The promotion challenge continued tonight with a second successive hard fought derby win against our regional rivals in Stranraer. Manager John Connolly made just the one, enforced, change to the team which won on Saturday. With Gordon Connelly injured, Paddy Atkinson returned to the starting line up and there was a welcome return to the bench for Steve Bowey. However, the one surprise was that utility man Paddy stepped into the right back role and regular right back Alan Gray was pushed into the right midfield slot.
The match started slowly with the teams feeling each other out. The first scoring opportunity fell to Queens in the 7th minute when Derek Lyle took possession in the midfield area and fed a clever ball forward to Peter Weatherson. "Nelly" took just one touch to set himself and hit the ball first time but his effort flashed narrowly past the left post with McGeown clawing at thin air. In the 14th minute a long clearance by Atkinson found Lyle clear of the Stranraer defence but unfortunately the ball hit the forward and bounced clear. Queens continued to hold the early supremacy and Graham Connell shot over the bar by about a foot from 25 yards two minutes later. Four minutes later and the visitors finally grabbed the lead their early dominance deserved. Some great football down the right side sent Weatherson clear. He made it to the bye-line before throwing a deep centre over all the defenders. John O'Neill arrived at the back post completely unmarked to bullet a diving header past the helpless McGeown. A minute later, Connell seemed to be fouled in the penalty area but play was waved on.
However, having barely allowed Stranraer a look in prior to this, the Cleyholers started to come into the match. In the 24th minute, a left sided corner was headed on to the back post area and Martin Glancy was able to get a free shot in on goal from about six yards out. Fortunately he failed to get enough power in his effort and Scott was able to save. Two minutes later and good work down the right from Ian Harty and Stephen Aitken led to the latter fizzing a ball across the six yard box which Glancy failed to make any contact with.
On the half hour, Joe McAlpine collected a ball from Derek Anderson and ran in towards goal leaving a couple of defenders in his wake before shooting at goal. However, he too failed to get enough power in his shot and McGeown saved comfortably. With 39 minutes played, Graham Connell and Billy McDonald picked up the only bookings of the game for a "handbags" altercation as McDonald tried to take a quick free kick. Three minutes later, out of virtually nothing, Stranraer suddenly equalised. Full back Derek Wingate exchanged passes with Harty, escaped the attention of Joe McAlpine and galloped into the box before placing a shot low into the bottom right corner of the net.
The second half was barely a minute old when Stranraer mounted their first attack. George Shaw sent a dangerous ball into the box which was scrambled clear by Anderson at the back post. However, a few minutes after this, for the second time in the match, Derek Lyle found himself beyond the defence and running on to a big punt from the back, this time from Andy Aitken. Unfortunately, the Thistle player's control again let him down and the chance was gone.
Queens had a huge let off in the 55th minute when Graham Connell tried to guide a ball out for a goal kick. The ball was hooked back into the box from the line and an almighty scramble ensued, during which Sandy Hodge had a goal-bound shot blocked by a defender, before the danger was eventually cleared. However, Queens took advantage of the let off and recaptured the lead in the 64th minute. It all started with a break into the penalty area by Alan Gray which was dealt with at the expense of a corner by the Cleyhole defence, though the award was hotly disputed. McAlpine took the kick and knocked a dangerous ball to the back post area where it was met by a good fist from McGeown. The ball only got as far as Connell lying just outside the box though and he laid it back across the penalty area back towards the in-rushing Joe McAlpine who struck first time and saw his effort deflect and soar into the top left corner of the net giving McGeown not an earthly!
In the 73rd minute, John O'Neill was on hand to head a dangerous ball away for a corner but from the resulting kick it was Queens again who went close. McAlpine broke clear and sent Lyle forward with a clever pass. Turning down the chance to hit early, the striker turned inside his marker but ran out of room and found his eventual shot blocked back to McGeown by another defender. Two minutes later, Alan Gray had a magnificent break up the right after dispossessing Sandy Hodge but tried to place his shot from about ten yards past McGeown's right hand and the 'keeper made a good parry to keep his side in the game.
Stranraer's big chance to equalise came with seven minutes of the game remaining. Graham Connell clearly appeared to be fouled in the middle of the park, right under the referee's nose. However, Mr Smith waved play on and, as the defence stopped, the alert Ian Harty found himself clear through on Colin Scott. Fortunately for us, Scott was also alert and raced to the edge of his box to block at Harty's feet and then jumped up to save again when Jenkins tried to guide home the loose ball. That was basically that and Queens comfortably saw out the remaining time with little further problem. In the final minute, Barry Donald replaced John O'Neill, presumably only to use up a little of the clock.
So, a hard fought and well deserved second successive victory over Stranraer and that's now eight wins from eleven games since Christmas. That is definitely the sort of form which will bring about promotion. With Alloa and Clydebank drawing tonight, we've put ourselves in pole position again but there's still a lot of work to do, starting with Cowdenbeath at Palmerston on Saturday. Having dropped into the bottom two tonight, the "Blue Brazil" will be desperate for the points too.