Alloa Athletic 2 Queen’s Park 2
Walking into the Indodrill Stadium this afternoon – with the rain lashing down and a chill January wind blowing – it was little wonder the steward shook his head and joked that anybody who came to watch football on a day like this was either very keen … or daft.
It was hard to disagree, especially with the hangover from our final, disappointing, footballing moments of 2017 just replaced by the remnants of the hangover from the traditional Ne’erday celebrations.
But this was the dawn of a New Year and Queen’s were on a run of three games unbeaten. Indeed, our only defeat in five outings came courtesy of a late goal from league leaders Ayr United on their own patch.
So there were some grounds for hoping that we could take something from this afternoon, despite several players struggling with a virus, and the departure of loanee Jack Iredale back to his parent club Morton.
In the end, Gus MacPherson made two changes from the team which started against Albion Rovers 72 hours ago, bringing in Gregor Fotheringham and Kevin Green for Iredale and Anton Brady, who dropped to the bench.
Everybody in the Hampden camp was looking for us to start much better than the way we finished against Rovers, so it was definitely not in the script to lose a goal in three minutes. Crossan loped down the left, cut the ball back – and Stewart sidefooted it beyond the helpless Michael White. It was all too easy.
The worry among the faint-hearted was we might collapse after such a start, but this team is nothing if not gutsy, and the players stuck to their guns as they tried to get a foothold back in proceedings.
The surface asked for the ball to be played on the deck and the players obliged. Eight minutes in, former Spiders keeper Neil Parry had to be quick off his line to thwart Billy Mortimer after he was put through by a slide rule pass from Fotheringham.
Queen’s were patient in their build-up, but the final pass was lacking as the half progressed – and the pace and power of the Alloa attack was a menace on the counter.
Hetherington was lucky to escape a yellow card when he took out Summers with a crude, late tackle after 20 minutes. But the incident seemed to spark the Spiders into life and they forced Alloa onto the back foot for a spell. The only reward was a couple of fruitless corners as the killer pass remained elusive.
At the other end, White was enjoying a relatively quiet afternoon, although he did have to come and claim two crosses in quick succession from the dangerous Stewart and Crossan.
The Spiders had a big penalty shout turned down just after the half-hour when David Galt’s delivery from a free-kick caused all sorts of commotions in the home box before it glanced the post and went behind. Among the confusion, Mortimer seemed to be wrestled to the ground, but referee Northcroft wasn’t interested – awarding only a corner which was easily cleared.
Moments later, Fleming went into the book when he was late on Green.
Queen’s were on top at this stage, but needed a goal – which duly arrived after 38 minutes. Another Galt free-kick started the problems for Alloa and after a goalmouth scramble, the ball deflected back to Donnelly and Cool Hand Luke drilled it into the net from 10 yards out to make the score 1-1.
It was no more than Gus’ men deserved as they had battled back well from the early setback.
Mortimer went for goals and glory in the next Spiders attack, but his first-time volleyed effort was easily held by Parry.
However, it was certainly advantage Queen’s as the half drew to a close and the home side would have been relieved to get to the dressing room with the half time scoreboard showing:
Alloa Athletic 1 Queen’s Park 1
Having ended the half on a positive note, Queen’s took up exactly where they left off. Two minutes after the interval they won their first corner and Adam Cummins got his head to Galt’s delivery, although he couldn’t direct the effort on target.
The home side quickly showed they were far from finished moments later as they broke with pace and purpose. Queen’s had Green to thank for a timely interception to snuff out the danger.
Stung by that warning from the Wasps, the Spiders produced a spell of football that matched anything we’ve seen this season. Suddenly, the touches were assured; the pace was right on the passes – and the movement suggested it was a matter of time before we made the breakthrough.
And so it turned out. After 52 minutes, Galt tormented the home defence and was upended inside the box. It was an easy decision for Northcroft to point to the spot – and Cummins made the act of scoring look equally simple as he rocketed the ball past Parry before the big keeper had time to blink, never mind move.
Alloa tried to respond immediately and Renton sent a header over the top when he might have been expected to at least hit the target.
Queen’s got back on the offensive and another dazzling bit of interplay saw Sean Burns shoot narrowly over.
The home side had to change something and replaced Fleming with the wily Craig Malcolm just after the hour.
For all their fine football, Queen’s weren’t making Parry work too much – but that should have changed after 65 minutes. The ever willing Mortimer chased down Graham and robbed him just inside his own half. The striker set off for goal with the home defence in pursuit, and although he kept ahead of the chasing pack, he sliced his final shot wide of the target.
Alloa sub Malcolm almost sunk the Spiders with his first touch, but headed wide from a good position. That signalled the start of an aerial bombardment from the Wasps, which pinned the Spiders back. Despite the pressure, however, White wasn’t called into serious action and at the other end, Galt so nearly doubled our advantage when he wriggled through and got away a left foot shot which was deflected inches wide.
There were still 17 minutes to play, but although we didn’t know it at the time, that would be our last serious attempt on goal. Alloa suddenly seemed to have an army of big men up front, and the ball was loaded in their direction with ever-increasing regularity.
The tactic should have paid off with 10 minutes to go, but Stewart somehow scooped a close-range shot over the bar after a lucky ricochet gave him a golden chance.
Gus made his first change of the afternoon when he replaced Donnelly with Brady. Still the pressure mounted on our goal and with five minutes left, the seemingly inevitable equaliser arrived. Another ball into the box finally fell at the feet of Renton and he poked it past the helpless White to tie the scores up at 2-2.
Mortimer was replaced by Orr in the dying minutes, but Queen’s still had one more scare to survive. Northcroft penalised Cummins for what seemed a fair challenge. The foul was charged down by Robbie Leitch, who was penalised for being too close to the kicker and we had to start again.
Thankfully, however, this time the ball into the box ricocheted nicely into the arms of White and we could breathe again.
The last action of the game saw Galt in trouble for a replica of the challenge produced by Hetherington earlier in the game. Unlike the Alloa man, however, David received a yellow card.
It was the last punishment handed out to the Spiders who will be seriously miffed to have conceded another late goal. But despite that disappointment, your scribe definitely reckons a point away at Alloa is a point gained … rather than two dropped, which was undoubtedly the case at Hampden against the Rovers.
So the unbeaten run stretches to four, and if we can make it five with a result at home to Stranraer on Saturday, then there will be real grounds for hoping that 2018 could just be a Happy New Year for the Spiders.
Keep the Faith.
Queen’s Park: Michael White; Conor McVey, Ciaran Summers, Kevin Green, Adam Cummins, Gregor Fotheringham, Robbie Leitch, David Galt, Billy Mortimer, Luke Donnelly, Sean Burns. Subs: Anton Brady, Dominic Docherty, Lewis Magee, Thomas Orr , James McLennan, Calvin McGrory, Willie Muir (S/K)