Albion Rovers 1 Queen’s Park 1

You know you’re getting to S.B. time in any season when there’s almost as much focus among the crowd on the games involving teams around you as there is on your own 90 minutes.

Take Saturday as an example. Around 4pm, everything in the QP garden was rosy … despite the distinctly unspring like weather. The Spiders were a goal to the good (and what a goal) against Alloa, while both our main rivals at the foot of the table (Forfar and Albion Rovers) were losing. There was a wee chance that by the end of the day, we would be in the enviable position of eighth in the table and feeling a lot better about our prospects.

Just an hour later, the picture was much gloomier as we conceded twice to lose at home, while tonight’s opponents scored three times against Stranraer to leave us at the foot of the table. Perhaps the only consolation was that things remain very tight in the dogfight … and a couple of wins could make a huge difference.

Tonight was going to be another nervy occasion, with Gus MacPherson’s men needing a win to close the gap on Rovers, while hoping that Raith would do us a favour by defeating Forfar. Neither of those outcomes was beyond the realms of possibility, but Queen’s had to try to do the business at Cliftonhill without the services of Dan Nimmo who looks to have copped a bad injury which could see him sidelined for a spell.

The big defender was expected to miss out, but what wasn’t expected was that he would be replaced by a new signing. Gerard McLaughlan has experienced life with several clubs, but at the age of 29, could be just the experience we need at such a crucial stage. The only other change from Saturday saw Scott Gibson step in at the expense of Robbie Leitch. Lewis Magee, who had deputised for Nimmo on Saturday, was missing through suspension.

It was a big game for both teams, with plenty at stake, and the nerves were evident right from the start. It’s got to be said that the bobbly surface didn’t do either team any favours, and it was soon clear that the long ball was going to be the order of the day.

Queen’s did settle reasonably well, however, winning an early free kick in a dangerous position. Sean Burns didn’t get the delivery right and the ball sailed over the top.

There was the same problem with delivery as Queen’s won three corners in quick succession – none of the crosses causing keeper Wright any real problems in the Albion goal.

Rovers’ best moment also came from a foul as McLaughlin shot wide from a decent position.

The first 20 minutes came and went without too much happening of note. Queen’s were having more of the ball in the Albion danger areas, but were finding it hard to keep their feet – far less deliver a telling through ball. The good news was that our new defensive pairing of McLaughlan and Cummins looked in control, and were dealing comfortably with any aerial threat that came their way.

That all changed after 23 minutes when an innocuous punt into our box caused chaos and confusion. Hester finally poked it goalwards and Davidson finished the job by belting the ball into the net from very close range. The forlorn pleas for offside fell on deaf ears and the Spiders had the proverbial mountain to climb.

It was little surprise that the goal rattled Queen’s; White had not had a serious save to make, but we were behind in a game we had to get something from. Rovers sensed blood and went for the kill. However, apart from a series of fouls won a bit too easily by former Spider Joao Victoria, the defence held firm. The problem was that we were finding it hard to create anything at the other end of the park.

Yes, we won plenty of corners and free kicks, but couldn’t use them to any real effect.

Our best moment came with six minutes of the half remaining. We put together a string of passes which released David Galt on the right. His first shot was saved; the follow-up from Keena was saved at point-blank range, and with the goal gaping, nobody in a blue jersey could force the ball over the line.

It was heartbreaking, but it’s been seen so often this season that we shouldn’t have been surprised at the way the footballing Gods turned their backs on us.

With their tails now up, Queen’s continued to press and Keena went close with a couple of snap shots. However, when referee Kevin Graham brought the first half to a close the worrying scoreline read:

Albion Rovers 1 Queen’s Park 0

Queen’s had finished the opening period on the front foot and began the second one in the same vein.

After 47 minutes, great work by Keena gave the onrushing Ross Millen space on the right hand edge of the box. Ross kept his cool and sidefooted the ball goalwards – but an inch too high as it rattled the bar and rebounded to safety.

Next up was Burns who let fly from distance and saw his shot graze the wrong side of the post. Three minutes played and we could and should have been level … was it going to be another one of those days?

Rovers tried to respond and Davidson had a shot saved comfortably by White, but it was Queen’s who looked the likelier.

And just for once, we did get the reward we deserved. Five minutes in, Burns again went rampaging down the left and struck another powerful shot. The effort was blocked, but the rebound fell nicely for the skipper who smacked it beyond Wright to level the scores at 1-1.

Queen’s tried to turn the screw, but despite enjoying loads of possession, and seeing plenty of shots go close, the only clear chance they fashioned was another blocked shot that fell to Keena at the edge of the box. Unfortunately, Aiden got the contact wrong and the ball slipped the wrong side of the post.

Rovers made their first change after 56 minutes, replacing Hester with Watters. And they were forced into another one 10 minutes later when giant defender Mbayo had to leave the field after being clattered by his own keeper during another goalmouth stramash. The centre-half was down for around four minutes, so it was a relief to everybody in the ground when he finally got back (rather shakily) to his feet.

It was another former Spider – Craig McLeish – who came on to replace him.

Despite the momentum going their way, and the disruption to the home defence, Queen’s couldn’t capitalise. Indeed, as the half wore on, it was Rovers who began to get the upper hand.

Nerves, and the tricky surface, were the real winners as the game petered out in a series of fouls and corners for both sides, with neither keeper having to do too much.

A string of late substitutions saw Anton Brady come on for Dominic Docherty, while Thomas Orr replaced David Galt and Victoria went off for Scullion.

The only other incident saw Conor McVey “take one for the team” as he fouled one-time Hampden favourite Alan Trouten as the wee midfielder threatened to break clear.

Right at the death, Scullion had a shot from distance blocked. Referee Graham decided enough was enough after just three minutes of stoppage time, but by now the draw looked inevitable so the early whistle mattered not a jot.

On its own, the result might have been OK for the Spiders, but news quickly filtered through of a shock Forfar victory against Raith and it was a very subdued bunch of visiting supporters who headed for the exit.

We’re far from done yet, but the remaining matches aren’t going to get any easier on the nerves. We’ve got seven to go, and wouldn’t it be magnificent if we could start with a win on Saturday at Stranraer? That same day, Forfar face league leaders Ayr United and Albion take on Arbroath. Did anybody doubt that Squeaky Bum time had arrived?

Keep the faith.

Queen’s Park: Michael White, Ross Millen, Scott Gibson, Gerard McLaughlan, Adam Cummins, Gregor Fotheringham, Conor McVey, Aidan Keena, Dominic Docherty, David Galt and Sean Burns. Subs: Robbie Leitch, Thomas Orr, Ciaran Summers, Billy Mortimer,  Anton Brady, James MacLennan, Owen Stott.