East Fife 1 Queen’s Park 2

Dangerous thoughts went through your scribe’s mind this morning as he began his research for this report. (Yes, believe it or not, there is some pre-planning for these articles … and that planning becomes ever more important as the passing years take their toll on Homer and Gulliver’s memories, forcing even the simplest of facts to be checked.

So as the excellent QPFC.com website was perused for statistical nuggets, the first thing to leap out was that Bayview has been a relatively happy hunting ground for the Spiders in recent years.

We’ve only lost once in our last six visits … and going further back, even Gulliver can recall with some clarity the afternoon we clinched a play-off promotion with a 3-0 win in Fife, highlighted by an absolute screamer from Paul Paton.

A repeat of that promotion would be a huge ask this season, but many in the travelling camp that braved the mayhem on Scotland’s motorways, were at least hopeful that we could consolidate our position in League 1 with a decent result in the chilly sunshine.

And that’s where the danger comes in; Queen’s are usually at their best when expectations are at their lowest. After two games without conceding, we went into this one in optimistic mood. Would that optimism be justified, or would the rollercoaster take a downward turn?

Nothing in the line-up dented our high hopes, with the squad bolstered from last week by the return of striker Dario Zanatta from international duty. (The youngster must have had a spring in his step after playing 90 minutes for Canada’s Under20s in their 2-1 defeat of England.)

So Gus MacPherson didn’t do much tinkering with the recent formula, and the only change was the return of Zanatta to the starting XI, at the expense of Aiden Malone.

It was a team that had a settled look to it, but it was the home side which settled better. They enjoyed the bulk of the opening exchanges, with Insall looking a threat up front. Willie Muir had to look lively after just three minutes, when he dived to intercept a dangerous cross from Lamont.

That could have been the opener, and the Fifers should have scored after 12 minutes when Smith stood up a lovely cross for Wallace, but he couldn’t hit the target with his header.

Maybe buoyed by that let-off, Queen’s began to find their feet and started knocking the ball about in the way they can. There weren’t too many direct efforts on the Fife goal, but the nerves in the visiting support were certainly not being stretched.

It was the home defence that was stretched – to breaking point – as the half reached its midway point. A corner from the right was swung in by Jamie McKernon, and although Ryan McGeever couldn’t deliver a telling touch, his defensive partner in crime Adam Cummins, was on hand to bullet the ball into the back of the net.

McKernon deserves praise for the delivery; Cummins gets credit for yet another devastating finish – but Ross Millen should also get a huge pat on the back for chasing what seemed like a lost cause in the first place to win the corner.

The goal gave the Spiders a big lift and we really came into our own with Zanatta leading the line well, and getting admirable support from Anton Brady and Paul Woods. But for all our possession, we didn’t test Hurst in the home goal often enough, and the Fifers did look menacing on the break, with the running of Wilkie from midfield a cause for concern.

Zanatta’s hold-up play gave Brady a chance to test the home keeper after 28 minutes, and the afternoon’s first booking followed three minutes later when Kane received a yellow card for taking out the striker.

East Fife’s best chances looked like coming from set pieces, and when they won a foul of the left edge of our penalty area, the hearts were in the mouth. They stayed there as first McGeever headed clear, then Cummins headed the returning cross away, then Scott Gibson knocked clear the next ball in, before Muir finally allowed us to breathe again as he produced a fine stop to deny Wallace.

Thankfully, the Spiders got back on the front foot after that escape, and Zanatta continued to worry the home defence with his powerful running. He had the chance to give us a two-goal lead after 39 minutes when he did superbly to escape the attentions of Kerr (and did even better to keep his shirt on as the defender attempted to haul it off his back). Dario then drove through the middle and into the box, but delayed his final shot a second too long and allowed the home defender to get back and put in (this time) a great challenge to give away a corner. Some in the visiting support thought the defender should then have been carded for the tug on the jersey, but you all know that Gulliver would never criticise an official.

The corner was cleared without too much alarm for the Fifers, and as the interval approached, a shot from Sean Burns direct from a free kick, was touched over by Hurst for another, ultimately fruitless, crossing opportunity.

The visitors were very much in control at this point, so we naturally conceded the equaliser in injury time. Lamont was allowed far too much space to run into, and as he fired in a cross-come-shot, Insall slid in at the far post to tap the ball over the line. If you hadn’t seen it on a “few” previous occasions over the years, you wouldn’t have believed it possible … but despite Queen’s being the better side for much of the first half, the teams left the field with the scores level.

Half time

East Fife 1, Queen’s Park 1

The Spiders were out early for the second period, no doubt happy to escape the verbal attentions of Gus MacPherson, who didn’t look the happiest of chappies as he went to the dressing room after the late equaliser.

The early stages of the half followed a similar pattern to the way the match had started, with the home side doing most of the attacking. That was perhaps no surprise given the way the opening 45 had come to a close.

Muir came to the rescue when the Fifers won an early corner. McGeever attempted to fire the ball to safety following a wee stramash in the penalty box, but his clearance ricocheted back towards our goal – and Willie had to react very quickly to dive low and claim the ball.

As in the first half, once Queen’s settled, they looked good and regained the lead after 54 minutes.

Neat play down our left gave Burns the chance to drive into the home box. Not for the first time in the afternoon, the only way the defender could stop the attack was by tugging back on the shirt, and as this one was right under the nose of referee Northcroft, it was an easy decision for him to point to the spot.

Up came Millen to take the kick. Many spectators expected him to try to place the ball low to the keeper’s corner, as he has done already this season. Hurst certainly anticipated such an outcome, and dived low to his left. Ross waited for him to go down, then calmly chipped the ball past him in the opposite direction. It was an effort that sent the visiting support into raptures, and prompted our manager to look to the stand in slightly quizzical fashion, where Ross’ dad Andy looked on. The older Millen produced a few memorable moments during his excellent spell as a QP player, but it’s fair to say he never chipped a penalty past a keeper in a meaningful contest.

The goal lifted the visitors, but also prompted the home side to greater efforts. Wilkie went close with a low drive, and manager Naysmith then decided to switch his pack just after the hour mark, entering the action himself, along with Mercer, with Slattery and Wallace departing.

Gus made his first change a few minutes later, replacing Woods, who had looked more like the player we all know he can be, with David Galt. The sub made an immediate impact, winning a free kick with his first touch. As the ball was whipped in, he tugged the jersey of keeper Hurst … and promptly went into the referee’s book. Welcome to the game!

Kane limped off at this stage to be replaced by O’Hara.

With the match entering its last 20 minutes, the home side took a more direct route, throwing balls into the box at every opportunity. Page and Smith both had headers that were a bit too close for comfort, and then Gibson produced a superb tackle to deny the home side’s captain as he prepared to pull the trigger.

Fifteen minutes from time, Muir produced another fine stop to keep out Smith – again. This time he punched away a powerful shot.

Queen’s were under a wee bit of pressure at this stage, but were also a real threat on the break. Brady won a corner after a burst down the right, but picked up a knock in the process and limped off a few minutes later to be replaced by Conor McVey.

There’s nothing that eases the nerves more than a keeper coming to claim crosses confidently when the balls are flying into the box – and Muir did that on a couple of occasions as he plucked corners out of the air before any damage could be done.

Gus made his final change after 84 minutes, replacing Zanatta … who had run himself into the ground … with the irrepressible John Carter. The sub quickly got involved, running the ball into the corner, and generally harrying the home defence at every opportunity.

Despite having been the better side for much of the afternoon, there was always the niggling fear that we might get caught by a late sucker punch. A superb sliding tackle from McGeever seemed to have snuffed out a very late attacking threat as Lamont broke on the right. But while his intervention was perfectly legal, referee Northcroft had spotted an earlier infringement by Gibson which earned him a yellow card … and earned the home side a final opportunity to load bodies into the box. They made nothing of it, and everybody in the visiting ranks waited for the final whistle.

They waited, and waited, and in the fourth minute of added time, they had to endure a nasty moment as the Fifers won a foul on the edge of our box. Surely not even Queen’s could be made to suffer the agony of losing one equaliser in first half injury time – and another one well after the regulation 90 minutes had come and gone?

Thankfully, the wall did its job, blocking the first effort – and then clearing the follow-up. It was the last nervy moment before the whistle sounded to signal another important victory for the Spiders.

Few could deny that over the piece Queen’s deserved the three points. We produced a lot of good football, and could have made life a lot easier if we had buried the opportunities that came our way when we were well on top in the first period.

But what was equally pleasing from this scribe’s point of view was the way everybody dug in when they had to and we defended as a team. That type of spirit, along with the genuine ability we possess in our ranks, could make this a good season. There will no doubt be testing times before the curtain comes down in May, but for now let’s enjoy that fact that we’ve won two and drawn one of our last three games.

Keep the Faith!

Queen’s Park: Willie Muir, Ross Millen, Scott Gibson, Jamie McKernon, Ryan McGeever, Adam Cummins, Paul Woods (David Galt), Gregor Fotheringham, Dario Zanatta (John Carter), Anton Brady (Conor McVey), Sean Burns. Subs not used: Bryan Wharton, Liam Brown, Aiden Malone and Ewan MacPherson.

Highlights from behind the goal

Adam Cummins opens the scoring

 

Ross Millen converts the penalty