Airdrieonians 4 Queen’s Park 1

Queen’s have been involved in a fair few penalty shoot-outs over the years. Indeed, our first meeting of this season with today’s opponents featured just such a conclusion.

However, that one – like all the others before it – was in a cup tie. Gulliver can’t remember being at a league game that was decided by a mini shoot-out from the white spot 12 yards from goal … until this afternoon.

Those supporters who braved the roadworks to make it to the Excelsior saw no fewer than four penalties awarded in the course of the 90 minutes; three of them being converted by Airdrie’s Iain Russell to give him the most unusual of hat-tricks. Queen’s only goal also came from the spot, but in the end it proved no more than a consolation prize.

The Spiders had arrived in Airdrie with a spring in the step after the encouraging victory last time out over East Fife. And Gus MacPherson gave the players a vote of confidence for that performance by naming the same starting XI of; Willie Muir, Ross Millen, Craig McLeish, Gregor Fotheringham, Ryan McGeever, Adam Cummins, Paul Woods, Darren Miller, Aiden Malone, Liam Brown and Dario Zanatta.

The Spiders started brightly enough, trying to knock the ball about with a bit of pace. However, they got an early warning of what was to come when the lively Ryan found space to get off a shot that thankfully sailed wide of the target.

Queen’s went straight up the park and carved out a path to the edge of the box where Woods was taken out. The resultant free-kick gave Miller the type of opportunity he relishes, but his shot was a tame one that bounced back off the wall and was hoofed clear.

The visitors continued to look the likelier … until Referee Greg Aitken’s first intervention of the afternoon. There were only eight minutes gone when Ryan drew McGeever into a challenge inside the box. Down went the striker – and out went the arm of the official to signify the penalty, which was clinically dispatched by Russell.

MacPherson’s men could have been excused for letting the heads go down, but although obviously shaken by the blow, they responded well and were quickly back on the front foot. Malone went close with a header from a Miller cross, while Woods also tried his luck with a left-footed shot that was comfortably taken by keeper Ferguson. The home side showed their menace when they did break, and Russell had a shot from outside the box that glanced the post on its way past.

The second big moment of the game came at the midway point in the first period. Boateng made contact with Zanatta rather than the ball, and Aitken pointed to the spot again. Up stepped Millen to score with some style low to Ferguson’s left and tie the game up at 1-1.

This was the time Queen’s had to settle things down, and they did – for about five minutes. That’s how long it took Ryan to get a run on the visiting defence and draw another challenge from McGeever. Unless Gulliver’s old eyes deceive him (which is always possible) the defender got his foot to the ball. Unfortunately, he also made contact with Ryan who went down looking for the penalty – which was duly awarded by the official. Our Ryan also picked up a yellow card for his troubles, before Russell smacked the ball into the net to put the home side back in front.

Airdrie now went looking for blood, and a succession of corners produced more than a few edgy moments, particularly when first Boateng and then Stewart headed narrowly wide from dead-ball situations.

Despite being under pressure, it looked like Queen’s would hold out until the interval. However, as the clock ticked onto the 45th minute, Ryan drew another foul in the middle of the park. The first delivery was headed clear at the expense of a corner, and when the ball came in, Stewart had space six yards out to bullet a header past the helpless Muir. It was a hammer blow, as the whistle went straight from the kick-off leaving the half-time score at:

Airdrieonians 3 Queen’s Park 1

Neither side made any changes at the interval, but the pattern of the game had undoubtedly altered. Whereas the first period had seen action aplenty, with both sides breaking with some purpose, the two-goal lead they now enjoyed afforded the hosts the opportunity to take the sting out of the game and make us chase the ball.

It didn’t make great viewing, with the early highlight being a shot from Zanatta comfortably saved by Ferguson.

Twelve minutes into the second period, Gus made his first change, replacing Brown with Josh Watt.

Within seconds of the swap, Queen’s could have been three behind, but Muir did well to deny Adam Brown at his near post.

Just past the hour mark, McLeish went into the book. It was his last involvement of the afternoon as he was replaced five minutes later by Anton Brady as Queen’s desperately sought a way to inject some life back into their challenge.

The hosts should have killed the game completely after 69 minutes, but first Leitch and then Ryan contrived to miss glorious opportunities. That escape allowed hope to flicker in the hearts of the visiting support … for all of three minutes. That’s how long it took for an awkward bounce to see Millen put his arm to the ball, with the inevitable penalty being awarded. Russell again did the business from the spot, and at 4-1, the game was certainly all over as a contest.

Queen’s did huff and puff as they tried to find some consolation from the afternoon, but their efforts were frustrated by a solid home rearguard.

The frustration showed on Woods when he talked his way into a yellow card.

Miller went close with two shots from distance before the home side made their fist changes of the afternoon; replacing Russell and Ryan with Schmidt and Scullion. There were only nine minutes left by now, but that was plenty time for Schmidt to make quite an impact on the afternoon.

The sub’s first involvement was to concede a corner as he tracked back on defensive duties. When the cross was cleared, he fouled Woods … before inexplicably then lashing the ball at the Spider’s player … and copping a red card for his troubles. He’d been on the field less than five minutes.

The dismissal proved to be the last action of a strange old afternoon. The 4-1 scoreline makes it sound like a real thumping, but Queen’s were certainly right in the game until that injury time sickener in the first period. On another day, they might have got something out of the 90 minutes, but as Gus MacPherson had warned in his pre-match comments: “If you make mistakes at this level, you are likely to be punished.”

Queen’s were certainly punished harshly, but there were enough good signs to believe we can bounce back next weekend when Stenhousemuir come to Hampden.

Keep the Faith.

Queen’s Park: Willie Muir, Ross Millen, Craig McLeish (Anton Brady), Gregor Fotheringham, Ryan McGeever, Adam Cummins, Paul Woods, Darren Miller, Aiden Malone, Liam Brown (Josh Watt) and Dario Zanatta. Subs: Bryan Wharton, Scott Gibson, Conor McVey, Billy Mortimer, Calvin McGrory.