Stenhousemuir 1 Queen’s Park 1
Queen’s headed for the Ochil Hills and a clash with Stenny that would either keep hopes of beating the drop very much alive … or leave us chasing shadows in Saturday’s return.
We emerged from a tense 90 minutes still in with a shout, but as ever with the Spiders, things are never quite as simple as they might seem.
We’ll have to get the victory needed to progress to the play-off final without top scorer and first choice defender Adam Cummins. And we’ll also carry a sense of injustice after Aiden Keena was denied the goal his quick thinking deserved after Referee Newlands ruled out his quick free kick.
We’ve been involved in these play-offs often enough to know that they are almost always edgy occasions, with goalmouth chances at a premium. Despite that knowledge, the hope was that our scintillating performance against Arbroath in the last league game of the regular season would give us the momentum to build a cushion. And those hopes were bolstered by the teamlines which showed Gus MacPherson was able to field an unchanged line-up from that game.
But dreams of a similar whirlwind start quickly disappeared as both teams struggled to carve out clear openings. Ross Millen almost found Keena with an early cross into the box, and the hosts responded with an effort from McMenamin which was easily saved by Michael White.
The first real moment of the game arrived after 10 minutes when Keena played a ball through to David Galt, but the offside flag was up before DG stroked the ball into the net. It was another 10 minutes before the next significant entry in the notebook, and again it was for a Queen’s attack. This time it was neat play involving Luke Donnelly, Anton Brady and Gregor Fotheringham, which was brought to an illegal end by the challenge of Donaldson. Sadly, Saturday’s two-goal hero was off target and his effort from the free-kick sailed over the top.
The Spiders were having the best of things at this stage, but that changed after 27 minutes … and it was another of those goals that will have had the Gaffer scratching his head in frustration. Our defence was posted AWOL when Ferns delivered a long cross and Scott knocked it home with ease at the far post.
Buoyed by that goal, Stenny went looking for more and the stylish Paton almost obliged on the half hour when he was allowed to drive in on our goal and test White with a low shot that was well fielded by the Queen’s keeper.
Fotheringham was involved in some of our best moments as we tried to find our way back into the game, and he was on the end of one good passing move to fire in a shot that was unfortunately too close to Smith to cause him much anxiety.
As the interval approached, Queen’s fashioned a couple of half chances, but Keena’s effort was blocked and then Sean Burns had the follow-up deflected for a corner which came to nothing.
Stenhousemuir 1 Queen’s Park 0
Queen’s made one change at the break, replacing Galt with Billy Mortimer. And with less than a minute of the second period gone, we were back on terms. It was Robbie Leitch who put the finishing touch to the flowing move as he swept home Fotheringham’s cross into the area.
The goal changed the mood inside the ground, but McMenamin almost killed our rising hopes within a couple of minutes when he found himself in space and it took a combination of White and the post to keep his header out – before Burns hoofed the ball to safety.
A series of niggling fouls scuppered any chances of the game developing a real flow, and both sides were happier to try to hit on the break. Scott Gibson, who was a stalwart alongside Cummins at the heart of the QP defence, didn’t make the most of a rare opportunity from a corner, heading into the side net when a knockback across goal might have paid dividends.
As for the home side, their best moments came when Ferns got clear on the right and we had to be vigilant to get away a series of dangerous crosses.
With the clock heading for the final 10 minutes, referee Newlands had to make his first big call. Cummins was late with a challenge on Donaldson and the whistler decided red was the appropriate colour for the card. There were loud protests from the visiting ranks, but in these days when tackling is almost illegal (but all-in wrestling is permitted in the penalty box), it was no great surprise that Newlands opted for the dismissal.
Before the resulting free-kick was swung in, Donnelly was sacrificed for the defensive abilities of Gerry McLauchlan. He stepped in immediately to help clear the first danger and then Gibson completed the job.
Seven minutes from time, Brady went off for a well deserved rest and Conor Mcvey brought his energy to the cause.
It was mostly a case of trying to keep Stenny out by now, but with three minutes left, we engineered a good break which brought another foul not far into Stenny territory. That didn’t deter Keena, who quickly got the ball down, and chipped the free kick over the stranded Smith and into the net. Sadly, Newlands decided that he’d taken the kick too quickly, and ordered a retake.
Former Spider Jamie Longworth entered the fray in the dying seconds and was involved in the build-up to the final stramash of the evening. A corner required the massed ranks of the QP defence to block an effort from the other substitute, Dallas, before Gibson stopped two more crosses into the box at the expense of corners which were thankfully cleared.
Finally, after an edgy four minutes of additional time, Newlands brought proceedings to a close.
So we have to do it again at Hampden on Saturday. We’ll miss Cummins, but Stenny will also be without the goalscoring abilities of McMenamin who suffered a broken arm during tonight’s action.
Gulliver would never dream of predicting the outcome of a match involving the Spiders, but can say without fear of contradiction that we’ll be in for a tense afternoon, with possibly a few twists and turns before anybody knows who will contest the play-off final for one last shot at League 1 football in season 2018-19.
Keep the Faith.