A tremendous performance at Ayr today yielded a well deserved three points for Queens. I recall saying last week that a similar performance to the one which nearly saw off Falkirk would surely result in three points at Ayr. The team did all that and then some in systematically dismantling Campbell Money's young side. In so doing we moved to just one point off the top of the division. Who saw that coming after an opening day mauling at St Johnstone?
To nobody's surprise it was same again as far as the team today was concerned. After two fine results the same sixteen were on duty again. It was the home side who were first to show as, inside the opening minute, Andrew Ferguson gained possession on the right and ran towards goal before shooting from the edge of the box. The effort lacked any real power though and Dodds was able to pick the ball up with ease. Queens first chance came after seven minutes when Willie Gibson fed the ball through to David Bagan, running ahead of the forwards, but he sliced wildly wide right from the edge of the box when he had time for a more composed effort. A minute later, Dunlop and Kean for the home side both challenged Brian Reid for an aerial ball. Reid comfortably won the ball but the two home players suffered a clash of heads with one another making extensive treatment necessary. Both would continue eventually but Dunlop didn't last too much longer.
After 11 minutes came a big scare for Queens. Ayr won a corner on the left side which was hit way beyond the back post. As Craig and Reid went up for the ball there was a huge appeal for a handball ignored by the referee. The ball broke back into the middle of the box where a home player stabbed it goalward. Dodds was unable to get back across goal but fortunately Derek Lyle was alert and cleared the ball off the line. Breaking forward immediately, Steve Bowey found himself clear on goal after collecting a headed knock down but, like Bagan before him, he sliced wildly wide, this time of the left post. With 15 minutes on the clock Derek Allan headed Willie Gibson's right sided corner narrowly over the top from 10 yards out.
A minute later though the deadlock was broken. It was a goal made and scored by Eric Paton. He seized possession on the right side of the park about 40 yards from goal and made straight for the penalty area, exchanging passes with Derek Lyle along the way. Having reached the edge of the box, Eric set himself up with a clean view of goal before rifling the ball past Roy and into the right side of the goal. Five minutes later, Mick Dunlop finally succumbed to his head knock and departed the pitch to be replaced by Boyd Mullen.
In 25 minutes Derek Lyle tried the spectacular, overhead kicking a headed clearance back towards goal from 18 yards out. His effort was floating under the bar alright but didn't have enough pace to trouble Ludovic Roy. Three minutes later, another fine passing move saw Bowey try a chip to the left post, very similar to his goal at Perth three weeks ago. This time though Roy was alert and made a fine save, diving backwards to tip over the bar. From the resulting corner, no-one picked up Eric Paton standing very deep so he was able to stride forward and hit a powerful drive from Gibson's pass which Roy again made a spectacular diving save from. On the half hour mark though Queens were maybe a bit fortunate when Ayr countered quickly from a corner and Mullen's shot from 18 yards was blocked in a "painful" manner by his own player, Kean, standing about 10 yards out. A minute later, Gary Wood was penalised for a foul as he tried to head clear 20 yards out. David Craig hit the resulting free kick powerfully at goal but saw his effort tipped over the top by Dodds.
With 10 minutes of the half remaining, Gary Wood headed another Gibson corner narrowly over the bar. However, five minutes later Queens dodged another bullet when Reid tried to let a ball run through to Dodds. The keeper didn't come for it and the veteran defender eventually had to knock it back to him, causing Dodds to clear the ball against Kean but fortunately the ball bounced back into his arms. Finally, a minute before the break, another Ayr break up the left side saw Kean cross for Steven Ferguson to have a diving header at goal from 12 yards out. He failed to get enough power in it though and Dodds was able to get across and make the save low to his left.
Ayr made their second change at half time with Willie Lyle, perhaps surprisingly not starting, replacing Stuart McGrady at right back. The first chance of the second period took eight minutes to appear before Wood managed to swing a cross over and a defender headed clear at his right post just before Lyle could head home. The resulting corner from Gibson was flicked goalward by Wood at the near post but scrambled away by the home defence. After 58 minutes McAlpine and Gibson combined to set Derek Lyle free in a remarkably similar position to that from which Paton had scored. This time though Lyle failed to get any power in his shot and Roy again made the save.
On the hour mark Gary Wood talked himself into the book for complaining about a foul given against him by Mr Conroy and John Connolly made a couple of changes. First Alex Burke replaced Willie Gibson and then Sean O'Connor came on for Eric Paton who had picked up a knock in a challenge a few minutes earlier. The latter change meant Derek Lyle reverting to the right side of midfield. In the 66th minute Alex Burke took a corner on the right very quickly and enabled Lyle to run right into the penalty area before crossing for Derek Allan to dive and head powerfully at goal. Somehow though the goalkeeper managed to claw the ball away from the top left corner before it could cross the line. A minute later O'Connor set Wood in with a shooting chance and again Roy did well to dive and save low to his left.
It was all Queens now though and a second goal duly arrived in the 69th minute. Alex Burke gained possession on the left side and seemed to have mis-controlled the ball but managed to stumble through a couple of challenges before playing a ball inside the full back for Sean O'Connor who had beaten the offside trap. Big Sean ran towards goal on the left side of the box before rifling a shot low past Roy and into the bottom right corner of the net. Campbell Money decided to gamble then and withdrew his first substitute Boyd Mullen and replaced him with Stephen Whalen, an extra forward.
However, Queens very nearly made it 3-0 just a minute later. Bagan picked out Lyle running free down the right and his cross picked out Bowey who twisted and overhead kicked the ball powerfully to the top corner of goal. Incredibly though Ludovic Roy flew into the air and tipped the ball over the top, denying Bowey a certain goal of the month award surely in the process. Five minutes later some fine cover defending by Allan prevented Steven Ferguson pulling a goal back for Ayr but a third goal was delayed only another two minutes. This time the architect and scorer was Alex Burke. He ran down the left side and exchanged passes with Sean O'Connor before bursting onto the return ball and slamming the ball home from 6 yards out.
John Connolly immediately made his final switch with young Paul Burns replacing David Bagan for the final 12 minutes. With ten minutes remaining, McAlpine's deep cross from the left was headed goalward by Bowey but easily saved by Roy. Breaking forward immediately the home side earned a corner and, with it, a first foothold in the game. Scott Chaplain's right sided kick just sailed over Brian Reid's head and was met with a thundering header from the completely unmarked Mark Campbell from 6 yards out.
Queens responded immediately though and Burke and Bowey combined to leave the latter clean through on goal in a similar position to that from which O'Connor had scored the second some time earlier. This time though Roy made an excellent stop with his legs. The fourth goal though was delayed only until the 84th minute. Paul Burns won a tackle in midfield and Bowey was able to feed the ball forward to Wood. The striker's weighted pass inside the left back saw Sean O'Connor clean through on goal just as he was at Falkirk last weekend. This time though there was no mistake and he placed the ball behind Roy and into the net to re-establish the three goal margin. A minute later another terrible mix-up in the Ayr defence allowed Wood to set Lyle free and running towards goal too but Roy was able to save his effort from the edge of the box.
With two minutes remaining Joe McAlpine popped up with a fine headed clearance inside his own six yard box but the ball was fed back in towards goal and Whalen shot narrowly wide of the bottom left corner from 15 yards. In the final minute, after Bowey had committed a foul in midfield, Andrew Ferguson's 30 yard free kick was easily saved by Dodds.
So a fine win by Queens and one which already sees us five points away from today's opponents in the relegation zone. In fact, we are much closer to the top, lying only one point behind Falkirk and, had we not missed a couple of good chances near the end of our game with them last weekend, we'd actually be at the top. All so different from three weeks ago. Tuesday night sees us move on to face Stenhousemuir in the CIS Cup and we'll be looking for a better show than we gave at Stranraer in the Bells Cup. Unfortunately for me business commitments mean I will be missing that one. I hope to return to a place in the second round draw.