Queen’s Park 1 Stirling Albion 1

QUEEN’S PARK head coach Mark Roberts admitted his Spiders were bullied last week at Edinburgh City, but he still fancies them to gatecrash the play-offs.

The Spiders were certainly pulverised on plastic in the first-half last Saturday, but it was a complete reversal against the League Two leaders after Mark’s half-time chat. We could even have taken something from the game had we got a touch of luck in front of goal.

The hard fact, though, is that we suffered our fourth defeat on the spin, and for at least the next two weeks some of our more pessimistic followers will be looking over their shoulders as we play the two teams directly below us — starting with Stirling Albion’s visit today before next week’s sojourn to Berwick Rangers.

Since we beat Albion at their place in the Scottish Cup in late October, they have lost to Edinburgh City and then gone four games unbeaten under rookie boss Kevin Rutkiewicz.

On the upside, Queen’s have lost only once at Hampden in the league this season (yes, you’ve guessed it, to those pesky Citizens). Albion were last here in April 2016, when we drew 1-1. 

With Dom McLaren banned after his two yellows cards in Edinburgh last week, coach Roberts had to make changes. Lewis Magee, who came off the bench last week after Dom’s red card, kept his place in the back four, while Adam Martin replaced Euan East and trialist Alan Gow made his first start as Kieran Moore took a well-earned rest on the bench. Gow played two trial games for Albion recently, so that should be interesting for the man of many clubs (15, if Homer’s usually dodgy info has improved).

It was a typically horrid December Saturday afternoon, the rain having been falling for hours. Referee Graham Beaton, in fact, had been out inspecting the sodden Hampden pitch at two o’clock, but an hour later he was blowing his whistle for Albion to kick-off defending the east end.

It was a promising start by Queen’s, with Martin almost breaking through in the box after three minutes and then the youngster winning two minutes later the first corner, but it was cleared.

Hawke was having early success in winning his aerial duels, but he and Gow were still in the early stages of a forward partnership.

Gow played a lovely through ball over Banner and into the sprinting Martin’s path, and he made the byeline before sending over a delicious cross in front of the stranded keeper, but it found no takers.

The young wideman was having a busy start, and taking another Gow pass on 10 minutes he shot straight at Binnie.

Magee needed treatment for what he indicated was an elbow, but he was back on the park to see Queen’s take the lead with a lovely goal in 14 minutes.

Gow and Martin were at its heart,  the veteran playing the youngster down the left, he beat Banner  for pace yet again, and his low cutback was back flicked at the near post by Hawke and beyond Binnie. 

An excellent opening by the Spiders and no more than they deserved for their enterprising play.

Gow and Martin appeared to be enjoying themselves – Banner less so – and the trialist was bringing out the best in his young team-mate.

It could have been 2-0 in 23 minutes, with Queen’s in complete control (says Homer, tempting fate!). Roberts showed lovely control to bring down the ball on the edge of the box,  step inside a defender, and then blast the ball over the bar.

Albion had not been in the game as an attacking threat in the first 25 minutes, but in their first real attack, Hart had to be quick to take a low cross from Jardine.

As every QP fan will tell you, 1-0 is never enough – it’s more often than not a stress-inducer –  and it took an emphatic sliding challenge from McLauchlan to block Darren Smith’s goalbound shot from 10 yards.

But it was a fact that Queen’s did look the more likely team to score again, and for the second time Roberts found space in the box in 34 mInutes only to belt it over the top.

So it was sod’s law that Albion should equalise with their first shot on target, and what a route one equaliser it was. A long punt forward, Mackin won the header on, and Smith lobbed the stranded Hart. A fine finish, but against the run of play is an understatement.

Queen’s just carried on as before. Gow had a shot blocked for a corner and Roberts made it a hat-trick of bar clearances, this time with a left foot effort from the edge of the box.

Roberts was then booked for hauling down McLaughlin as Albion broke at pace,  and Magee joined him in the book a minute later for a mis-timed sliding tackle.

The last action of a half that the Spiders dominated saw McKernon lash in a low shot that skidded on the sodden turf and needed a fine full length save from Binnie to turn it round a post.

Half-time: Queen’s Park 1 Stirling Albion 1

The general view over the half-time cuppas was that we had witnessed as good a first half as QP have mustered this season – and it was 1-1. How typically QP!

It was hard to imagine the second half being so one-sided, but Hawke was unlucky two minutes in, taking a driven Summers cross in the air and sidefooting the ball over the bar.

Albion, though, had already shown more intent and Hart in quick succession had to take two crosses under pressure.

Binnie did well to keep out McKernon’s free kick with his foot, but when the ball was cleared Albion made a stunning break that ended in our box with Smith being forced wide by the backtracking Queen’s defence.

With Albion more in the game now, coach Roberts made a change in 59 minutes, like for like as McLean was replaced by East, who swapped wings with Martin.

It was a more even contest at this stage but we were still causing them problems going forward, with one move involving Summers, McKernon and Roberts almost providing an opening for the skipper before the ball was blocked for a corner.

After another Roberts skywards effort, the fourth shooting attempt for the persistent Kurtis, Hawke headed over the bar after another good delivery by Martin.

Albion lost Jardine with an injury in 73 minutes, replaced by Thomson, and our trialist’s encouraging first start ended four minutes later as Moore came on in his place.

Magee needed a good header to cut out a dangerous through ball, but the chances were coming at the other end, although we were not having much luck with the bounce of the ball in their box.

In 82 minutes, Albion sent on MacDonald for Smith, and two mInutes later young Martin’s excellent shift ended when Mortimer took over.

McLauchlan and Magee got in a tangle and Gerry copped a booking in 87 minutes when he brought down Mackin to prevent him going clear, and then two minutes later McLaughlin was booked again and shown red when he downed MacDonald on the edge of the box.

What should have been a comfortable afternoon for QP could have had a nervy ending, with Hawke stepping back to fill the gap in the back four, but the game ended without further incident.

So, two points dropped would be the Homer verdict. Keep the Faith.

Queen’s Park : Jordan Hart, James Grant, Ciaran Summers, Jamie McKernon, Gerry McLauchlan, Lewis Magee, Adam Martin, Kurtis Roberts, Lewis Hawke, Alan Gow, Scott McLean. Subs: Kieran Moore, Euan East, William Mortimer, Josh Peters, Dean Kindlan, Smart Osadolor, Kieran McDougall (SK). 

Stirling Albion: Cammy Binnie, Ross McGeachie, Jordan Allan, Ronan Hughes, Kyle Banner, Jason Marr, Danny Jardine, Dominic Docherty, Dylan Mackin, Darren Smith, Neil McLaughlin. Subs: Kevin Rutkiewicz,  Cammy Thomson, Peter MacDonald, Calum Ferrie (GK), Evan Horne, Kevin Moon, Scott Miller.

Referee: Graham Beaton.