Well it may only have been a pre-season game against an Ayr side who are a little behind us in their preparations but there's no getting away from it, that was impressive. Under Neil Watt and having re-assembled a fair quota of the Stranraer team he took to the first division, Ayr are expected to do well in the second division this coming season. They fielded a strong side, including three players, Corr, Henderson and Swift, who were in the Queens squad last year but were simply taken apart by a Queens side, reasonably close to full strength, who passed them off the park. It was a personal triumph for striker Stephen Dobbie who has come back from holiday sharper, leaner and fitter than before. He struck SIX of our seven, taking his personal haul to nine in a week and the club's total to fifteen following the 8-2 win over Dumbarton in a midweek bounce game.
'Chis' sent out a strong line up with Jamie MacDonald back in goal after his loan move from Hearts was finally sorted out. The surprise name in the line up was probably former Airdrie United centre half Neil McGowan who played as a trialist having also featured as a trialist for Stranraer last week.
Queens made a steady start, playing against the strong wind and took nine minutes to fashion their first chance, though when it arrived Corr produced an excellent tip over to deny Dobbie on the half volley inside the eighteen yard box. Ten minutes later Bingham did well to set up Robertson for a ball across the face of goal that Corr just about grabbed on the line under pressure from O'Connor. Ayr gradually came into the game though and just before the half hour David Dunn should have scored with a back post header but nodded across the face of goal. Seven minutes later there was some controversy as Michael Moore rose to power a header from a left sided corner into the net via the crossbar but referee John Beaton disallowed the strike for some climbing by the former Stranraer man. It proved to be a crucial decision as two minutes later Queens were in front. Eric Paton hung a left sided corner deep to the back post area, Scott Robertson rose to head downwards and there was Stephen Dobbie diving to nod the ball behind Corr and into the roof of the net. The lead was doubled two minutes before the break again from a Paton corner. This time the ball was headed out but not far enough and when Steve Tosh rattled the ball back in from the edge of the box it struck Jim Lauchlan who backheel flicked it up into the top corner of the goal from six yards with Corr helpless. McFarlane might have added a third with a drive that went close to the bottom left corner before Ayr almost snatched a lifeline in the final minute of the half. Another corner kick was met at the back post this time by Chris Robertson whose looping effort beat MacDonald but cannoned back off the bar and was scrambled to safety.
Neither team made any half time changes but two minutes in Queens made the game safe as Sean O'Connor beat the offside trap and rounded Corr before being hauled down by the former Queens goalie. Stephen Dobbie made no mistake from the spot as per usual as his kick went in via the crossbar. Three minutes later and Dobbie clinched his hat-trick with a simply superb goal. Brilliant interplay between Bingham and O'Connor worked the ball into the penalty area and then onto Dobbie on the right side. Spotting Corr off his line he produced a delicate chip from a wide angle that dropped beautifully into the net via the left post.
With the game gone Neil Watt made his first three changes in 55 minutes, replacing Swift, Dunn and Craig Higgins with Eddie Forrest, David Lowing and Jerome Vareille. Two minutes later Neil McFarlane nearly opened his Queens account with a chip from the edge of the box following another corner. He beat Corr but struck the bar and Hamilton scrambled the rebound away before O'Connor could tuck it in. Dobbie got hold of the ball when it came back in and beat a couple of challenges but Corr smothered at his feet before he could score another. The goal wasn't long delayed though and arrived in the 63rd minute as O'Connor again beat the offside trap onto a ball over the top and played it back for Dobbie to hammer beyond the helpless Corr for 5-0.
Ayr immediately made another two changes with Alex Williams and Gareth Wardlaw replacing Moore and Andy McLaren. It made no odds as on 65 minutes brought a sixth goal and a fifth for Mr Dobbie. This time Paton played Robertson down the right sideline and his low cross was tucked away with ease by the ex-St Johnstone striker. Chisholm immediately took the chance to rest Sean O'Connor and replace him with Scally, meaning a more forward role for Bingham and on 70 minutes Paul Burns replaced Tosh too.
Ayr struck their consolation with 16 minutes remaining. From a free kick that looked as if it should have been ours rather than theirs on halfway the ball was played quickly forward and then over the top of the back line where Ryan Stevenson burst onto it and rifled it home without giving MacDonald any chance to make a save.
Mark Whorlow replaced Robertson on 79 minutes and then four minutes later it was Lewis Sloan's turn for a brief cameo in relief of the impressive Bingham. The scoring wasn't quite complete though as with three minutes remaining Queens added a seventh. Neil Scally was the architect, winning possession in the middle of the park and then bursting forward with the ball before slipping it to Stephen Dobbie who cut inside from the left before placing the ball into the net past the hapless Corr who presumably won't want to see Queen of the South again in a hurry! There was still time for Wardlaw to miss an absolute sitter in the final minute but this was thoroughly professional performance from Queens having survived the scare of Moore's opening 'goal' being chalked off.
Earlier in the day Stranraer clinched the other finalist's slot with a 4-2 penalties win over the hosts following a 1-1 draw. Although the Cleyholers were in control for most of the game it wasn't until the 83rd minute that Jamie Cochrane swept them in front. Just when they thought they had it won though, completely against the run of play Willie Beattie scored a wonder goal in the final minute for Annan to take the tie to penalties. Stranraer though scored with all four of their kicks with former St Mirren and Aberdeen midfielder Ricky Gillies scoring the clinching effort. Former Queens centre half Stuart Hill was one of those to miss his effort for the hosts. So it'll be a traditional South West 'derby' for the final again tomorrow, just as it was 12 months ago when Graham Weir's goal proved enough.