Airdrie 3 Queen’s Park 2

Any strangers looking in on the Excelsior Stadium after today’s game ended might have been surprised at the warmth of the reception given to the Queen’s Park players by the sizeable visiting support. After all, their side had lost their final outing, and it was Airdrie who made it through to the promotion play-offs.

But the applause which sent the QP players off on their summer holidays had precious little to do with the final 90 minutes (hugely entertaining though they were). No, the reception was more a demonstrable way of saying thanks to a group who had exceeded all expectations over the course of a quite remarkable season.

And given the twists and turns that have enthralled all those with an interest in the Spiders throughout this campaign, it was appropriate that our final outing should reflect all that has been good (as well as a little bit of the bad) since it all began away back in July.

Going into the game this afternoon, we knew we had to win by four clear goals to have any chance of prolonging our season. That was never going to happen, but it was certainly a team designed to score goals that the manager sent out.

Whether by necessity (with a number of defensive injuries), or intent, it was fair to say the attacking options were there for all to see. It was no surprise to see Willie Muir in goals, or indeed a back three of Adam Cummins, Ryan McGeever and Bryan Wharton. It could also have been predicted that Sean Burns would occupy the wingback slot on the left. Few people, however, would have expected to see David Galt take that type of position on the right. Dominic Docherty, Anton Brady and Conor McVey occupied the midfield roles, with Dario Zanatta and Kalvin Orsi providing the threat up front.

The hope was that the players would gel quickly; the reality was we could have been behind before the supporters had settled into their seats. Airdrie won a corner within the first 10 seconds. That was cleared OK, but as we showed distinct signs of nerves, a series of errors at the back gave our hosts the opportunity to punish us.

Thanks to careless finishing on their part, and lively goalkeeping from Muir, the scoreline stayed blank as Queen’s began to show signs of settling.

The glorious unpredictability of this game was perfectly illustrated as the first quarter of an hour drew to a close. Queen’s were split apart at the back and MacDonald was in on goal. Muir did superbly well to get down low to his right and block the shot.

Seconds later, Zanatta had the ball at his feet, ran at the Airdrie defence – and let fly from almost 25 yards. It was one of those glorious occasions where the majority of the visiting fans could see from the moment the shot left his boot that it was destined for the top corner, which is precisely where it ended up. Without having really been in the game, Queen’s were 1-0 ahead.

If the opening 15 minutes had been lively, what followed was even better. Airdrie found space on our flanks far too often for comfort. But there was a defiance from the Spiders not to concede … and a real threat going forward.

Ryan and Conroy could have tied things up, but missed the target when well placed. For Queen’s, Brady was producing an energetic shift (even by his Duracell standards), while Orsi and Zanatta kept the home defence honest whenever they got the ball.

Brady’s fiery temperament saw him yellow carded just before the half-hour, although Gulliver sympathised with the wee man who was involved with Hutton throughout the game and could consider himself unlucky to be the only one of the pair who went in the black book.

Anton responded well to the booking and after another surging run, gave Zanatta and Orsi the chance to put daylight between ourselves and our hosts. Sadly, neither striker could beat Ferguson in the home goal.

Russell went into the book for deliberate handball before Ryan spurned a glorious chance and then Queen’s had Cummins to thank as he cleared another dangerous cutback.

As the half entered its final 10 minutes, Muir produced another great stop to deny Stewart before launching Queen’s on the counter. Docherty and Orsi combined to set up Brady, but the midfielder couldn’t keep his shot down and a great opportunity went abegging.

This time we were punished as Airdrie took advantage of a slip in midfield to pour forward. It all looked so simple as MacDonald got to the byline, cut the ball across to Ryan – and he poked it home to make the score 1-1.

That was the end of the scoring in a first period which had produced two goals … and a fair number of missed chances for both sides.

Half time

Airdrie 1 Queen’s Park 1

Queen’s were out early for the second half, but had to wait for their opponents to emerge. Unfortunately, the wait seemed to send the Spiders to sleep as the home side waltzed through our defence within the first minute of the action restarting. This time it was Brown who supplied the ball for Ryan to tap in and put Airdrie 2-1 ahead.

Our start to the first period had been sloppy, and we seemed intent on repeating that practice in the second half as we made some more careless errors. We should have been dead and buried after 51 minutes when a tangle at the back saw Brown pass up a golden chance to get his name on the scoresheet.

The one thing we have learned about Gus MacPherson’s men throughout the course of the season is that they don’t accept defeat readily. And within a couple of minutes of Brown’s miss, we were back on terms. This time it was our turn to find space behind the defence as Zanatta got to the line. His cutback found Orsi – who found his way to goal blocked by Airdrie defenders. No problem for the big man … a shimmy, twist – and turn – gave him the room needed to get off a left foot shot which found the bottom corner of the net.

You could sense Gus willing his players to get the concentration right for the restart. They didn’t get the message as within a minute we were behind again. It was another one that goes into the “too easy” category. Stewart getting free on the left and squaring the ball for Russell to sidefoot home and put Airdrie 3-2 in front.

The goal was the spur for the Spiders to step up their attacks even more. A series of corners on the hour mark saw Cummins shoot over the top from one half-clearance and then Wharton found himself providing the ammunition from the right wing. His cross was hacked away by Mensing with half of Mount Florida waiting to apply the killer touch.

Needless to say, with Queen’s flying forward at every opportunity, we left gaps at the back. Muir had to be lively to deny Ryan on one rapid counter attack.

As the game entered its final third, we saw perhaps a glimpse of the future when young Alistair Miller came on to replace Wharton in yet another attacking throw of the dice.

Miller could have become an instant hero when he was released on the left by Zanatta, but Ferguson got down well to turn away the sub’s goalbound effort.

Gus made his final changes with 15 minutes left, replacing the tiring Orsi  and McVey with Ewan MacPherson and Liam Brown.

Again, one of the subs could have torpedoed the home side within seconds of coming on. This time it was MacPherson who was given a chance by Galt, but was crowded out before he could get his shot away.

Miller turned provider for Zanatta in our next attack, but Dario couldn’t get enough on his shot to test Ferguson.

Ten minutes from time came another big moment. Zanatta got the break of the ball after he blocked a clearance, and had the legs to get in front of Mensing and McIntosh. However, just as he looked poised to pull the trigger, he seemed to be halted illegally and the ball trickled through to the grateful keeper. The claims for a penalty could have been heard back at HQ, but they fell on deaf ears with the officials.

The protests were long and loud, with skipper McGeever looking totally incredulous after asking the assistant referee for his version of events.

When the dust settled, play resumed in much the same fashion, with Queen’s desperate to avoid a third successive defeat, and Airdrie equally desperate to hang onto the result which would guarantee their place in the play-offs.

Substitute Leitch missed a chance for the home side to put what would have been an unfair gloss on the result as he failed to capitalise on an Airdrie break.

As they do, Queen’s kept going right to the death and looked to have salvaged another late, late point in the second minute of injury time. It was Brady who showed admirable composure to fire off a left-foot shot, but it flew inches wide of the upright and with that, our season was over.

It was fitting that the campaign finished with such a spirited performance, although it would have been so much nicer to get the result it merited. But whoever said football was fair?

Two wee words kept popping into your scribe’s head as this afternoon unfolded … “If Only”. If only we’d played like this last week against Stenny, the outcome could have been so different. But it would be unfair in the extreme to take anything away from this group of players who have been moulded into a more than decent team by Gus and his coaching staff.

These guys didn’t need to kiss the badge on their strips to show their commitment; they did that by turning out to train and play for nothing more than travel expenses agreed with HMRC.  Of course, some/many/a few may move on during the summer. That’s inevitable, but they certainly go with the best wishes of this scribe, who will wrap up for the season with the same plea as he does every year … Remember the grass isn’t always greener on the other side!!

By the time July comes and we set out to do this all again, this incredible club will have celebrated its 150th birthday. We all owe a lot to that number of gentleman who met on July 9, 1867 with the purpose of forming a football club.

Keep the Faith!