Queens extended their recent run of success to five wins and a draw from their last seven games but were made to work far harder than they really should have done against an average Arbroath side. The match was played in poor conditions, with driving rain throughout adding to a bitterly cold breeze but at 2-0 up early in the second half and facing ten men, we really shouldn't have ended up clinging on for the final whistle. John Connolly made three changes to the team which hammered St Mirren last week. Jon Crawford returned to face his old team in place of Derek Anderson, absent through work commitments. Peter Weatherson, suspended last week, returned in place of John O'Neill and Derek Lyle stepped back into the starting line up at the expense of Paul Shields. Last week's other suspended player Brian McColligan found a seat on the bench alongside O'Neill, Atkinson, McAlpine and Colin Scott.
It was a slow match with little of note happening in the early stages though after three minutes Queens broke up the left and McLaughlin fed a good ball forward to the fast breaking Bowey but his driven cross was hacked away before any other Queens player could latch onto it. He may have been better advised to shoot himself. The first goal arrived pretty much out of the blue in 15 minutes. Andy Aitken won the ball in a challenge which upset some of the home support and Queens broke quickly and in numbers. I think it was Peter Weatherson who received the ball in midfield and knocked a great ball in behind the "Lichtie" defence to find no less than three Queens players bursting through. Steve Bowey was the one who was first to the ball and ran into the penalty area before coolly placing the ball past Hinchcliffe into the bottom left corner, resisting the temptation to pass to one of his team-mates.
Arbroath didn't lie down to the goal though and, whilst barely carrying much of a goal threat, forced a series of corners over the next ten minutes which tested our defensive abilities. On 25 minutes they managed a break of their own with McDowall feeding Brownlie. He was tackled as he tried to enter the penalty area but the ball broke back for Bowman to cross in and Bowman to head past the post from eight yards or so. Three minutes later, O'Connor and Bowey burst clear from another Arbroath corner. Sean seemed to have missed the opportunity when he failed to play the early ball through to "Bowser" but instead he beat two men and created a shooting chance for himself. He dragged a shot from the left across the face of goal and it was smuggled out by a defender before Bowey could profit. On the half hour mark, Hinchcliffe did well to smother a McLaughlin drive from 20 yards after he was played in by Weatherson. A minute later, Paton won a midfield challenge and sent Robbie Neilson clear down the right. His cross went just over the heads of both Bowey and Lyle with the goal gaping for them. Queens were going for the jugular now and four minutes before the break Weatherson put in a great cross from the right which Bowey met with a diving header from about eight yards out and Hinchcliffe did well to tip it over the crossbar.
There was a controversial moment in the 42nd minute when Bowey stretched out a foot to intercept an Arbroath pass on the edge of our area and diverted the ball back towards his own goalmouth. "The Goalie" came out and collected the ball only to find referee Mr Fleming deciding that it constituted a pass back and awarding an indirect free kick on the touchline six yards out. With everybody expecting the ball to be pulled back the "Lichties" elected to try a dink to the far post and Goram was able to catch the ball cleanly before sending us quickly on the break. We actually had a five against three situation in the Arbroath half but Lyle lost possession on the edge of the box and the last chance of the half was gone.
John Brownlie was obviously unhappy with the way the game was going and made two half time changes, bringing on McAuley and Henslee for Ross Currie (who did his pre-season with Queens) and Kevin Heenan. However, his changes had no time to have any effect at all before Queens doubled their advantage 35 seconds into the second half. Robbie Neilson took a long throw from the right and launched it into the box. O'Connor got a headed flick onto the ball and it dropped perfectly for Derek Lyle to place in the left of goal before Hinchcliffe could get there.
In the 52nd minute, John Cusick picked up the first booking of the game for a retaliatory kick at Weatherson. Three minutes later, following a right sided Arbroath corner, Paul Browne looped a header goalward and Derek Lyle turned saviour this time, heading it off the line at the right post. Within a minute though Cusick picked up a second booking for talking back to the referee in the middle of the park and was duly sent off. In the 57th minute Sean O'Connor worked himself an opening and shot from ten yards but Hinchcliffe was able to block and the ball spun back against Sean and out for a goal kick. A couple of minutes later though Henslee's right sided cross was almost carried straight into the goal by the breeze but just eluded the back post with Goram beaten. In the 62nd minute though the "Lichties" did find a toe hold back into the game. A corner from the left side was headed powerfully downwards and towards goal from the edge of the penalty area and Murray McDowall (who spent two games on loan at Palmerston last season) reacted quickest to sweep the loose ball into the roof of the net from about three yards out.
In the 65th minute Goram did well to save and hold a shot from the right side of the penalty area and a minute later, after a mistake by Crawford, Andy Aitken had to make a desperate challenge to stop Arbroath breaking through on goal. John Connolly reacted to this by making his first change of the afternoon, replacing Eric Paton with Brian McColligan in a bid to regain control of the midfield area. This seemed to work as Arbroath struggled to make any impact over the next ten minutes and, with quarter of an hour remaining, John Brownlie made his final switch bringing on Gavin Swankie in place of Gary Bowman. In the 79th minute, McLaughlin managed to send over a good cross from the left and Derek Lyle at the near post glanced a header just wide of goal. Three minutes later, McLaughlin fed a ball into both O'Connor and Lyle running towards goal. They seemed to get in each others way a little before O'Connor mis-hit his shot and Hinchcliffe was able to parry away again. With five minutes to go Bowey won the ball in midfield and exchanged passes with McLaughlin before shooting from the right side of the penalty area but again the alert Hinchcliffe was able to save.
However, Arbroath were not quite finished yet and with three minutes remaining Swankie beat Crawford on the touchline and drove the ball across the face of goal. It struck Andy Aitken on the shins and seemed to be heading into goal before it ricocheted off Goram's legs too and was hacked away. With two minutes remaining Robbie Neilson picked up Queens only booking of the day for a midfield foul on Swankie which prevented Arbroath breaking toward goal. A minute later another home shot hit the side netting from twenty yards out following a deflection. From the resulting corner there was a big shout for handball from the home side but I didn't see anything untoward myself and Mr Fleming was completely unmoved by it. As the game moved into a third minute of injury time Connolly put O'Neill on for Lyle in a time wasting move which duly served its purpose as the whistle blew with O'Neill heading for the corner flag with the ball.
This was never a vintage performance from Queens though there were times in the first half when I thought we might run out comfortable winners. However, Arbroath showed plenty of spirit in the second and made it far more difficult than it should have been for us in the circumstances. We have to be happy at the win without playing terribly well in poor conditions though and we have now beaten everybody in this division barring the top two and St Johnstone. Ayr's defeat by St Mirren means we move to just a point behind them and entertain bottom side Alloa next weekend whilst they play host to the league leaders from Inverness. We are also now 11 points away from any relegation dangers. All in all a satisfying position to be in just short of the halfway point in the season.
Report - Ewan Lithgow
Photographs - David Gow