Queen’s Park 0 Alloa Athletic 2

THESE are heady days indeed to be a Queen’s Park supporter. After our less than impressive start to promotion, it’s hard to fathom that we are surveying League One from our merited yet miraculous position of fourth place after two thirds of the season have come and gone in a blink.

It should not prove too difficult to retain a sense of realism amid the euphoria (we are Queen’s Park fans, after all). We may be enjoying the lofty heights of that final play-off spot (yes, you read that correctly, a play-off spot for the CHAMPIONSHIP!), but such is the cramped nature of League One this season we are nearer bottom club Stehousemuir (by nine points) than we are leaders Livingston (13pts).

Queen’s claimed that final play-off spot with last week’s feisty, fighting 2-0 win at Stenny, and we’ll need to maintain the same spirit we showed at Ochilview as we enter the last third of the season.

It will be another extremely tough ask today when we get a second visit of the season from promotion rivals Alloa Athletic, who are one point ahead of Queen’s in third place.

And Gus MacPherson’s plans weren’t helped by being forced into big changes, as he was missing FIVE players who helped in the defeat of Stenny.

On-loan Celtic full-back Aidan McIlduff played for the Parkhead side’s Under-20s last night, and is not allowed to play again for 48 hours, while Adam Cummins was out with a hamstring injury.

Ross Millen was serving a one-match ban after picking up two yellow cards at Ochilview, and as we shivered at Hampden Park two others of last week’s victorious team were sadly, at least for us, enjoying warmer climes.

In-form striker Dario Zanatta is in the Costa Rican capital of San Jose with the Canadian Under-20 team as they contest the CONCACAF regional World Cup qualifying tournament.

And combative midfielder Gregor Fotheringham has departed Down Under for the rest of the season, where he will continue his engineering studies at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane. We wish them both well.

So, it was all change for Queen’s, and splendid reinforcements were at hand.

Gavin Mitchell was credited with a Cafu-like run by Anton Brady when he set up the wee man’s goal at Stenny, our second after Zanatta’s superb opener.

Gavin, now thankfully back to fitness after a long spell on the treatment table, had come off the bench to slot in at right-back for the departed Millen, and he kept that place against Alloa.

Sean Burns came in for McIlduff and David Galt got a run behind Kalvin Orsi as the on-loan St Mirren striker made his first start.

Scott Gibson was also back after missing six weeks with a thigh injury. He played for the Under-20s in midweek and returned to a bench made up entirely of QP youth graduates, with Gibby their senior citizen at 23.

The Wasps, who have been going through a wee winless run, beat us 2-1 at Hampden in October, then we drew 1-1 at Alloa in December. As it happens, Ross Millen scored both our goals.

And we trust referee Alan Muir will enjoy a quieter day after his midweek excitement at Pittodrie for Aberdeen’s goalfest with Motherwell!

At least anyone sent to the stands at Hampden today won’t have any trouble finding a seat.

A bright afternoon started in dismal fashion for Queen’s when we gifted Alloa a goal of a start in just three minutes.

Wharton allowed a long ball to bounce and then turned and attempted a headed passback, but it never reached keeper Willie Muir, who was stranded as Spence comfortably got to the ball first and lobbed the keeper for a simple goal.

If that was bad, it could have got quickly worse as Queen’s struggled to cope in the first 10 minutes.

We did relieve the pressure with a couple of good near post corners that were well defended by the visitors but Alloa looked dangerous every time they came forward, and at pace, and it took a fingertip save from Muir to guide a Spence header over the bar.

Gradually, though, Queen’s began to settle and put some passes together and we reached the 20-minute mark without further mishap.

The new partnership of Orsi and Galt showed potential with a promising, forceful break before being crowded out, and as usual we were working hard all over the park to disrupt the Wasps’ early control.

As the half-hour came and went, Queen’s were now playing much more in the Wasps’ half, and they perhaps should have been level in 33 minutes, Galt’s cross from the right finding Woods clear at the back post only for the playmaker to send a difficult shot wide of the far post.

Still, this was much more promising, and our energy was beginning to find an end product, with Brady shooting over from distance and McKernon bringing keeper McDowall finally into action with a shot saved low down as 40 minutes showed on the scoreboard.

Orsi, with his back to goal and closely marked, did well to take in a Woods pass then turn and get in a shot that was deflected for a corner.

Queen’s ended the half far better than they started it – well on the front foot and deep in the Wasps half.

Half-time: Queen’s Park 0 Alloa Athletic 1

There was a marked contrast in this kick-off, as Queen’s forced two free-kicks in the first three minutes, the first cleared and the second headed into keeper McDowall’s arms by Wharton.

Docherty was booked for shirt-tugging in 52 minutes and there was an “After you, Claude” moment as Queen’s worked their way man-to-man across the Alloa area without anyone managing to get off a shot.

Hetherington was booked in 62 minutes for taking out Brady off the ball.

Alloa made a double change in 66, Cawley and Flannigan replacing Spence and Hetherington.

A quick end-to-end break, with good work from Docherty, Brady and Mitchell, won Queen’s a corner when Gav’s cross was headed behind, then at the other end we had a let-off when Graham headed wide from a free-kick.

With the game evenly balanced, and few chances being created in this half so far, Queen’s made their own double change in 72 minutes, with Woods and Orsi being replaced by Brown and MacPherson.

Set pieces were proving the most popular form of attack and from a Wharton long throw special in 79 minutes we created our best chance of the half so far, McGeever heading it on and Brady rasping a low shot just wide.

McGeever took a head knock for his troubles and after treatment came back on with the Terry Butcher bandage (minus the blood, of course).

But it all went wrong for Queen’s in 84 minutes. Alloa had hardly threatened in this half, but out of nothing sub Cawley unleashed a low shot that came off Muir’s left-hand post and rebounded behind the keeper down his right byeline, from where it was quickly fired back across, blocked, and Kirkpatrick sent it straight back behind Muir with a fine shot. A 2-0 scoreline that didn’t reflect the overall contest in between either strike, but goals win games, however you score them.

Galt had a shot held by McDowall right on 90 minutes and we had a quick cameo for former Spider Jamie Longworth as a Wasps sub.

Keep the faith, this rollercoaster has a long way to travel.

Queen’s Park: Willie Muir, Gavin Mitchell, Bryan Wharton, Jamie McKernon, Ryan McGeever, Sean Burns, Paul Woods, Dominic Docherty, Kalvin Orsi, Anton Brady, David Galt. Subs: Liam Brown, Conor McVey, Scott Gibson, William Mortimer, Cameron Foy, Alistair Miller, Ewan MacPherson.

Alloa: Craig McDowall, Scott Taggart, Calum Waters, Frank McKeown, Andy Graham, Graeme Holmes, Steven Hetherington, Jon Robertson, Greig Spence, Jordan Kirkpatrick, Dylan Mackin. Subs: Kevin Cawley, Jamie Longworth, Scott Hynd, Jason Marr, Iain Flannigan, Stefan McCluskey, Andrew Wilson.

Referee – Alan Muir.