|2003/04 Season Review
||A serialised account of our season by our man who has been at almost every match home and away - Ewan Lithgow
|Part Seven - December and January|
By the first midweek in December the rains had abated enough for the St Mirren game to go ahead and John Connolly sprung a surprise by recruiting former St Mirren keeper Kris Robertson as a "Trialist" ahead of the match rather than trust the remainder of the season to Dodds. The move backfired though as Robertson was badly at fault when Ricky Gillies' early free kick sailed over his head and into the net to give the visitors the lead. Queens would have gone back to the top of the table with victory on the night but the performance was a poor one. The "Buddies" all but clinched the points in Gus McPherson's first match in charge when Christina Aguilera's favourite backing dancer, Allan Russell, doubled the advantage in the second half. Alex Burke gave us false hope when he scored from the penalty spot late on after he himself had been fouled but we never really looked like equalising and certainly didn't deserve to get one. A black night was capped in the final minute when substitute Emilio Jaconelli was sent off in the final minute for retaliation.
Saturday brought a much improved performance but oddly a much worse result at Inverness, though it all looked so bright for a while. Joe McAlpine took ill with appendicitis overnight at the team hotel and was unavailable but Queens dominated the first half. Gary Wood gave us the lead when he bundled Bowey's shot over the line after only five minutes and Bowey himself might have added two more before the break. However, Inverness were a much improved outfit in the second period and Hislop and McCaffrey soon had them in front. The second goal was another for which Robertson, still "trialing" in goal could be faulted. Derek Lyle missed an excellent chance to level again before Wilson and Hislop again killed the game off in the final five minutes to give the scoreline an unfair reflection.
The following midweek saw the club AGM held at the Nith Hotel. The headline grabbing announcement came right at the end when Tommy Harkness announced that David Rae would be taking over as Chairman with immediate effect. Earlier John Connolly had remained coy when quizzed about speculation linking him with the vacant manager's jobs at St Mirren and Partick Thistle. He also re-asserted his belief that the decision to sell Peter Weatherson had been the correct one.
New Chairman Announced
For the weekend home match with Brechin John Dodds was back in goal with Connolly all but admitting publicly that the experiment with Robertson had been a costly mistake. Sean O'Connor started for the first time following his recent cartilage operation but it was substitute Gary Wood who broke the deadlock, bundling home the only goal with just five minutes remaining.
The final Saturday before Christmas saw a trip to Perth and a match against St Johnstone that only went ahead after surviving three pitch inspections. In treacherous conditions the home side dominated the opening period and went ahead through Jim Thomson's frankly comical own goal. Sorry Jim but it was! Moments later Peter McDonald should have doubled the lead but struck the bar and St Johnstone paid the penalty for that miss when Sean O'Connor equalised minutes later against the run of play. The second half was a different story and it was Queens who got stronger and stronger as the game wore on. With 82 minutes gone Brian Reid appeared to have won the game with a powerful header into the top corner from Eric Paton's corner but disaster was lurking just around the corner as it always seems to be late on against the Perth side. Four minutes into injury time and standing a clear three yards offside Mixu Paatelainen was allowed to equalise. The striker himself was clearly convinced the goal would be chalked off and didn't even bother to celebrate. He was as amazed as anybody when it was allowed to stand. When the final whistle went moments later John Connolly had to be dragged away from referee Kenny Clark. The following day saw Queens handed an away tie at East Fife in the Scottish Cup 3rd Round. Far from a money-spinner, it was at least a good opportunity for the club to make the 4th round for the first time since 1990!
Falkirk were the visitors for the final game of 2003 and arrived at Palmerston on the back of a magnificent away record. In the entire calendar year of 2003 they had lost away from home only once. However, that defeat came at Palmerston in March when Peter Weatherson's late winner claimed all three points and Queens were just in the mood to upset the apple-cart again. A magnificent seasonal crowd of 4,075, including almost 1,000 "Bairns" saw Queens triumph 2-0. Craig McPherson struck the bar during a scoreless first half but Sean O'Connor broke the deadlock with a fine break forward and composed finish after a mistake by John Hughes. Gary Wood added a second from an excellent Paton cross and, for good measure, Hughes got himself sent off with a couple of minutes left.
Land of the Giants
Before the turn of the year Queens confirmed the loan signing of Hearts young left sided player Paul McMullan for the remainder of the season and Aberdeen's right sided Stephen Payne on a permanent 18 month contract. Payne had impressed against us in the Scottish Cup a year earlier. John Connolly also let it be known that both Paul Talbot and Derek Allan were likely to depart during the January transfer window. The year ended with Queens sitting in 3rd place on 33 points from 19 games, four points behind leaders Clyde.
The traditional New Year "derby" this year was played on January 3rd at Ayr and yielded a disappointing draw at the end of the day. Queens started well enough with Bowey giving us the lead, first to react after Burke's clever free kick came back off the upright. However, the longer the game went on, the better the home side got and they richly deserved their equaliser when it finally arrived courtesy of a superb lob from Andrew Ferguson. During the following week there was a surprise when Derek Lyle was allowed to join Stirling Albion on loan for the remainder of the season. Derek Allan too was on the point of departure but, after agreeing a deal with Brechin City, he ruptured his ankle ligaments in his final training session and put paid to his transfer. Before the end of the season Queens would have cause to be grateful he stuck around.
The following Saturday brought Scottish Cup action and frankly dreadful game at East Fife. Queens just about did enough to win by the only goal though it was a wonderful goal scored by Sean O'Connor, a diving header from McColligan's perfect cross on a quick break forward. Otherwise though the game was instantly forgettable. Immediately after the final whistle we were drawn to face Motherwell away in the 4th round. A few days later Paul Talbot's ill-fated spell at the club finally came to an end when he joined Spennymoor United.
It was back to Palmerston for league action next and a vital home clash with Raith Rovers. After their early season good form Rovers were now struggling and these were exactly the sort of fixtures that Queens should have been winning if they were to revitalise their title challenge, However, in the event, it was another 1-1 draw. Sean O'Connor's header early in the second half appeared to be enough to win the game until a horror error by John Dodds handed an equaliser to John Sutton. He allowed the ball to squirm from his grasp under no challenge and left the big striker with an open goal. Even then Sutton almost missed and there was a great deal of controversy over the award of the goal, though pictures later proved that it did indeed cross the line. Celtic boss Martin O'Neill attended the game and was believed to have been watching Sutton but left before the equalising goal.
Next up was a trip to St Mirren and resources were stretched again. Brian Reid had tweaked a hamstring against Raith whilst Jim Thomson was missing with gastroenteritis and Derek Allan was still suffering ankle problems. That meant Gary Wood was pressed into action as a centre half beside Andy Aitken and, whilst neither player played particularly badly, the usual cohesion wasn't present. St Mirren were quick to take advantage and quickly established a three goal lead. Needless to say John O'Neill scored two of them and was duly booked for "celebrating" in front of the Queens fans. David Bagan pulled a goal back in the second half but we never looked like getting back into the game. Later in the week it was confirmed that Jim Thomson had actually been diagnosed with a serious kidney complaint and would most likely be missing for at least a month.
Burke's effort smashes against the cross-bar
With Queens struggling to put out 16 fit players the following weekend, the monsoon that hit Dumfries on Saturday morning was a Godsend and led to the postponement of the visit of leaders Clyde. The month ended with the team still handily placed in 3rd on 35 points from 22 games but just beginning to lose touch with the leaders. Clyde and Inverness were now 8 points ahead and Clyde had a game in hand on us also.
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