East Fife 0 Queen’s Park 1
Whatever you may say about the life of a football fan, it’s never dull. Last Saturday your scribe was on a bus across the Baltics as he and a small group of Tartan Army Spiders wound their weary (and very emotional) way home from Scotland duty in Lithuania.
Today Gulliver was in Homer’s Batmobile and the miles to Fife flashed past far quicker than the Caped Crusader could ever hope to get across Gotham City.
It was certainly a shorter journey than last weekend, but the hope was that the outcome would be the same, with more grins on the Hampden faces as Queen’s sought to record their first league victory of the new campaign.
The squad to face East Fife had changed from our last outing – that comeback-from-the-dead draw against Stranraer. Defender Jack Iredale had joined on loan from Morton. We’d also recruited former Celtic youth striker Luke Donnelly, while Billy Mortimer had headed for a spell in Cumbernauld in a bid to get more game time.
Despite the additions to the squad, Gus found his reserves a bit depleted after the midweek Development League game against Clyde when injuries forced Queen’s to use all three subs before the first quarter of the match was over – and they finished the game with 10 men after another knock.
However, the team which took the field at Bayview had a familiar shape, with Willie Muir in goals and a back three of Ross Millen, Adam Cummins and Jack Iredale. They were flanked by Michael Bailey and Sean Burns, with Gregor Fotheringham and David Green anchoring the midfield. That left Anton Brady and David Galt free to support our other debut-boy Donnelly.
Like the weather, Queen’s started reasonably brightly, winning a fruitless early corner. But just like the weather, the game rapidly became a tad scrappy, with spectators scrambling for more cover after 10 minutes as a torrential shower lashed the plastic pitch.
When the monsoon eased, the Spiders won a second corner, but like the first, it was well defended by the home side.
Queen’s then put themselves under pressure with a couple of silly errors around the midway point in the half, losing possession in dangerous positions. Thankfully, our hosts couldn’t punish us and Burns almost got us the lead with an audacious (good word that) volley from distance which had keeper Hurst scrambling back desperately before it landed on the roof of the net.
The shot seemed to spark the Spiders into life and Brady produced a trademark run – but couldn’t find the desired finish.
As we approached the half-hour, Green went in the book for a silly foul, and we could have been behind seconds later as former Spider Chris Duggan beat Muir to a long punt and flicked the ball past the keeper. It looked netbound, but trickled inches wide and the visiting support could take their hands away from their eyes and look again.
The viewing remained uncomfortable, however, as Willis was denied by Muir – and then the same player fired over from a decent opportunity at the far post.
Millen showed his quick thinking and defensive qualities with a couple of timely interceptions as Queen’s struggled to get their passing game going, but they were determined to stay in there, and got to the break with their goal unscathed.
East Fife 0 Queen’s Park 0
The first half had ended with the home side on the ascendancy; the second started in much the same fashion. A horrible tangle in the QP defence after just 45 seconds saw Muir misjudge the bounce of the ball and leave Duggan with what seemed like a tap-in. But out of nowhere, the latest Scouser to win the hearts of the QP faithful, Adam Cummins, came sliding in to produce a wonderful, goal-saving tackle.
If the keeper was at fault for that one, he more than made up for it in the 44 minutes that remained. Just a couple of minutes later, he was helpless as a shot from Greg Hurst rattled our crossbar. But he was simply superb as he flung out a hand to deny Flanagan on the follow-up.
After that breathless opening, the Spiders began to claw their way back into proceedings. They showed their menace after 50 minutes when a superb Galt break ended with Burns curling a shot just wide.
And they took the lead moments later when Galt nipped in to intercept a short back-pass from Docherty and was unceremoniously dumped to the ground by keeper Hurst. It was as clear a penalty as you could ever wish to see, as was the finish by Millen who despatched it low to the keeper’s left.
It was important to settle on the lead, so naturally Queen’s immediately gifted the Fifers the chance to level and were relieved to see Flanagan shoot over from a good position.
Donnelly then had his first real sight at goal, but couldn’t get enough power on his final effort to trouble Hurst. It was his last contribution in what was a thankless first shift as he was soon replaced by Thomas Orr.
We now had less than 30 minutes to hold on for our first victory of the league season, but while we continued to look menacing on the counter, it was very much a case of the home side having the better of the possession stakes.
Hurst continued his one-man shootout with Muir after 64 minutes when he brought out a cracking low save from the Queen’s keeper.
Gus brought on Conor McVey for Green a few moments later, but still the tide flowed in the direction of our goal. The ever-dangerous Flanagan shot over from one chance – and was then denied by a timely interception from Burns as he prepared to let loose another effort.
Despite being second best in the possession stakes, the Spiders still posed a threat on the break. Orr led a charge down the right as the game entered its last 15 minutes, and despite almost losing the shirt off his back, managed to stay on his feet and get in a cross which Galt just failed to convert.
Gulliver, who would never criticise any official, is happy to hand out plaudits here to referee Newlands who allowed play to go on as Orr wriggled clear – and then booked Dunsmore for his attempts to swap jerseys before the final whistle.
As we entered the final 10 minutes, Gus brought on Dominic Docherty for Fotheringham.
The switch did little to alter the pattern of the game, however, with the home side continuing to press, while Queen’s relied more and more on the quick break. It did little for the nerves of the visiting support – and even less for the vocal chords of Gaffer Gus MacPherson who did everything he possibly could to help his charges see out the nervy last stages.
We all had a couple of bad moments; firstly when wee Anton let his composure slip in the dying seconds and picked up what could later prove to be a costly booking for time-wasting. But that was nothing compared to the consternation caused by the corner won by the home side deep into injury time.
The previous few corners had been calmly claimed by Muir. This one whipped all the way across our goal before, with Gulliver calling for his Nelson trousers, it beat everybody and sailed out for a goal kick.
Thankfully, with the stop watch now showing 94 minutes, Newlands brought proceedings to a halt and the Spiders had claimed the three points.
It’s ludicrously early in the season to start talking about crucial results, but this was a big one for Queen’s. It saw us move off the bottom of the table – and with games against table-topping Raith Rovers and their nearest challengers Ayr United coming up next – it gives us a little more margin for error.
There’s no doubt that this is going to be a challenging campaign. But if Queen’s continue to show the resolve they displayed today, and find just a bit more clinical edge to their attacks, then we could all be celebrating again come May.
It’s been quite a week for all those who follow Hampden’s two teams. We’ve seen former Spider Andy Robertson play a starring role as the national team recorded two wins on the bounce to keep us all dreaming of heading for Russia with Love. And we’ve now seen Queen’s get their first victory of the league season.
Is there any real need to suggest that we all Keep the Faith?