Stenhousemuir 0 Queen’s Park 0

Ray McKinnon faced new challenges today as the QP Gaffer took his squad to Ochilview on League 2 duty.

For starters, he’d have to overcome a Stenhousemuir side with plenty experience in its ranks, and probably just about in a league position that would allow them to play without too much pressure. Then he’d have to overcome the 152-year tradition Queen’s Park have of winning when least expected … and snatching defeat when the odds were stacked in their favour. Finally, he’d have to overcome the Manager of the Month curse which has haunted Hampden bosses ever since it was introduced.

The announcement this week that the Rayvolution had been acknowledged with the February managerial gong was no more than our Mr Mac deserved. The Spiders have shot up the table into play-off contention after winning four of their last six matches.

Adding to the feel good factor today was our record at Ochilview, with our last defeat here coming almost 10 years ago. Then there was the news from the camp that the Gaffer had no fresh injury worries – and the influential Nicky Jamieson was fully recovered and in contention for a starting slot.

What could possibly go wrong given all those positive indicators?

On the eve of the match, McKinnon had spoken about the selection dilemma posed by having such a decent array of talent at his disposal. He solved that one by giving the Annan starters the chance to shine again.

It was clear even before the game began that the conditions would play their part, with a fierce wind howling down the pitch. And although Queen’s were playing into the teeth of the gale in the first period, they made the brightest of starts… almost.

With just two minutes on the clock, King, Salim, and Slater swapped touches to set MacLean free on the right. He romped past his defender and swung in an evil cross which was touched over the line by defender Tiffoney. The celebrations died as soon as they began when we realised that the assistant had his flag raised against Galt for offside. Although it looked as if Galtie never touched the ball, the officials deemed him to be “active” or “interfering” or some other such technical nonsense and ruled out the goal.

Queen’s immediately won the ball back and went back on the attack. Slater was nudged off the ball at the edge of the box, but rather than wasting time appealing to whistler Wilson, Galt picked up the loose ball and let fly with a drive that was only narrowly wide of the far post.

Still the Spiders continued on the front foot and carved out their best chance of the match after 21 minutes. A neat ball from Davidson found Galt just outside the Stenny box. Although he had his back to goal, the skipper conjured up a lovely flick to free the advancing Slater. Unfortunately, Craig’s low shot was saved well by Smith and as Galt challenged for the rebound as the ball spun into the air, the Goalkeeper’s Protection Society came to the home side’s rescue and Wilson awarded a foul.

It had been an excellent opening period so far for Queen’s with the conditions – and the opposition – being played in exactly the right manner. But the home side showed their threat in their first attack when a long ball found Biabi and his dangerous cross thankfully found no takers.

That gave Stenny some encouragement, and Muir had to punch away another dangerous cross for a corner which was headed narrowly wide by Tiffoney.

MacLean tried his luck with a volley from a Salim flick as the first half hour ended. He connected OK, but dragged the effort wide of the far post.

The home side looked menacing down our right and McLaughlin went close with another wind-assisted effort.

The half drew to a close with Queen’s again in the ascendancy. Slater just couldn’t work space for a shot, but did release Salim, whose effort was deflected for a fruitless corner.

The last action of what had been a very decent first half considering the wind and the plastic pitch bounce saw Galt’s shot being taken by Smith.

Half time

Stenhousemuir 0 Queen’s Park 0

Given the way Queen’s had mastered the conditions in the first half, hopes were high that we would use the wind to our advantage in the second period. Sadly, it never turned out that way and it was Stenny who had the better of things for much of the rest of the afternoon.

There was nothing much in the opening exchanges, but Queen’s got a warning of what was to come when a ball over the top from Blair released Biabi. The good news for the Spiders was that he overhit his cross from a perfect position and we could all breathe again.

Muir then had to deal with a routine shot from Moore before the keeper showed his true worth with a couple of cracking stops.

Firstly, he beat out a Spence header before jumping back to his feet to deny Hopkirk on the follow up. When the same player picked up that rebound, Queen’s had Finnie to thank for blocking the third effort and somehow we remained with the score as it had been at the interval.

Queen’s had Muir to thank for clutching a cross from the ever-more influential Biabi before we finally brought Smith into action again. Salim showed great strength, determination (and not a little skill) to get away from Wilson and Moore. He then drove towards the box, but although his final shot was on target, it was taken easily by the home keeper.

Stenny responded with a good break on the right and Morrison had to produce a tremendous block to deny the inrushing Hopkirk as the ball was cut back.

Ray tried to change the pattern of the game by bringing on Moore for MacLean and then Lidouren for King as we entered the final stages. We did manage a couple of moments to raise the spirits; notably when Slater and Galt combined to send Davidson down the left, but his cross was taken by Smith with Salim waiting to pounce.

The last decent chance of the afternoon fell to Stenny and Biabi should have done better than head wide after neat play had given Tiffoney the chance to swing in a cross.

The final moments became increasingly tetchy as referee Wilson intervened with monotonous regularity. Blair went in the book for one foul too many on Galt and Slater before he was joined by Davidson.

Slater took a nasty knock just before the final whistle, then deep into injury time the wee midfielder’s frustration boiled over when he was harshly penalised for hand ball.

Quite what he said to the whistler we’ll probably never know, but it upset the man in the middle sufficiently for him to reach into his pocket for a straight red card.

A bad end to a disappointing afternoon for the Spiders, especially when results elsewhere saw us slip out of the play-off positions.

Next up it’s Albion Rovers at Coatbridge, and the opportunity for revenge after an awful derby defeat last time we visited. More importantly, it’s a wee chance to get back to winning ways before we return to HQ to welcome Stirling Albion – and then face the long trek to Elgin for what is shaping up to be the definition of the football “six-pointer” .

Queen’s Park: Willie Muir, Ryan Finnie, Josh Doig, Stuart Morrison, Peter Grant, Jake Davidson, Adam King (Joffrey Lidouren 76) Craig Slater, Salim Kouider-Aïssa, David Galt and Ross MacLean (Kieran Moore 74).

Substitutes: James Grant, Kieran Moore, Creag Little, Joffrey Lidouren, Nicky Jamieson, Luke Main and Cammy Bell.

Ray speaks to QPTV after the game