting the Queens defence under much more pressure. However, the first good chance arrived ten minutes in when Bowey sent McAlpine sprinting up the left before crossing in low towards Burke in front of goal. Burke couldn't make any contact on the ball but Burns arrived at the back post to knock the ball over the bar under a heavy challenge. However, a minute later the home side took the lead. Queens had possession on the right side but Paul Burns' lay-off towards Eric Paton was well short and Paton was forced to foul his opponent rather than let him clear. Jamie McCunnie took the resulting kick from the left touchline and flighted it perfectly for Sean Webb to meet with a running header powered into the bottom left corner. Colin Scott had no chance at all but, whilst it was an excellent header, it was also completely unchallenged with nobody at all tracking the run.
The first (and only) booking of the game arrived in 64 minutes when Hugh Robertson was cautioned for an over the top of the ball challenge on young Burns. A minute later the home side made their first change bringing on Conor Gethins for David Winters. On 78 minutes Scott again did well to save low from the aforementioned Gethins' fine low shot. Graham Bayne was first to the rebound but on the stretch he could only put the ball into the side netting. There then followed a succession of substitutions with Queens introducing Derek Lyle for Sean O'Connor and Willie Gibson for Andy Aitken whilst County brought on O'Donnell for McCunnie and Cowie for the goalscorer Webb, who was suffering from cramp. Before that last change David Bagan strode forward to get a shot in on goal but it lacked any real power and Stewart saved easily. As the game moved into injury time, and John Connolly fell out with Jimmy Bone over the home bench's lack of speed in providing a replacement ball for one hammered into the building site, Bagan had the final opportunity, shooting narrowly wide left from 20 yards with Stewart clawing at thin air.
However, there was no further time and, whilst the points were not surrendered without a fight, we didn't really deserve much out of this game. That said, County were no better really and it probably should have been a scoreless draw. With Inverness inactive today due to the Challenge Cup Final tomorrow we remain top for at least another week anyway and face another top of the table clash with St Johnstone next weekend. Hopefully with the weight of expectancy lifted a bit we can go out and put on a show at Easter Road on Tuesday night before the clash with the Perth side though.