If you want a contest that epitomises old rivalry, then look no further than Albion Rovers against Queen’s Park. This was the 188th league meeting between the two sides – and the record books show that we have done battle with the Rovers more times than we have faced any other club.
It’s almost 100 years since the first league meeting, which we lost, and no matter where Rovers have called home since then, our hosts have held the upper hand. Today’s match was staged at the renamed Exsel Group Stadium, and Gus MacPherson’s men were desperate to get the next chapter of the Coatbridge Saga off to a good start. But they would have to do it without the services of Darren Miller, suspended after his red card in last week’s disappointing Hampden defeat by Stranraer. Bryan Wharton was also sin binned.
After a three-match losing run, Gus shuffled the pack around, bringing in Craig McLeish, Paul Woods and John Carter to replace Miller, David Galt and Sean Burns. We lined up with Willie Muir in goal and a central defence of Ryan McGeever, Adam Cummins and Scott Gibson. They were flanked by Ross Millen and McLeish, with Gregor Fotheringham, Paul Woods and Anton Brady in the midfield. Carter and loan signing Dario Zanatta were tasked with providing our attacking threat.
The ground formerly known as Cliftonhill was bathed in glorious sunshine at the start, but unfortunately, the football failed to match that brightness. The opening exchanges were scrappy to say the least, with a succession of niggling free-kicks spoiling any chance of either side settling into a good rhythm.
Cummins did well to head clear from a Rovers’ corner after seven minutes, while it took us another five minutes to mount our first serious attack. Millen’s cross was headed to safety by former Spider Mick Dunlop … who was to repeat that feat many more times as the day wore on.
Zanata gave us a couple of glimpses of what he could do on the ball, but any time he and Carter threatened to create an opening, they found themselves outnumbered by the stuffy home defence.
The first thing to get the crowd going was a booking for Wallace, who clattered into Cummins with what could most kindly be described as a mistimed challenge. Big Adam did well to make nothing of it, and let referee Newlands dish out the appropriate punishment.
That was after 28 minutes, and just over 60 seconds later, Queen’s were behind. A long ball down the Rovers’ right gave Willis the chance to get in his cross. We slept as the ball came in; Boyd didn’t – nipping ahead of our defence and shooting past a helpless Muir.
The visiting support hoped the goal might spark the game into life, and Brady did produce one encouraging run that ended when he seemed to be blocked on the edge of the box. The half-hearted appeals were waved away by the officials, and the match meandered along.
Five minutes from the break, Zanata managed to create space for himself, but didn’t get the shot off quickly enough, and by the time he did get a shot away with his left peg, Stewart was in perfect position to take the ball comfortably. It was the home keeper’s first save of the afternoon, and the last act of a disappointing opening 45 minutes.
Albion Rovers 1 Queen’s Park 0
Neither side made any changes at the break, and the second half opened in much the same was as the first. Both keepers kept themselves occupied by clearing back passes as both sides struggled to create much in the way of goalmouth action.
Cummins headed wide following a spot of aerial ping-pong from a Queen’s corner after 50 minutes as the Spiders tried to up the tempo. But they should have been punished after 56 minutes when a punt up the park found Wallace in splendid isolation. He should have done better than drag his shot wide of Muir’s right-hand post.
Gus decided it was time to change things, sending on Aiden Malone for Carter. The combative striker quickly made his presence felt, but despite winning a free-kick in a promising position, the head of Dunlop continued to prove an insurmountable obstacle.
Millen went into the book for tugging back Boyd after 64 minutes, and he was quickly followed by Fotheringham, who was yellow carded for a foul on Wallace.
As the match entered its final 20 minutes, Malone went down in the box, but his hopeful penalty shout again went unheeded.
Young Liam Brown was sent into the fray after 74 minutes at the expense of Brady, but it was Zanata who almost got us level three minutes later when he danced away from a couple of challenges on the left and then fizzed in a shot that didn’t miss the far post by much.
We were at least on the front foot now and forced Stewart into serious action eight minutes from time as Zanata smashed in a shot that the keeper did really well to turn over the bar. The cross in was headed clear by you-know-who.
The final throw of the dice came when Gus threw on his boy Ewan in place of Fotheringham.
It was a frustrating afternoon for the Spiders, and Gibson found himself in the book for voicing his frustration a little too loudly for Newlands’ liking.
Queen’s won another corner as the clock ticked past the 90-minute mark, but Stewart dealt with Zanata’s effort easily … and seconds later it was 2-0. A long clearance found Wallace and this time he turned and shot past Muir to put the result beyond any doubt.
So we close the book on yet another disappointing tale against our old rivals. The venue might have had a new name, but the surroundings were very well known to us all … and the outcome depressingly familiar for a trip to Coatbridge. We take a break from league action next week for a really testing cup tie against Championship side Dunfermline. Here’s hoping that regardless of the result at East End Park, we can harvest some league points at Hampden in two week’s time when East Fife are the visitors.
Keep the Faith.