This is the report I didn't dare dream I'd be writing today! Following on from Tuesday's awful showing at Stair Park, it was hard for even the most optimistic Queens fan to see how we were going to take anything from this game. After all, Thistle have run away with the League this season, were officially promoted last weekend, have the League all but won, hadn't lost a home game all season and had beaten us three times already. Our season seemed to fading out, with only two points from the last five matches. Surely we couldn't win at Firhill? Well, we did, and deservedly so. Tomorrow's papers will talk about eight man Thistle and the referee but make no mistake about it, we were already two up before the second and third sending's off and, even with the sides level, we had made all the play. Jamie Campbell made just one save in the whole game.
So to the actual match report then. It was another tactical and personnel shuffle today. Out of the team from Stranraer went Walklate, Hughes and the injured Stuart King. In came Des McKeown, Phil Nixon and, the fit again, Warren Hawke. The formation was an alien one too. Three at the back with Nixon dropping in beside McQuilter and Aitken. Atkinson swopped wings to act as right wing back with Des doing the same on the left. Surprisingly, Warren Hawke occupied a midfield role and Jon Sunderland was pushed up alongside Weatherson.
Queens made all the early running and went at their more fancied opponents from the off. After just five minutes, a quickly taken free kick saw a cross flighted to the back post and Des McKeown headed across the face of the Thistle goal which was hacked clear. In the fifteenth minute, Queens were awarded a free kick in a central position about five yards outside the box. Weatherson clearly fancied a crack at it but when he hit it he found Mark McNally running in to block from only about two yards. McNally was duly booked for encroachment, an action which would come back to haunt him later, and the kick was re-taken. This time O'Neill curled it high and wide of goal.
The pressure on the Thistle goal was building up though and in 22 minutes came the breakthrough goal. Queens attacked down the right side but the danger seemed to have gone when Archibald took control of the ball at left back. However, he completely miskicked under no pressure and Weatherson seized upon the loose ball to drive into the penalty box. Peter crossed low and hard into the danger area but Arthur, in the Thistle goal, knocked it partly clear. However, the ball fell to John O'Neill about eight yards out and he drove it goalward. The other Thistle full back, Stephen Docherty, blocked the strike with his hands leaving referee Cassidy with no alternative. The penalty kick was duly awarded and Docherty was sent packing. There may have been another Thistle player booked in the arguments which followed but it wasn't clear who. Penalties these days are not the great trial to those of us on the terraces that they used to be now that John O'Neill is charged with the responsibility and he confidently despatched the kick low to the left side of the goal to hand us the lead.
It was a lead which should have been doubled in the 28th minute as paddy Atkinson made good ground down the right again and put in a great low cross. Weatherson only needed to make some sort of connection to score at the near post but "fresh aired" with the goal gaping. On 33 minutes, Warren Hawke was the first Queens player to be booked, for a late challenge, but six minutes later he was guilty of a glaring miss which could have killed Thistle off early. O'Neill cleverly set up the over-lapping Atkinson down the right for a cross into the danger area. Paddy's cross was only partly cleared and found it's way to Warren just six yards out with just one defender on the line to beat. He tried to place it in the corner of the net but instead missed the post when it was surely easier to score. Two minutes before the break, he was joined in the book by Jon Sunderland for a wild kick in front of the dug-outs. From the resulting free kick, the ball dropped to the dangerous Martin Hardie on the edge of our box. He lobbed the ball goalward and Jamie Campbell was called into action to make an acrobatic leap backwards and tip the effort over the bar. This was the only save he had to make in ninety minutes.
Queens started the second half and went straight into the attack. A fine move involving Weatherson and O'Neill saw Hawke have an good shot saved before a Thistle player had even touched the ball. The second and killer goal was not long delayed though and it duly arrived in the 55th minute. Atkinson sent Sunderland clear again down the right hand side and his fine cross again should have been turned in at the near post by Weatherson but he once again "fresh aired" with goal gaping. This time however, John O'Neill was also supporting and he arrived at the back post with a diving header to leave Arthur with no chance.
On the hour mark Lambie replaced last week's hat-trick hero, Peter Lindau, with new signing Barry Elliot and within a minute he was sent crashing by Phil Nixon which earned the Queens man our third booking of the afternoon. Just one further minute later though and the game erupted into controversy. John O'Neill had possession in midfield and sent Sunderland clear with a ball down the right. However, we will never know what Jon would have done with the opportunity as, no sooner had O'Neill passed the ball than Mark McNally took him out very late. Referee Cassidy stopped play to issue the ex-Celtic player with his second booking and sent him off. In the protestations which followed, Martin Hardie carried his argument too far and was duly sent packing as well.
With Thistle now trailing by two goals and down to eight men, it should have been a formality to close out the game easily and perhaps add a few more goals as well. However, as often happens, the short handed team worked hard for each other and Queens, suffering from an embarrassment of options, proved indecisive in attack. That is not to say we didn't have chances to increase the lead though. In the 69th minute, Sunderland gained possession in midfield and drove towards goal, riding a couple of challenges. He shot powerfully from the edge of the box and Kenny Arthur gathered the ball at the second attempt. In the 77th minute, the ball dropped to Paddy Atkinson on the edge of the penalty area with a good shooting chance but he instead set up, the hat-trick seeking, John O'Neill and his chip was scooped just over the bar.
In the 80th minute we came very close to adding a third goal. Warren Hawke delivered a superb cross from the right to the back post where Peter Weatherson rose above all to head against the angle of crossbar and post. The ball came down the wrong side of the line and was hooked clear before John O'Neill could get in on the rebound. Two minutes later, Jon Sunderland ran clear of the defence from his own half and collected a long pass forward. He made ground into the penalty area but unselfishly tried to draw out the keeper and square it to O'Neill rather than score himself. The square ball ran across the six yard area and just eluded O'Neill's toe as he slid in. That was it for the chances and Connolly threw Muir on for the final minute in place of Hawke.
A fantastic result for Queens today and a performance to match. As I suggested above, the headlines will talk about Thistle's three men off and the performance of referee Cassidy but that shouldn't be allowed to detract from the facts. Queens dominated this match, start to finish, and could (and should) have won far more convincingly. We were already two goals up before the major incident and were well worth the lead even before the first red card. A word about the referee. The only time that Thistle's large crowd made themselves heard all afternoon was when they were booing Mr Cassidy. However, it's hard to see what exactly he did wrong and their reaction was surely borne of frustration rather than any genuine feeling that they were cheated. The first red card resulted from a clear handling offence on a goal-bound shot. The rules are mandatory and Docherty had to go. Mark McNally was so late on John O'Neill that Easter nearly arrived first and it was as clear a booking as you could see. If you are going to charge down a free kick and almost arrive at the ball before the taker then you are going to be booked, that's also mandatory, so he can have no complaints. In fact, the second challenge might well have brought about a straight red card in itself. As for Martin Hardie's dismissal, I obviously don't know what he said to Cassidy but he was standing right in his face so I doubt if there was any misinterpretation involved. Hardie didn't seem surprised to be sent packing himself, simply continuing to argue as he left the field. In fact, if Mr Cassidy hadn't been a little lenient later Alan Archibald might also have seen red for three incidents, going in late on Aitken, booting the ball away after a decision was given against him and going over the top on Nixon, a challenge which saw Ronnie McQuilter absolutely incensed.
Thanks to Ewan Lithgow for today's report.