Stirling Albion 1 Queen’s Park 3

It’s six months since the Spiders started this monumental season with a trip to Forthbank. The 22 games that have come and gone since then have been the traditional mixture of pretty promising … and pretty poor. But as we headed back to Stirling today to take on the Albion, there was a definite spring in the step.

After all, we’ve won three and drawn the other of our last four league fixtures; we’re back on the fringe of the promotion play-off spots – and we’ve already beaten the Binos on their own patch this season. To add to those optimistic stats, was the news that Gaffer Ray McKinnon had added more depth to the squad during the week in the shape of Keeper Cammy Bell and Dundee United loanee Adam King. When you considered that Stirling had lost their last four home matches on the bounce, there were grounds for thinking this was an away banker.

But as is always the case with Queen’s, the picture wasn’t that clear-cut. For while they can’t find home comfort, Stirling  have won four of their last five matches, and sit above the Spiders in the table with their own play-off aspirations very much alive. So what the afternoon would bring was really anybody’s guess.

The latest arrivals – and the return from injury of Kieran Moore and Joffrey Lidouren gave Ray even more options for his starting XI. However, he resisted any temptation to change things too much and the only alteration to last week’s starting XI was King stepping in to replace Slater.

With conditions bordering on the bowfin, Stirling had the advantage of the wind in the first half and tried to use it to their advantage by keeping things simple.

Bikey looked to be their main attacking threat and he put his pace and trickery to good use after 10 minutes to create the game’s first shooting opportunity, but Grant was perfectly placed to block the effort.

Queen’s hadn’t been seen much as an attacking force, but in 11 minutes a good combination between Salim and MacLean gave the winger the chance to shoot. His effort was also blocked before keeper Hogarth had to be called into action.

That was it as far as “goalmouth” action was concerned as both teams struggled to get into any rythmn, with the wet and windy conditions the main “player”.

MacLean went in the book after 15 minutes for a tackle that looked far worse than it really was.

Ten minutes later, the game got its first goal. The home side had been enjoying the bulk of possession, without bringing Muir into action, when Wilson got the ball wide on the right. He whipped in a cross that didn’t look too menacing – until Grant lost his footing as he went to clear and Bikey was left with a free header. He took full advantage, burying the ball well away from the helpless Queen’s keeper.

Buoyed by the goal, the home side stepped up the pressure. Queen’s had a lucky escape when a wind-assisted punt from Hogarth caused all sorts of mayhem in our box. Wright could have buried one of the ricochets, but didn’t; referee Beaton could have given a penalty after Bikey went down, but didn’t – and Queen’s finally cleared the danger.

There was another anxious moment for the Spiders when a ball in from the left found its way to the head of Wright, but despite him being perfectly placed, his weak effort was directed straight into the arms of a grateful Muir.

All Queen’s had to show as the half petered out were a few promising breaks by MacLean and a couple of trademark Galt runs. Unfortunately, none produced the desired end result. Part of the reason for Queen’s failing to get their sights on Hogarth was some “robust” defending by the home side which finally brought a yellow card for McGeachie as Galt was again halted illegally.

Right on the whistle, Muir and his defence were severely tested by two corners in quick succession. Despite the wind making the job of defending such set-plays even more difficult than usual, Oor Wullie and his charges ensured the interval arrived with Queen’s just one goal down.

Half time

Stirling Albion 1 Queen’s Park 0

The elements were now in our favour and there were some promising early signs that we might make them count. Five minutes in, Galt rampaged down the left to win a corner … and then another one as that cross was scrambled behind. The second effort was cleared and the game once more got bogged down in midfield.

Queen’s were finding it really tough to get going in an attacking sense, and their cause wasn’t helped by a succession of fouls from McGregor and McLean at the back for Stirling. The home side also carried real menace on the counter and we had the long leg of Jamieson to thank for keeping us in the game as he and Muir managed to keep out another Bikey effort.

Just after the hour the Spiders managed their first real shot of the afternoon, but King’s effort went wide. Ray decided it was time to change and replaced Morrison with Moore after 65 minutes.

Two minutes later, Hogarth finally had to earn his keep as he turned a powerful drive from Salim behind for a corner.

As the game entered its last 20 minutes, we got the big talking point. Creaney was on the end of a cross and let fly inside the QP box. His effort was blocked by Finnie, but with the home side screaming for a penalty, Beaton waved away their claims. To their credit, Queen’s played to the whistle and MacLean led the charge upfield, winning a corner on our right. King’s ball in was headed goalwards by a combination of Salim and Banner and as it fell, sub Moore pounced to poke it home and level the scores.

Not surprisingly, the home side and their backroom staff were none too happy at the dramatic turn of events, but the jubilation in the visiting ranks was palpable.

And it was now a different Spiders side on the pitch, with real momentum as they sought what had looked for much of the game like an unlikely winner.

MacLean went close after sneaking round the back to get on the end of a King inswinging free kick, and the lively winger then did well to fashion himself a shooting chance, but sent his final effort high and wide.

Seconds after that, Stirling almost grabbed the lead again when Bikey made space on the right and Finnie had to be alert to keep his driven cross-come-shot away from danger at the expense of a corner.

Eight minutes from time, Banner went into the book after taking out Moore. Unfortunately, while Galt’s effort from the resultant foul carried plenty power, it never threatened the goal.

Just as it looked like both sides would have to settle for a point, Queen’s got their second goal, and this is one that you’ll certainly want to watch on QPTV.

Your scribe has a confession to make at this point. As Grant strode forward with the ball, it became clear he only had one thought in his mind. Recognisng the intention, Gulliver got to his feet to holler “Don’t shoot”. Grant ignored the plea and from all of 35 yards, fired off a shot. Even with the wind behind it, it wasn’t in the Howitzer class, but as it dipped in front of Hogarth, the keeper let it slip through his grasp and had to watch in disbelief as the ball trundled over the line.

If the home side were in agony, there was ecstasy in the QP team as they celebrated in front of a joyous support. Your scribe, meantime, was left ruing the “commentator’s curse” as he applauded what looked like being the goal that would separate the teams at the end of the day.

Albion threw on a couple of subs in the dying moments to try to salvage a point, and although they did cause a minor scare with one high free kick into our box, it was Queen’s who were to have the last word.

We were already deep into injury time, with Big Alfie having come on to  give MacLean a well-earned couple of minutes break after another good shift, when Doig launched the ball deep into enemy territory.

Moore did what Kieran always does – and chased down what looked to all intents and purposes a lost cause. Creaney did get there first, but Mr Perpetual Motion harried him enough to nick possession and then head for goal. With the defender trailing in his wake, Kieran motored into the box and calmly slotted a low shot past Hogarth into the corner of the net.

It was a great end to what turned out to be a very good day for the Spiders. Albion will still be feeling mightily aggrieved that they lost a game they looked like winning for much of the afternoon. Queen’s will offer them no sympathy having been on the receiving end of such results more often than their fans would care to remember.

So McKinnon’s men remain undefeated in the league since he took charge, and now sit right on the edge of the play-off places. Next Saturday certainly looks like being another interesting one when fourth-placed Elgin come to call.

Queen’s Park: Willie Muir, Ryan Finnie, Josh Doig, Nicky Jamieson, Peter Grant, Adam King, Stuart Morrison, Jake Davidson, Ross MacLean, Salim Kouider-Aissa, David Galt. Subs: Cammy Bell, Cameron Foy, Luke Main, Kieran Moore, Joffrey Lidouren, Creag Little, Alfredo Agyeman.

Ray speaks to QPTV after the game