It was a night that promised so much for all connected with Scotland’s oldest football team. There was the chance to remain unbeaten for yet another league game; there was an all-time player appearance record to be equalled … and most important of all, there was a league title to be won!
And as they have done for most of this incredible season, the players delivered when it mattered. A 0-0 draw with Elgin City was enough to ensure Queen’s would be crowned Scottish League 2 Champions for season 2020-21. Doesn’t that sound good?
There’s also the wee bonus of Willie Muir equalling the record 200 appearances for a QP keeper set by Derek Atkins, and we remain unbeaten in the league for the whole of the season to date. Invincible … maybe? Champions … indisputably!
With the fixtures coming thick and fast as the season draws to its climax, the manager might have been tempted to rotate the team a bit, but he made only one change from Saturday’s starting XI – Ross MacLean coming in for Darren Lyon.
Talking of team selection, here’s one for those of you who like your quirky stats – and the occasional omen. The Queen’s squad tonight saw a Connell in the team (Luca) and a Carroll (Canice) on the bench. The last time we won the league, back in May 2000 at Cowdenbeath, we had a Connell in the team (Graham) and a Carroll on the bench (Frankie).
But to the task in hand. Queen’s started tonight’s game brightly, and both Connell and Murray found space on the left to get in crosses that didn’t test McHale.
The Spiders won the game’s first corner after eight mjnutes and the effervescent Gillespie went close with his header from Longridge’s cross.
Two minutes later Brown went down in the box, but referee Reid rightly waved away his penalty claim.
Queen’s had the benefit of the breeze at their backs and McHugh was tempted by the prospect of a shot from distance. Plenty power, but the ball sailed over the top and the first 15 minutes had passed without either keeper being seriously troubled.
Connell had the chance to test McHale after 17 minutes with a free kick from 25 yards, but he got the delivery all wrong and the ball flew high and wide.
The young loanee had another chance seconds later after neat play around the edge of the box, but he failed to hit the target.
Queen’s were enjoying plenty possession at this stage; the hope was it would bring the breakthrough before any nerves could start to creep in.
It nearly arrived at the halfway point when Longridge did well to work space for a shot. He hit the target, but McHale got down well to save.
Willie Muir had been having a quiet night, and that continued as City spurned a couple of chances to get shots away.
There was a blow after 28 minutes when Grant fell awkwardly and had to be replaced by Morrison. The Spiders could have been behind before the sub even touched the ball as Hester made space for himself and let fly … but the 200 man was up to the task and beat the ball away.
Things exploded into life after 32 minutes when Queen’s were awarded a penalty after Murray and Spark tangled in the box. It looked soft in the extreme, and Elgin were none too happy. McHale went in the book for his protests, while his gaffer was sent to the stand.
With McHugh waiting to take the kick, Referee Reid had a wee confab with his assistant … and then reversed the decision, giving Elgin a goal kick.
Things were going all wrong for the Spiders at this stage and they got worse when Murray went down clutching his hammy with the interval approaching. He also had to limp off, with Baynham taking his place.
Nobody said clinching the title would be easy; but did it really need to be so complicated?
Queen’s had lost a bit of their fluency – little wonder with the injuries and other distractions – but the good news was that Elgin were not putting Muir under too much pressure.
Longridge came close again in first half stoppage time as he did brilliantly to wriggle clear on the byline. His shot had goal written all over it, but McHale stuck out a long leg and the scoreline remained blank.
Half time: Queen’s Park 0 Elgin City 0
There were no changes at the break and Queen’s had the first defending to do as Elgin won a corner on their left. Muir punched the cross out, but Hester’s return effort was a shade too close for comfort.
Queen’s then enjoyed a lengthy spell of possession, with Gillespie at the heart of much of it, which ended with a shot from Longridge going narrowly wide.
The traffic still flowed towards the Elgin goal and MacLean had a shot held by McHale as the first 10 minutes came and went without the precious goal.
It was Hester’s turn to get a soft free kick after 57 minutes and Muir was at his brilliant best to parry the striker’s deflected effort. It was all getting very edgy now with one goal looking like it might be enough to win the game …for either side!
Elgin almost made the breakthrough with a long ball through that found Hester in space … if suspiciously close to offside. Morrison got across to stop the striker at the expense of a fruitless corner.
The pace of MacLean produced an opening for the Spiders, but the final ball just eluded McHugh, before Baynham sent a header narrowly wide. It wasn’t particularly easy to watch, but Queen’s were now just 24 minutes from the title.
MacLean’s pace was causing the visitors problems, and he won yet another corner which was whipped in by Connell and headed agonisingly wide by Doyle arriving at the far post.
Elgin made a double change after 70 minutes, replacing Russell Dingwall and Sopel with O’Keefe and MacEwan.
With 73 minutes on the clock, Paterson went down in a heap after a strong challenge. The sight of the physio racing on did nothing for the blood pressure, but the full back was soon on his feet and able to continue.
Elgin were flinging bodies at everything in their own box as Queen’s fired off a series of shots. Then as the visitors broke quickly Muir had to be quick off his line to clear.
Ten minutes from time both teams made a double change. The Spiders brought on Galt and Kouider-Aissa for McHugh and MacLean. Elgin swapped Peters and Tony Dingwall for Hester and Brown.
Queen’s were dominating possession as the clock ticked towards the 90, but with no goals to show for their efforts, there was no chance of relaxing.
Right at the end of normal time a delicious Longridge cross caused all sorts of problems at the back post, but ref Reid penalised Galt for a wee push.
We were now in injury time and still Queen’s pressed; but still the nerves jangled.
They needn’t have. The whistle sounded soon enough to signal a fifth league title in the Spiders 154-year history.
The tannoy blasted out the Queen “We are the Champions” anthem as the players and staff enjoyed a well-deserved celebratory jig. Grant joined in on crutches as the Gaffer was mobbed by his players. The scenes were great to watch … especially when the squad donned t-shirts dedicating the title success to the fans who have supported from home. A lovely touch.
The only sad thing about a great night was that there were no fans there to witness it, but nothing can take away what this squad has accomplished so far … and there’s more to come.
We’ve four game left to play and are still unbeaten in the league – and still to concede a goal at our temporary home. The squad of 2020-21 have already written their page in the rich history of QPFC … they could end up writing quite a chapter.
Congratulations one and all.
Queen’s Park: Muir, Doyle, Kilday, Grant (Morrison 28′), Paterson, Gillespie, MacLean (Galt, 80′),Connell, Longridge , McHugh (Kouider-Aissa, 80′),Murray (Baynham, 40′). Subs not used: Mullen, Robson, Gillies, Carroll,Lyon.
Elgin City: McHale, Wilson, Spark, McHardy, Bronsky, Mailer, R. Dingwall (MacEwan 70′) , Cameron, Hester (Dingwall 81′), Brown (Peters 81′), Sopel (O’Keefe 70′),
Subs not used: Miller, Osadolor, Dalling, MacBeath, Kelly
Referee: Steven Reid