Queen’s Park 0 Stranraer 2

QUEEN’S PARK have already shown even this early in the season that they can hold their own with the best League One has to offer.

A glance at the league table over Homer’s porridge this morning showed Alloa Athletic, Livingston and Brechin City opening a gap over the chasing pack after just six games.

That Queen’s sit one point outside the top four — and a point ahead of today’s visitors Stranraer — is impressive enough considering we’re a newly-promoted team.

But four of our games have been against those teams above us, and we acquitted ourselves well.

We lost to Airdrie, drew at Brechin, beat Livi at home and were extremely unlucky to take nothing from last week’s visit of Alloa.

As the Wasps showed in their battling midweek League Cup display against Celtic, at our level they are a handful but the Spiders drew their sting.

Still, our season won’t be defined by our results against the top sides, but against those lesser mortals nearer the other end of the table.

But even this early we are seeing a repeat of our perennial dilemma — scoring far fewer goals than most but matching their defensive records.

Coach Gus MacPherson has managed to sign young Hearts striker Dario Zanatta on loan until mid-October, in between calmly straight-batting speculation linking him with another team who play in black and white (speculation, it has to be said, that’s well merited by his record at Queen’s, and long may that record continue).

Dario is a 19-year-old Canadian who has been capped at every level from U-16 to U-20 and is heavily tipped to make the Canucks senior squad before long, having already broken into the Hearts first-team last season.

He is signed at Tynecastle until 2019 and is an exciting young player (check out his goals on YouTube — and hopefully on QPTV after today!).

Young Dario went straight into the team, taking over from John Carter, while the only other change from the Alloa starting X1 was David Galt for Paul Woods. Scott Gibson passed a late fitness test after being forced off injured last week.

Centre back Bryan Wharton dropped off the bench, serving the first of a two-game ban after being sent off in a midweek Development League match, and young Liam Brown was back among the subs after recovering from injury. Enjoying significant milestones today were Woods, set for his 100th appearance, and McGeever playing his half century.

But we were denied the sight of Stranraer keeper Cameron Belford unveiling his well-publicised new, shiny, all-gold boots. Something to do with the inclement (ie: torrential) Scottish weather, apparently.

And torrential it certainly was, although bright enough, helped no doubt by Stranraer’s vivid electric orange shirts.

The visitors kicked off but it was the Spiders who started on the front foot, and Belford had to be alert to hold a deflected free kick by Burns after Fotheringham had won a foul 20 yards out.

Zanatta’s first touch was actually a feint, wrong-footing Robertson before Bell booted clear.

Stranraer had beaten Albion Rovers 3-2 last week, and on-loan St Johnstone kid Craig Thomson had scored two, his first senior goals, and he confirmed his reputation as a flyer with a race down the right and cross that only just eluded Gibson at the far post.

And it was Thomson who started a move which almost brought Stranraer the opener in 13 minutes, cutting in from the right and setting up a shot for Malcolm that Willie Muir turned over the bar.

Muir was busy again two minutes later, taking the ball high up and off his line when McGuigan tried to chip him from 20 yards.

Thomson was proving a hot handful with his pace and another sprint into the box saw his cross blocked for a corner in 20 minutes, and then Cummins had to head another cross behind.

Miller did really well to steal the ball in a tackle and then beat a man to create crossing space but Brady couldn’t connect with the pass.

With two keepers who like to double as sweepers, it was perhaps no surprise that we had two efforts to embarrass them from 40 yards, the first from Millen and the second from Gibson. Neither keeper had to move.

Muir certainly had to move in 37 minutes to deny Stranraer the opener. Gibson’s corner from the right was met perfectly by Bell, but Muir threw himself to his right to turn away the powerful header.

That was two important saves from the Spiders keeper, but he undid his good work in 39 minutes when his error gifted Stranraer the lead.

He looked to have taken Thomson’s cross from the right at full stretch on the jump, but the wet ball slipped through his fingers and fell perfectly at the feet of Dick to slot home.

It’s a funny old game. At the start of the day we were looking at breaking into the play-off places – as it stands at 0-1 we are in a play-off place, but at the wrong end of the table.

Half-time: Queen’s Park 0 Stranraer 1

Scott Gibson didn’t reappear for the second half (perhaps with a recurrence of his injury?), but Gus MacPherson rejigged things to throw on Aiden Malone alongside Zanatta, who had been isolated in the first half, and Burns dropped back to take Gibson’s back-four spot.

Queen’s had created little in the first half but they forced four corners in the first four minutes, the best of them the last, McGeever rising to head Miller’s kick just wide, with Malone making a vain bid to connect at the far post.

The visitors had enjoyed the better chances, and they came close to doubling their tally in 51 minutes, Malcolm cutting in from the right and with only Muir to beat dragging a left-foot shot wide of the post.

But Queen’s came soooo close to an equaliser in 54. Galt got in a good inswinger from the right and the diving Zanatta, very low to the ground, connected with a header that Belford blocked at point-blank range.

That was frustrating, but it got worse for Queen’s when they were reduced to 10 men two minutes later.

Malcolm’s through ball sent Turner racing clear of the Queen’s defence, only for Miller to take him down from behind just outside the box.

The Queen’s midfielder didn’t look surprised when the referee immediately brandished a red card, and as he walked McGeever was booked – possibly for dissent, or possibly for his efforts to halt the break before Turner got clear in the first place.

Stranraer missed with the free kick, but they looked out of sight when they did get that second goal in 63 minutes.

Muir had again redeemed himself with a block from McGuigan on the hour but he was helpless as Gibson’s cross found Malcolm unmarked and he did the needful with a header.

The first chance Zanatta got to show his stuff, bursting through the middle on a good run, ended with Barron tugging his shirt to earn a yellow card.

Liam Brown replaced Galt and Woods took over from Brady for Queen’s, while Stranraer sent on Ryan Thomson for McGuigan and Watt for Malcolm.

Bell was booked for retaliation against Malone in 76.

Zanatta and Malone almost combined to get a goal back for Queen’s in 83 minutes as Queen’s stuck to the task but it was an uphill struggle as Stranraer were happy to keep five at the back and sit in.

So, a bad day at the office for Queen’s, but such is the nature of this league that despite occupying eighth place at close of play, we’re still only four points of the top four. Keep the faith.

Queen’s Park: Willie Muir, Ross Millen, Scott Gibson, Gregor Fotheringham, Ryan McGeever, Adam Cummins, David Galt, Darren Miller, Dario Zanatta, Anton Brady, Sean Burns. SUBS: John Carter, Conor McVey, Aiden Malone, Craig McLeish, Liam Brown, Andrew Murphy.

Stranraer: Belford, Robertson, Dick, Barron, Bell, Morena, Turner, Thomson, Gibson, Malcolm, McGuigan. Subs: McKeown, Watt, Agnew, Thomson.

Referee – Colin Steven.