|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 Nine - April and May|
April opened with a trip to meet the leaders Clyde at Broadwood. Whilst we played relatively well on the day, Clyde's greater need for the points won the day and McConologue tapped in the opener just after half-time. With quarter of an hour to go captain Jack Ross clinched the points with a fine drive which would feature on the short list for "Goal of the Season". There was better news during the week that followed though when it was announced that Steve Bowey, Eric Paton and Brian Reid (who would end up the top three in the Player of the Year Poll) had all agreed new one year deals at the club.
Queens celebrated the re-signings with a comfortable home win over St Mirren. Although the game finished just 1-0 thanks to Bowey's early goal, it was a much more decisive win than the score suggests. Queens had three goals disallowed, one of which the referee later apologised for and admitted he got it wrong! Burke also hit the woodwork twice although St Mirren, for their part, also had a goal controversially disallowed and John O'Neill missed a fine chance to equalise in the final minutes.
Bowser scored the winner whilst Jonjo missed a sitter!
Early the next week John Connolly confirmed that Joe McAlpine had been informed he would not be receiving a contract offer at the end of the season whilst internet rumours suggested both Sean O'Connor and Alex Burke had been up talking to Ross County about possible moves there. The weekend brought with it the usual thrashing at Inverness. Like earlier in the season it was again 4-1 to the home side. Unlike earlier in the season, this time they thoroughly deserved it. Queens were forced to field a forward line of Jaconelli and Willie Gibson (no first team goals between them) after O'Connor pulled out injured in the warm up and Burke was left out after revealing pre-match that he had indeed agreed to join Ross County for next season. Two goals were lost in a minute before half time to Hislop and Bingham whilst Barry Wilson added a third midway through the second half despite pulling up injured in the process. When Burke eventually got on as a substitute he quickly pulled a goal back but Hislop restored the three goal cushion near the end.
There was some better news before the home game against Brechin though when Connolly announced that Brian McColligan had also agreed a new deal for next season. The game itself was a poor showing in which we took a two goal lead without really playing very well through Jaconelli (finally his first goal) and Burke. However, Brechin fought back after the break and richly deserved the goals scored by Winter and Gibson to bring them back level. Indeed they probably deserved to win the game but the draw all but relegated them. Bizarrely Derek Allan managed to collect a red card in the tunnel after the match following an exchange of views with the referee!
Broke his duck
The week that followed saw a media frenzy as St Johnstone parted company with Billy Stark on the Monday. John Connolly, a former St Johnstone player, was clearly the fans choice to take over and there was much speculation in the papers and on the web over the week. Amidst the chaos there was also sadness when the club announced that longest serving player, Andy Aitken, had turned down the offer of a new deal to sign full-time terms with Gretna. Before the season finished he would make his 300th appearance for the club, quite an achievement in these modern times of short contracts and free player movement. Queens finished April still in 6th spot with 47 points from 33 games.
Needless to say, in a supreme irony, the weekend's visitors to Palmerston were none other than St Johnstone. Jim Thomson was back in the fold for the suspended Allan and the match finished an entertaining 1-1 draw. Simon Donnelly gave the visitors the lead from the penalty spot after yet another example of Keigan Parker going to ground under little contact fooled yet another referee. This time Brian Reid was adjudged guilty. However, "goal a game" Jaconelli equalised after fine wing work by Willie Gibson. In the boardroom after the game Geoff Brown formally asked for permission to talk to John Connolly about the manager's job and, seeing little point in denying it, the Queens board duly granted them permission to talk. By Monday morning Connolly had been officially appointed as the manager of St Johnstone, almost exactly four years after taking over at Queens. Perhaps the biggest initial surprise was that he didn't take Iain Scott with him.
There has been much written about John Connolly's spell in charge at Palmerston, most of it very good, but this is not the place for a tribute to his achievements per se. Suffice it to say this. In 81 years of existence before the coming of the Connolly revolution Queen of the South had won just one national trophy, and that in 1951. In the four years since we've won a further two and sit currently at our highest standing in Scottish football since reconstruction in the mid 70's for sure and quite possibly for some time before that also. It wasn't a one man show and he certainly wouldn't have got where he did without wonderful support from his assistants, players (he used 88 players in less than 4 seasons!) and the board of directors. However, his achievements will still be talked about for years to come. Whether the change ends up being a good thing for either party is yet to be discovered………..
End of an era
Within 24 hours Queens had released a statement confirming that Iain Scott and Warren Pearson would act as caretaker managers until the end of the season. Pointedly they did not immediately advertise the position at all though they did announce that many people had expressed an interest in the job. By the Friday night in fact a deal had been struck for Iain Scott to take over as the new full-time manager with Warren Pearson as his part-time assistant, though it would be the following Monday before it was publicly announced. In the meantime the fans, like St Johnstone's a week earlier, made it quite clear on the terraces at Dingwall who they wanted in the job.
Scott's first match in charge was the potentially tricky trip to Dingwall and his first decision was whether or not to play Alex Burke against the team he'd already signed for next season. He decided to do so and the decision paid off as Burke struck the winner midway through the second half of an entertaining game. Jim Hamilton had given the home side the lead halfway through the opening half but Bowey equalised before half-time. There was a bizarre incident in the second half when Bowey was clearly upended in the penalty area only to be booked for diving! He later received stitches in the cut leg he suffered whilst "diving"! Meanwhile there was mild amusement on the terraces if not in the dressing room when Connolly's St Johnstone were beaten 3-1 at home by St Mirren.
Burke's effort beats the 'keeper
During the final week of the season Queens made a series of public announcements, firstly confirming the appointment of Scott and Pearson, secondly announcing the start of a joint initiative with the Crichton Campus to run a squad of 10 young full-timers and finally confirming that Brian Reid will combine the role of first-team coach (Warren Pearson's old job title) with his playing duties next season. The 10 young full-timers were confirmed as including Paul Burns and Willie Gibson whilst Emilio Jaconelli would be added to that list before long. It was also announced this week that Queens club historian Ian Black had won the award of Bells Fan of the Year. Well done Blacko!
The season finished with a fine 1-0 home win over last season's champions Falkirk who have therefore failed to score a single against us in 4 attempts over the season. It was a comfortable enough win with that man Jaconelli grabbing the goal again, his third successive scoring appearance at Palmerston. That confirmed a 5th place finish, just one point behind Falkirk and three behind St Johnstone who lost again at Inverness. A magnificent finish when you consider that the prophets of doom and the bookmakers had us down as certain relegation fodder before a ball was kicked. Off the park the average crowd rose to 2,360, very respectable indeed, though certainly swollen by bigger crowds during the run at the top of the table in the first part of the season. We finished with the 6th best attendance in the division and only dropped below champions Inverness by a handful thanks to them having over 6,000 at their championship deciding match.
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