Queen’s Park 1 Stenhousemuir 2

Just for once in this madcap season, Queen’s went into a game with their fate entirely in their own hands. No matter what happened elsewhere in the football world, both teams in the second leg of today’s play-off semi-final knew that the winners would keep alive their hopes of playing in SPFL 1 next season. The losers knew SPFL 2 would be their fate.

The equation was simple enough, but there were still plenty questions to be answered.
Would the game be decided after 90 minutes, or would extra time be needed? Could we even face the possibility of a penalty shoot-out … and if that was the case, who would be the Famous Five charged with taking the QP spotkicks?

Those were questions for further down the line, but the answer all those in the Hoops wanted before proceedings even started was what team the Gaffer would pick. He had to decide on a replacement for defensive stalwart Adam Cummins after he was ruled out by a red card. He had to decide if the influential David Galt would be risked after his marathon exertions last weekend and disappointing show at Ochilview. And those were just two of the choices he had to make.

In the end, the choice was almost predictable. Gerry McLauchlan came in for Cummins, while Jamie Gullan was given the nod over Galt. So the starting XI was announced as: Michael White, Ross Millen, McLauchlan, Scott Gibson, Sean Burns, Gregor Fotheringham, Anton Brady, Robbie Leitch, Luke Donnelly, Gullan and Aiden Keena

You’ll notice we said the starting XI was announced … because that wasn’t the one that took the field. Although there seemed nothing untoward in the warm-up, something obviously went wrong as Conor McVey appeared when the teams ran out on the immaculate Hampden surface – with no sign of Anton Brady.

Whether it was the enforced late change that unsettled the Spiders, or just the occasion, it was the visitors who started better.

They could have taken the lead after three minutes when Cook was given far too much space to swing in a dangerous cross which Scott should have done better than head wide.

Thankfully, the Spiders got their act together and were desperately unlucky not to open their account on 10 minutes. Firstly, Keena rattled the bar with an outrageous attempt from all of 35 yards.

Then Donnelly was denied the opener by a last-ditch goal-line clearance from Meechan, with keeper Smith nowhere.

Having got a toehold in the game, Queen’s shot themselves in the foot by conceding after 16 minutes. Donaldson was given the freedom of Mount Florida to cross to the far post where the giant McGuigan was waiting to glance a header past White.

Rattled by going behind, the Spiders struggled to get any rhythm going, and it took until the 30th minute before we had another shot in anger- Burns firing wide after decent buildup.

That at least sparked a wee response and Donnelly was prominent as we started moving forward … without testing Smith at all.

We then tried to kill our hopes completely after giving away a free kick deep in our own territory when we had possession. Thankfully, although McGuigan got the header in again, this one was cleared without damage, apart from a booking for McVey.

Four minutes from the break, things unexpectedly got a whole lot brighter. Donaldson took Leitch out on the right hand side. Somehow referee Anderson decided this one wasn’t a booking. However, the punishment was far greater as Millen’s low delivery was glanced into the net by the diving head of big Gerry McLauchlan.

The score was level … and we’d hardly kicked a ball the way we can. Surely, it could only improve.

Half time

Queen’s Park 1 Stenhousemuir 1

There were no changes at the break by either side, and the pattern started off in the same vein as the opening half, with first McLauchlan and then Gibson having to step in at the last minute to deny Scott and McGuigan.

It was tense, edgy, and not very pretty as the first 10 minutes came and went. Gus tried swapping Leitch and Gullan to see if that could spark something.

It almost produced results immediately as Donnelly released Leitch who found Keena at the edge of the box. Aiden weaved his way into a shooting position, but couldn’t keep the shot down.

Gullan then won Queen’s a corner after good work by Keena, but McLauchlan was denied this time.

Paton went into the book on the hour for taking out McVey. That was the signal for a change by each side; Galt coming on for Gullan, while Murray replaced Ferns for the visitors.

Galt’s first chance to put in a telling delivery came after 66 minutes, and although the corner was a good one, it was cleared.

Queen’s had a wee escape after 68 when Murray pounced on a mistake to send over a dangerous cross, but Scott couldn’t capitalise.

Galt then had half a chance after being set up by Donnelly, but shot just wide.

Although Stenny had the upper hand, the game could have gone either way at this stage. But the misfortune which has dogged Queen’s all season struck with a vengeance after 71 minutes. Millen was felled after being struck full on the face by a point-blank clearance. The way he went down – and the way the players immediately signalled for the medics – we knew it was not good.  After being tended for several minutes, he was taken from the ground on a stretcher.

Docherty had been poised to come on, for whom we shall never know, but he replaced the stricken Ross. Galt went to full back, but still Lady Luck hadn’t been bad enough. McVey went down injured, with Billy Mortimer coming on.

Before he had kicked the ball, the visitors were ahead. Paton intercepted a loose pass and drove forward before releasing McGuigan. He looked suspiciously  offside, but with the referee’s assistant yards behind the play, the flag stayed down and the striker beat White for his second goal of the game.

The two questions now were could we find a way back … and how much extra time would Anderson allow? In the end the time was almost irrelevant as the visitors used all their experience to run the clock down and see the game out.

When the final whistle sounded, several home players sank to the turf in frustration. They knew they’d failed to perform at the level they can, but as they always do, they had given their all.

It was a bitter way to end a bitterly disappointing season – especially one which had started off in such celebratory fashion as we marked our 150th birthday.

The season started off in party mode; it ended miserably with us having lost our League 1 status … and probably facing losing our home as well. Happy Birthday!

Despite the ending, it would be remiss not to mention the efforts put in by the players throughout the season. They’ve been up against the cosh much of the time, but have never fallen short in the effort stakes. No doubt some will move on, and your scribe would like to wish them well and thank them for being part of the finest football club in the country.

To those who make the wise choice to remain with us, the message is simple … remember that things will get better. Keep the Faith.

Those three words normally finish our match reports, but we’ve got to make an exception today. Ross Millen looked to be out cold as he was wheeled from the ground, and the thoughts of everyone in the club will be with the defender and his family.

No matter how disappointed we all are at the result of the match, it’s far more important that Ross makes a full recovery. Get well soon.