Here we go … the final circuit of the four-lap race for the SPFL League 1 Trophy. It’s appropriate as Cheltenham week comes to an end that the field is still tightly bunched – although the favourite is starting to show signs of pulling away as the finishing post comes into sight.
But there are still plenty hurdles to be jumped before the prizes are handed over, and all the runners know that a good burst of speed could propel them towards the front, while a couple of mistakes could send them crashing to the floor.
Queen’s went into the day sitting handy in the middle of the pack, a position many of their followers would happily have taken before the season began. However, such is the nature of the squad that Gus MacPherson has assembled that the Gaffer was looking on this as a chance to make up ground on opponents Brechin, who sat in the final play-off spot – five points and two places above the Spiders.
The handicapper hadn’t been overly kind to the Hampden men in the run-up, ruling out defensive trio of Scott Gibson, Gavin Mitchell and Adam Cummins through injury and suspension. And Gus had to make one more change as Ross Millen failed a late fitness test as well.
That all meant a debut for young Cameron Foy alongside Ryan McGeever and Bryan Wharton in central defence in front of Willie Muir. Aiden McIlduff and Sean Burns occupied the wingback positions, with Jamie McKernon, Conor McVey and Anton Brady in midfield. David Galt was charged with providing the attacking support to Dario Zanatta. The late withdrawal of Millen left only six places filled on the Spiders sub bench – Kalvin Orsi, Dominic Docherty, Liam Brown, William Mortimer, Ewan MacPherson and Owen Stott.
Despite all the changes, Queen’s started brightly, winning a corner in the opening seconds. That was cleared, but the Spiders were soon back in the danger zone, winning a free kick just outside the box when Dale clattered Brady. The free-kick was the only punishment, and McKernon fired his effort narrowly wide.
Six minutes in, Muir produced a gem of a long kick-out to send Burns scampering down the right. Sean released McVey and his cross was taken off Galt’s head. It was then fired back in and cleared for a corner, which ended in a McKernon headder being tipped over by keeper Smith. This time the corner was overhit – and cleared.
Two minutes later, Zanatta worked his way into a good position, but Galt couldn’t direct the driven cross on target. Promising start for the Spiders, but they’ve started well before and then been punished for not making the most of their possession.
Brechin had their first moment of the match after 10 minutes when Muir was forced to punch away a McLean cross. The clearance fell to Fusco, but his effort troubled the pigeons on the floodlight pylons more than it troubled the Queen’s goal.
Jackson used all his experience 14 minutes in to win a soft foul against Foy, but Muir was fouled as the ball came in easing any danger before it started.
McIlduff was a tad fortunate to escape harsher punishment when he blocked Jackson’s attempt at a 1-2 with Graham, but the resultant free-kick was another in the high, wide and not so handsome category.
A moment’s hesitation at the back almost cost Queen’s after 24 minutes, but young Foy produced a gorgeous challenge to snuff out any problem and ensure the scoreline stayed blank.
Burns looked to have won the ball in a challenge near the QP byeline, but Ryan saw it as a foul. Watt’s delivery was deflected behind for a corner which was finally cleared. As the half-hour approached, the visitors were definitely starting to settle more into the contest.
McGeever became the first player booked for a challenge on Dale. It wasn’t worse than what had gone before, but it seemed the whistler had run out of patience.
The visitors were trying to turn the screw and Burns did well to win a foul in his own box as Graham threatened.
Sean was then taken right out at the other end by Dale, but there was no card this time. The inswinging delivery was punched well clear by Smith, who clobbered Lynas in the process. Thankfully, the defender was soon back on his feet.
Right on the interval, Queen’s won a corner on the right, but as the cross was cleared, the visitors found themselves with a man over on the break Thankfully, they made a mess of the final ball and the whistle sounded with the half time score:
Queen’s Park 0 Brechin City 0
Thirty-four seconds into the second period, the archetypal cross-cum-shot from Galt was agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock, but with Smith scrambling, the ball missed the far post by the slimmest of margins.
Three minutes later and it was McVey leading the charge, before releasing Burns. Sean was inches away from the other post … and as in the first period, Queen’s had come out the traps quicker.
Brady was next to set Queen’s off, but although he managed to find Galt, David’s cross was cut out with Zanatta waiting to pounce.
Jackson tried to capitalise when McIlduff was dispossessed, but McGeever stepped in to snuff out the threat. Muir then had to deal with a couple of powderpuff efforts from distance as Queen’s bright start stalled briefly.
The keeper had to be at his best after 56 minutes, however, when a lucky ricochet left Jackon clear. The Queen’s keeper dived bravely at the striker’s feet to block and was then up quickly enough to ensure Graham could only hit the side net with the follow-up.
Two minutes later and it was Queen’s on the attack, with first Brady denied and then a big shout for a penalty denied as Anton seemed to be barged in the back.
Zanatta drove down the right from the clearance and Galt’s flick just didn’t have enough on it to beat Smith. The keeper was back in action seconds later as he had to stretch every sinew to deny McVey a rare headed goal. It was all Queen’s as the hour mark was passed, but when Zanatta shot into the side net from a good position, the feeling began to gnaw away that it might be one of those days.
Brechin boss Dods was obviously not happy with the way things were going and replaced Fusco with Ford after 62 minutes.
McKernon went into the book after 66 minutes for a foul as Brechin broke, but the foul was well defended.
The incident seemed to spark the visitors into action and Muir had to do well to palm away a curler from the influential Graham.
With 20 minutes left, Galt gave way to Orsi as Gus sought to find the elusive goal, and seconds later, Dale went into the book for persistent fouling … to ironic cheers from the home support who felt the card could have been shown a lot earlier.
Orsi did well to find a ball through to Zanatta, but the striker got it wrong and allowed Hill to step in and make the tackle. It turned out to be Dario’s last involvement, as he was replaced by Ewan MacPherson with 15 minutes remaining.
As the final 10 minutes approached, the visitors enjoyed a bit more possession, and things looked a tad worrying when Foy had to limp off and be replaced by Docherty. It meant Gus had to go to a flat four – and the Spiders reckoned attack was the best form of defence as they went upfield and won a corner.
The delivery wasn’t great, but as it broke out to Burns, the return was much better and Smith had to dive at MacPherson’s feet to deny him.
Seconds later, despite all the pressure, it was Brechin who went ahead. Queen’s failed to clear a simple ball in the first time, and a second go rebounded off Watt to Jackson. There seemed no need for panic as the striker looked a good yard offside, but there was no flag from the assistant and no whistle from Ryan – so Jackson did what all good strikers do and buried the ball behind Muir.
It was heartbreaking, cruel, and with just seven minutes left, looked like the winner.
McGeever did his best to get us back on terms, but Smith leapt to clear his overhead kick with 90 seconds remaining.
But the defender wasn’t to be denied and from the resultant corner, buried a header past the helpless Brechin keeper to make it 1-1. It was enough to gladden the heart; it was deserved … and it looked like bringing justice to the result.
But there was still stoppage time to go and that meant no chance for the heartbeat to settle down.
Deep into the added minutes, Smith did well to cut out a dangerous cross as the Spiders looked for a sensational winner. The keeper then seemed to make contact with Brady on his way past, but Ryan saw nothing amiss, and tempers were now boiling over all across the pitch.
Before the final whistle finally sounded, Brady and Caldwell both went into the book for separate incidents.
So it’s another game gone, and another battling performance to salvage a point when it would have been easy to start feeling sorry for ourselves. It would have been a real sickener had we been pipped at the post in such a manner, but the storming finish ensured a third successive 1-1 draw.
We’ve now got eight games left, and the season could go either way. One thing’s for sure, the tranquilisers will be needed before the final hurdle is crossed.
Keep the Faith.