In the last 20 years I've personally seen over 550 QoS games but, in all that time, I've NEVER seen a game quite as good as this one. It was fabulous from start to finish. No lesser word could describe it. A phenomenal performance from a team which went about it's business from the first whistle without a single thought of letting St Mirren win the game. The scoreline was special, no doubts, but it doesn't reflect how well we played and how much we dominated this game. As a contest it could have been stopped at half time, so dominant were we. The game had everything, including some special performances from certain players. Everybody contributed tonight. It would be wrong of me not to say so, but the performances of Steve Bowey and Colin Scott in particular will live long in my memory tonight.
It was the usual Tuesday night cup team from John Connolly. Cup semi final or no cup semi final, it was used as an exercise to make changes and six were made to the starting eleven against Ayr on Saturday past. In came Colin Scott and Jon Crawford as usual in place of Andy Goram and Derek Allan. New loan signing from Hearts, Robbie Neilson made his debut at right back, with Paddy Atkinson shifting over to left back and Derek Anderson rested. Joe McAlpine returned on the left with Steve Bowey reverting to his more usual central role alongside John O'Neill who replaced McColligan. Finally Peter Weatherson started in the unusual role of right midfield in place of Brian McLaughlin who found a place on the bench alongside McColligan, Allan, Anderson and Goram. For St Mirren, the strongest side they had available, including the likes of Ricky Gillies, Andy Dow, Junior Mendes, Jamie McGowan and Martin Cameron as well as Hugh Murray who trained with us this month with a view to a possible deal.
The kick off was delayed by 15 minutes in order to let everyone in following the parking and traffic chaos caused by the gas explosion in Paisley, near the ground. When the game finally did get underway, Queens were straight onto the attack. Within the first minute, John O'Neill's free kick into the box caused panic in the St Mirren defence and Joe McAlpine's volley was deflected into Ludovic Roy's hands from the edge of the area. A couple of minutes later, another O'Neill cross was only half cleared and Weatherson's volley from the edge of the box was deflected wide this time. The start was like a whirlwind and the goal was not long delayed and it arrived after just eight minutes. It all came from a long clearance from the back by Aitken. The ball was completely misjudged by a St Mirren defender and suddenly we had John O'Neill bearing down on goal with both Lyle and Shields for support. The only defender near play went to close the midfielder down but he cleverly squared the ball left for Paul Shields to comprehensively beat Roy from ten yards for his first goal for the club. A minute later, another O'Neill free kick just eluded the head of Lyle rising in the six yard box. In the tenth minute came a slightly controversial incident as Joe McAlpine certainly fouled his opponent as he broke towards the Queens penalty area but fortunately referee Mike McCurry saw the offence outside the area and not in it. The resulting free kick was hit low and hard at the bottom right corner of goal but cleared by John O'Neill.
However, out of pretty much nothing St Mirren found an equaliser in 12 minutes. Gillies made space down the right and crossed towards Cameron who missed his kick in the six yard box but Andy Aitken couldn't quite clear the ball properly and it ran through to Brian McGinty to lash into the roof of the net from six yards. Colin Scott hadn't a hope. In 17 minutes, Gerhard Fellner, St Mirren's new Austrian defender, was booked for blatantly pulling Shields back as he tried to set Lyle clear on goal. In 24 minutes, Roy made a comfortable save following Shields control and shot and three minutes later a good effort from O'Neill was deflected over the bar though the keeper probably had it covered. In the 35th minute, Martin Cameron found rare space to shoot goalward powerfully from the edge of the box but his effort flashed wide of the right post.
Two minutes later, a long ball to the corner flag area was caught by Derek Lyle and played back into John O'Neill on the edge of the penalty area. His first time shot was powerful but gathered by Ludovic Roy at the second attempt. In 39 minutes though, the lead that Queens so richly deserved was restored. A lightning break down the right saw Roy do very well to palm a shot clear but Bowey did very well to latch onto the loose ball off the keeper. He turned at the bye-line and crossed to the back post area where Peter Weatherson met the ball with a powerful header which was turned into goal right in front of the goalkeeper. The announcer credited the goal to Derek Lyle who was certainly in the area but others far nearer than me were convinced a defender touched it in and any credit due was Peter's. No matter, the goal stood.
St Mirren were not long in bouncing back though and Aitken had to react well to prevent McGinty going through on Scott less than a minute later an shortly after that, Scott smothered an effort from distance by Chris Kerr. With three minutes of the half remaining, another fine Queens move saw Bowey, Lyle and McAlpine combine for Lyle's shot to be beaten away by Roy. However, out of nothing, St Mirren equalised again with two minutes of the half remaining. Gillies skinned Atkinson down the right and crossed for Martin Cameron to head powerfully beyond the helpless Colin Scott. Before half time Derek Lyle picked up a booking for a tackle from behind and Fellner had an overhead kick at goal which narrowly missed the post following a Gillies cross.
The first action of the second half saw an O'Neill free kick from the edge of the box well saved by Roy following a foul on Shields. On 49 minutes, St Mirren replaced Jamie McGowan with Sergie Baltacha, son of the former Russian international. Straight away a Neilson long throw caused panic in the "Buddies" defence but, after Shields helped the ball back into the danger area, Weatherson was well wide of target with a volley. Queens re-took the lead on 51 minutes though and what a goal it was! Steve Bowey seized on a loose ball on half way and ran towards the St Mirren box. Unchallenged until he was twenty five yards out, he turned inside the first defender and unleashed a wonderful shot into the top right corner of Roy's goal, an unstoppable effort!
In the 55th minute Connolly decided to try to bolster his defence by introducing Derek Anderson in place of Paddy Atkinson and effectively dropping to a back five by withdrawing McAlpine and Neilson to full back areas. Thus began an extended period of St Mirren pressure. After 59 minutes, a dangerous cross from the left was met by some combination of Martin Cameron and Andy Aitken and headed against the crossbar and over the top. Referee McCurry elected for a corner so I can only assume it was an excellent piece of defending from Andy. Three minutes later a fabulous left sided cross from Mendes was met by the flying head of Ricky Gillies but Colin Scott was equal to the test, palming the ball over the top. If that save was good, the next was even better as Scott somehow kept a low Mendes effort out with fingertips close to the right goalpost. In 64 minutes, Baltacha took a tremendous free kick from 25 yards but again Scott was able to react and tip the shot over the crossbar. It seemed like another goal had to come for the home side and to add to the pressure, big Mark Yardley was introduced in place of earlier goalscorer McGinty. On a rare foray upfield in 76 minutes, Derek Lyle caught home 'keeper Ludovic Roy in possession just outside the penalty area forcing the Frenchman to bring him down but, as the striker had been heading towards the corner flag, the yellow card was surely the correct decision despite the howls from the large Queens support. St Mirren re-asserted their pressure and, following two poor headers from Neilson and Aitken, Cameron should have done better with a shooting chance but fired over the top. It was his last act as he was replaced by Ivan Kristo. In 79 minutes, a deep free kick caused more problems for the Queens defence and, after Gillies just failed to connect with a good headed chance, Bowey charged down a shot from the loose ball. A third St Mirren equaliser was long overdue though and it duly arrived in 81 minutes from a free kick near the right touchline. I couldn't quite see who took it but the dangerous cross seemed to miss everybody before it nestled in the bottom left corner of the net. Gerhard Fellner though in the middle was quick to claim a touch on it and his first goal for the club to boot.
You would have thought after that heartbreak Queens might have folded but you'd have thought wrongly. Back we came and with just four minutes remaining, Roy made a super save at the feet of Paul Shields on the edge of the area after the Celtic youngster was send clear by Lyle. A minute later Connolly introduced fresh legs with Brian McLaughlin replacing Derek Lyle who had run himself into the ground for the cause and a couple of minutes after that McLaughlin's first meaningful touch nearly let Bowey in on goal but Roy reacted well to reach the through ball first. As the match moved into the final minute, McLaughlin earned a free kick right on the edge of the penalty area in a central position. O'Neill, McAlpine and Weatherson lined up to take it but it was Peter Weatherson who actually did hit it and what a thing of beauty it turned out to be. Showing an aptitude we've never seen before he curled the ball over the wall and into the top right corner of goal past the helpless Roy.
A minute into stoppage time, St Mirren earned a corner but Colin Scott did superbly to catch the ball under intense pressure and sent the ball away clear down the right. Weatherson and Neilson ran the ball to the corner flag, looking to use up the remaining time, but were dispossessed and the ball played back along the "Buddies" back four. However, Neilson hadn't given up on the ball yet and he caught the centre half dawdling in possession with a sliding challenge and the ball broke clear for Paul Shields to run unchallenged into the box and bury a shot past Roy into the bottom left corner of goal. That was all that was necessary and, though Queens wasted a little more time by bringing on Derek Allan, he never even touched the ball as we ran out 5-3 winners away to a team which was narrowly relegated from the SPL two seasons ago.
Make no mistake about it, this was a vintage Queens performance and if I see another twenty years of the club I'll be lucky to see a better game. St Mirren's part in the game shouldn't be ignored but, at the end of the day, the better team by far won the day. So another Challenge Cup Final awaits, five years after we narrowly lost to Falkirk as underdogs. This time we'll be favourites but Brechin City will be nobody's mugs. They have eliminated Falkirk and St Johnstone en route to the Final and should certainly not be taken lightly. I for one though am already looking forward to another day out hopefully something like that memorable day at Motherwell in 1997 but with a better result. Play like this and anyone would struggle to contain us.