Queen’s Park 2 Brechin City 0
Brechin City headed south today to kick-start a four-game run for Queen’s Park that will be as hazardous as a Donald Trump election promise.
The Spiders are already on an encouraging wee four-game stint that has delivered a draw and three wins, the latest being Tuesday’s 2-0 Scottish Cup third round defeat of Montrose.
After today we are at home to Albion Rovers and then away to Alloa and Livingston, and they don’t come any harder in League One.
We’ve had a fortnight’s league break after our dogged 2-1 win at East Fife, whose surprise second bottom spot didn’t deter Queen of the South from hiring Methil boss Gary Naysmith in midweek.
Brechin will prove an entirely different handful from their Angus neighbours Montrose.
Gus MacPherson reckoned Tuesday’s win was “sloppy at times and a little bit laboured”, but I’m certain he and the rest of us would settle for that if it produced the same scoreline today.
City lost narrowly in their midweek Scottish Cup tie 1-0 to Championship Ayr United, and it’s to Somerset Park that the Spiders will be heading next for the fourth round in January.
It doesn’t seem like seven years since Brechin were at Hampden. We did play them in August up at Glebe Park and came away with a very creditable 0-0 draw in the shadow of the big hedge.
Brechin are currently third, just two points behind leaders Livingston, and their away form has been impressive, with five wins and two losses, and those coming at Livi and Airdrie.
Queen’s had no new injury worries, and on-loan striker Dario Zanatta returned after being cup-tied by Hearts on Tuesday at the expense of John Carter, who dropped to the bench.
But Craig McLeish was missing — on international duty having been called up to the Scottish National Futsal side. Well done, Craig.
When the lowest scorers in this division (that’s us) host the best defence in the league (that’s Brechin), you may imagine the bookies would fancy the draw, but they actually have Queen’s as favourites.
That may in part be down to Brechin apparently having a horrendous injury list, but their Hampden squad included their four top goalscorers – ex-Spider Alan Trouten among them on the bench – and showed only two changes from our meeting at Glebe Park in August.
Either way, it was sure to be a tough 90 minutes, or more precisely 80, since the first 10 passed with plenty of sparring and physical exchanges but no goalmouth incident.
But no sooner had the 10minute mark come and gone than Queen’s created a chance down the left.
Woods, after his fine midweek goal, pulled down a clearance and fed it back to Burns, who sent it first time down the wing.
Zanatta was after it with Smith on his shoulder, but the Canadian youngster muscled his way past the City man into the box and along the byeline, finishing with a low shot that keeper Smith got down to hold.
An enterprising start from the striker, who looked to have the edge on his direct opponent.
Queen’s were more than holding their own as we passed the 17-minute mark, and when Lynas got off Brechin’s first shot just after it was an easy effort for Muir to save.
It was hardly surprising that Brechin’s physical approach was working them back into the match, but it was a quick break from Queen’s that threatened in 21 minutes, Burns, Fotheringham, Woods and Millen combining for the full-back to angle over a cross that saw Galt being very neatly shouldered away from under the ball six yards out.
Queen’s were almost punished for sloppy midfield play in 25 minutes. Fotheringham lost possession with Queen’s short at the back and Caldwell, City’s leading scorer, drove through all the way to the box but was eventually crowded out by McGeever, Millen and finally keeper Muir, who saved at his feet.
Queen’s created two chances after the half-hour.
First McGeever clipped a McKernon free-kick straight into Smith’s arms and then Galt narrowly cleared the bar with a trademark rocket from 20 yards.
Zanatta was booked for handball in 33 minutes as a very even game continued to swing from end to end without either keeper being called into serious action.
But that changed in 38 minutes when Brechin keeper Smith was given a penalty to defend.
It was a direct, powerful run from Zanatta that exposed the Brechin defence, the youngster barging through tackles into the box on the left before finally going down under a trip.
Stick on penalty, and Millen won the eye-to-eye with Smith to leave the keeper rooted with a powerful strike to his left to put Queen’s ahead.
Millen exchanged words with Smith as he trotted away to celebrate with his mates, Smith responded, and both were booked.
McGeever followed Millen into the book shortly after the restart for a foul, but that was it for the half.
Half-time: Queen’s Park 1 Brechin City 0
Zanatta won a foul off Euan Smith three minutes in and then controlled McKernon’s free-kick inside the box with his back to goal, knocking it back out for McGeever to win a fruitless corner with a blocked chip.
Galt was clattered by Rodger, the dodger of a yellow card for a McGeeveresque foul, and from McKernon’s free kick Dyer’s attempted headed clearance flew straight into keeper Smith’s arms.
Trouten made his appearance in 58 minutes, replacing Love, and Graham replaced Fusco five minutes later.
It was still finely balanced when Brechin made their last throw of the dice, replacing one prolific striker in Caldwell with another in Jackson.
And Queen’s made their first change when the hard-working Galt went off to be replaced by the equally energetic Brady in 73 minutes.
And wee Anton arrived just in time to join the celebrations for Queen’s second goal!
It was simple enough. A high, inswinging corner from our right by Burns, and McGeever rose highest amid a sea of bodies to head into the net from inside the six-yard box. Splendid.
Queen’s had a let-off when Brechin’s best interplay of the match so far ended with Trouten shooting against the post in 80 minutes.
Midfield anchor McKernon limped off to a good ovation two minutes later to be replaced by McVey.
Hall eventually got the booking he had somehow avoided so far when he hauled down Woods six minutes from the end, and Zanatta bent the free-kick round the wall but into keeper Smith’s arms.
Gus MacPherson ate up more of the clock by sending on Carter for Zanatta right on the 90-minute mark.
The last four minutes had largely seen Brechin pressure, but apart from forcing Muir into two fisted clearances in his crowded box, they never looked like scoring as Queen’s preserved a superb clean sheet.
So, we didn’t really doubt the bookies, did we?
Now let’s see if we can defy the odds against Rovers, Alloa and Livi! Keep the faith.
Queen’s Park: Willie Muir, Ross Millen, Scott Gibson, Jamie McKernon, Ryan McGeever, Adam Cummins, Paul Woods, Gregor Fotheringham, Dario Zanatta, David Galt, Sean Burns.
Subs: Aiden Malone, John Carter, Bryan Wharton, Conor McVey, Anton Brady, Liam Brown, Ewan MacPherson.
Brechin City: Graeme Smith, Gary Fusco, Will Dyer, Euan Smith, Douglas Hall, Gareth Rodger, Aron Lynas, Elliot Ford, Ross Caldwell, Robbie Buchanan, Ally Love. Subs. Darren McCormack, Andy Jackson, Finn Graham, Alan Trouten, Darren Dodds, Patrick O’Neil (S/K)
Referee – Mike Roncone.
Highlights from behind the goal
Ross Millen converts the penalty to open the scoring
Captain Ryan McGeever doubles our lead with a superb header