Stirling Albion 0 Queen’s Park 1
There’s no feeling in the world quite like it … and it’s one that will be shared by literally millions of football fans at some stage in the calendar year. The opening day of the league season brings a mixture of optimism and fear. We’ve had the pre-season; we’ve said goodbye to departing players (in the case of Queen’s Park, departing busloads); we’ve welcomed new faces … and seen names appear from within our youth ranks. Now it’s time for the real thing.
Quite a few years after experiencing his first season following the Spiders, your scribe jumped into the chariot and headed for Forthbank with hope in his heart, and the rumbling in his guts that signified opening-day nerves.
The rumbling wasn’t eased as Homer sped towards Stirling and even the glorious sunshine made it difficult to relax. But the optimism shone through as kick-off approached and we pondered Mark Roberts’ first league line-up.
There was little doubt who would be in goals, but a mixture of injuries and competition for starting spots meant that many of the remaining 10 places were up for grabs. In the end, there weren’t too many surprises, and Queen’s lined up with Willie Muir in goals. Billy Mortimer and Ciarán Summers took the wing-back slots alongside a central defence of Creag Little, Lewis Magee and Nicky Jamieson, while Tommy Block, Jack Purdue and Joffrey Lidouren occupied the midfield. David Galt captained the side and had the responsibility of supporting lone striker Salim Kouider-Aissa. The bench had plenty talking points with sub keeper Jacques Herraghty adding to our French Connection, while it was great to see club skipper Scott Gibson back among the matchday squad. New signing Robert Griffiths added to the defensive back-up with James Grant, while the attacking options were offered through Kieran Moore and Alfredo Agyeman.
As is so often the case with Queen’s, there were a few familiar faces in the opposition squad, but Dominic Docherty, Josh Peters and Lewis Hawke all had to be content with places on the bench.
We got an early taste of what was to come – in more ways than one – when Galt fired off the game’s opening shot. It went wide, but as a statement of intent, it was encouraging. Galt was also involved in the game’s first talking point when he went down in the box following a sliding tackle. Referee Scott waved away the penalty claims and booked Galty for diving. It wasn’t to be the last controversial call from the rookie whistler.
To say things got a bit scrappy after that would be a slight understatement. Both sides struggled to get into any rhythm, and the vast majority of entries in the notebook were for a series of niggly fouls.
The playing surface looked immaculate, but having been re-laid in the close season, there was more grass on it than was ideal which didn’t encourage slick passing. On the few occasions where Queen’s did fashion any sort of opening (usually with Lidouren involved at some stage) the final ball just wasn’t good enough.
With the ball spending more time in the air than on the ground, both keepers enjoyed an easy opening half. and neither was called into anything that could be called serious action. Muir waited 35 minutes to field his first shot on target (but it was an effort that your scribe could have held) while Currie had to deal with a few routine stops from corners – and little else.
So, the first 45 of the new league season came and went without the pulse rate getting too high.
Stirling Albion 0 Queen’s Park 0
Neither side made interval changes, but the early pace in the second period did pick up. The first incident of note, however, again featured the man in the middle as he booked Our Salim for what he deemed an overly physical challenge.
The striker then produced the first serious goal threat of the afternoon as he got his head to an inswinging corner and was desperately unlucky to see the ball crash down off the underside of the bar and stay the wrong side of the line as far as the visiting support was concerned. Purdue was next to try his luck as Queen’s finally got going, but his curler was always too high.
As the hour mark came and went, things got slightly heated on the pitch. Kevin Nicoll finally went in the book for a foul on Galt and then our best move of the match almost provided the opening goal. Purdue and Summers created the opening, and the wing-back’s final ball was an excellent cutback. But with Galt waiting to pounce, McGeachie produced a gem of a challenge to ensure the scoreline stayed blank.
Magee had to produce a similar block on one of the rare occasions when the home side did get some room in the box.
As the game entered its final quarter, Stirling had their best moment. A neat ball from Jardine sent Thomson in on goals. He rounded Muir and went to ground as the keeper challenged. From where your scribe sat, it looked like a dive, but while Scott didn’t award the spot kick (much to the ire of the home support) he also declined to book the attacker (much to the ire of the travelling support).
Twenty minutes from time, Mark made his first change, replacing Purdue with Big Alfie. We looked more menacing now with Our Salim getting more support and Galt lurking just behind the strike partnership.
And we got the reward six minutes later. Galt picked up a loose ball around halfway and set off towards goal. As he approached the 18-yard box, Our Salim made a lovely run inside – taking the Stirling defence with him – and Galty accepted the invitation to take a few more steps before burying a left-footed drive low down into Currie’s net.
Even as Galt goals go, it was a bit special, and given the lack of classy action that we’d witnessed for much of the afternoon, it was a very pleasant surprise.
It certainly livened up the game and moments later, David tried his luck from all of 35 yards with a free kick. It cannoned off Currie’s post with the keeper beaten all ends up.
Former Spider Hawke replaced Nicoll with 11 minutes to go, and almost made an immediate impact as we struggled to clear a corner. Finally, it was hoofed to safety, sparking a mad couple of minutes as the home side’s frustration’s boiled over.
Eight minutes from time, McGeachie saw a straight red card for taking out Big Alfie. It was a card all day long, but the defender could feel aggrieved that yellow wasn’t sufficient. Thomson did see yellow for making his displeasure known at the decision, before Banner was also booked for taking out Lidouren.
Queen’s were now a man up and a goal up … and those of us who have been in this position many times before, began to fear that we’d concede a daft equaliser. Big Alfie did his best to ease those fears as he glided past Lowdon before being hauled back. The defender escaped a card – and the resultant free-kick left us still just one goal to the good.
We’d one scary moment before the end when Muir had to be quick to get to a through ball before Mackin. He did so, just, taking a wee knock in the process.
Happily, there was no lasting damage and the whistle went soon afterwards to signal a winning start to our league campaign.
As games go, it wasn’t the best – particularly in the opening 45. The good news is that the group of players Mark Roberts has assembled are capable of playing a lot better, and they can win tricky games when not at their best.
Next up is an intriguing cup tie against Celtic Colts, in the intriguingly titled Tunnocks Caramel Wafer Challenge Cup. After that, we get back to our real home for the next league match against Stenny. The rollercoaster ride has begun, so make sure you’ve got the seatbelts fastened. Keep the Faith.