Queen’s Park 5 Kilmarnock U-20s 2

FOUR games in the revamped Scottish League Cup have given Queen’s a far more competitive pre-season than we usually enjoy.

Our early start to accommodate changes in the renamed Betfred Cup (it’s back to a group format, which was rightly deemed boring way back in the 1980s and rightly scrapped) has gone well.

The Spiders’ Betfred contribution ended with a far from disappointing 2-0 defeat to Premier League Partick Thistle and included a spirited Hampden comeback from 3-1 down against Airdrie, only to lose a marathon penalty shoot-out.

That 90-minute draw, and the earlier 2-0 defeat of Stenhousemuir at Ochilview, was a very positive pointer against two of our League One rivals this season.

Now tonight it’s the turn of the also revamped Challenge Cup. It, too, has been renamed — now the Irn-Bru Trophy, after the QP sponsors took over from Petrofac — and you can bet it won’t be to everyone’s taste.

What was once a tournament only for Scotland’s lower three senior leagues has been dramatically (some would say bizarrely) extended to include 54 teams, from Northern Ireland and Wales, from the Highland to the Lowland Leagues, and also the Under-20 side of every Premier League team.

The last-named provide Queen’s with their first round opposition tonight, and we welcome the under-20 players from Kilmarnock to Hampden Park. I’m sure they will be thrilled to be running out at the National Stadium, especially with a marvellous new pitch.

It would have been nice also to provide our usual welcome to all supporters, but tonight’s entry concessions are the pricier SPFL variety and our parent and child gate is out of action because Kilmarnock refused to agree to our normal cheaper prices (when under-20 games are usually free). So there you go.

Gus MacPherson rang the changes from the side which did well at Firhill, six to be exact, with Mark Williams, Craig McLeish and Bryan Wharton coming into the defence and Gregor Fotheringham, Liam Brown, and Joe Bradley in midfield.

Queen’s were on a hiding to nothing here, so conceding a goal to the young Ayrshire upstarts after just 13 SECONDS was hardly helpful.

Williams played a ball that was going out for a Queen’s throw-in and Wharton’s attempted passback failed to reach Murphy, who was left stranded as Morrison zipped past him and planted the ball into an empty net.

The youngster rightly celebrated a Hampden goal like it was a cup final, and why not.

You could have cut the silence with a dull breadknife, but the home fans weren’t stunned for long, and neither were Williams and Wharton.

Straight from the restart, Wharton fired a 60-yard ball down the right for the overlapping Williams, and his cutback was helped on by Malone for Brown to sidefoot the equaliser. Hectic stuff.

The rest of the opening 10 minutes was positively dull in comparison! Somewhat like the steady drizzle we were enjoying on an otherwise calm evening.

The supposed normal state of affairs was restored six minutes later – and again the combative Wharton was at the heart of it.

Malone’s dogged persistence, and no little skill, along the right byeline won him a free-kick, Miller delivered a perfectly driven cross, and Wharton fair bulleted a header into the net.

It could have been 2-2 after 24 minutes. That it wasn’t, Queen’s can thank first keeper Murphy and then Cummins, who both got in excellent, sliding blocks to deny the lively Morrison.

Young Brown was in his element, and playing beautifully, one delightful pass inside the right back releasing the overlapping McLeish for a cross that was blocked for a fruitless corner.

But the corner won by the impressive Malone in 39 minutes had a far more favourable outcome for Queen’s.

Miller’s far post delivery was headed back in by Cummins and his back four mate McGeever rose to supply the killer header in off the far post.

Fotheringham was booked for a sliding challenge on Lidington in 42 minutes, but he looked unlucky.

There was nothing unlucky about Killie’s second goal right on half-time. The boy Morrison’s quick feet spun him out of a tight corner in his own half, under the main stand, and he then played a one-two before delivering a sweeping crossfield pass to pick out right back Queen rampaging down the right. In truth, McLeish should have cut out the pass, but Queen didn’t miss a step and he burst past the Queen’s defender and unleashed a rasping right-foot shot that fizzed past Murphy and in at his right-hand side netting. A splendid all-round goal.

Half-time: Queen’s Park 3 Kilmarnock U20s 2

Nothing had gone right for Joe Bradley in the first half, however hard the wee man tried, and it was no surprise he was replaced by David Galt at half-time.

Malone’s forceful running had been causing the Killie defence a hard time and he was at it again straight from the restart, bursting down the left and firing over a cross that Fotheringham couldn’t control.

We were treated to a torrential downpour from the 50-minute mark, and some sustained Queen’s pressure that their young rivals resisted with enthusiasm.

Indeed, towards the hour the visitors carved out openings of their own, and met equally stout defending, with Murphy having to save a fierce 20-yarder from the energetic Frizzell.

There was some good stuff being played despite the rain, so it deserved a good goal and sub Galt provided it just after the hour.

Miller’s corner from the left was punched clear by keeper Millar only as far as Galt, just inside the area, and he struck a stunning right-foot volley that crashed behind the stranded keeper.

Killie were far from downhearted, though, and it took a fine sliding tackle from McGeever to deny Wilson a scoring shot two minutes later.

Galt almost provided a carbon-copy volley after another Miller corner had been cleared, but this time his shot was blocked, then keeper Millar had a splendid full-length stop to deny Cummins a goal. And the rain got heavier.

Scorer Queen was replaced by Whittaker in 69 minutes. A good shift, young man, and a goal to remember at the National Stadium.

Williams was booked for a foul as the rain turned the turf slick, but there was still some inventive play from both teams amid the downpour, and Morrison ended one nice move by shooting straight at Murphy.

With seven minutes to go, the hard-working Miller and Malone were replaced by Millen and MacPherson.

And Gus’s boy made an immediate impact. Galt read keeper Millar’s clearance and burst into the box, where he was upended by McLean. Clear penalty, and young Ewan took it with some aplomb to send Millar the wrong way.

Two minutes from time, Killie gave Wylie and McLevy the chance to tell their pals they had played at the National Stadium, as they came on for Clark and McLean.

And that was that. A good runout for Queen’s and an extremely good showing from the talented Killie boys.

Confidence should be high, then, as we head for a Saturday encore against Airdrie as we kick off our League One campaign. Keep the faith.

Queen’s Park: Andrew Murphy, Mark Williams, Craig McLeish, Bryan Wharton, Ryan McGeever, Adam Cummins, Gregor Fotheringham, Darren Miller, Aiden Malone, Joe Bradley, Liam Brown. Subs – Sean Burns, Ross Millen, Cameron Foy, Anton Brady, Joshua Watt, David Galt, Ewan MacPherson.

Kilmarnock U20s: Ross Millar, Taylor Queen, Sam Lidington, Iain Wilson, Aidan Wilson, Lewis Clark, Adam Frizzell, Dean Hawkshaw, Lewis Morrison, Thomas Dempsie, Scott McLean. Subs – Ross Wylie, Curtis Lyle, Jack Whittaker, Ewan McLevy, Innes Cameron, Oliver McDonald, Kenny Barr.

Referee: Greg Aitken.