There'll be no Challenge Cup Final appearance for Queens this season but they can consider themselves more than a little unfortunate not to progress to the Second Round after matching their much more fancied opponents for the whole of this tie. This was a first visit to "New Broomfield" (as the former Shyberry Excelsior Stadium has now been renamed) ever for the club and a large support turned up to see how John Connolly's side would fare against Steve Archibald's much touted Spanish stars. They must have gone home disappointed with the result but not the performance as the side gave absolutely everything they had for the cause.
The first shock of the night, on arriving at the ground, was to find that the pricing was quite reasonable at only £8 for an adult, cheaper than Palmerston's seating. The programmes were only £1 too but it was immediately apparent that this was because they only had three written pages, one of which reminds us that we beat the "Diamonds" en route to our Challenge Cup Final appearance against Stenhousemuir! ??? Must have missed that one. The second shock of the night was discovering our familiar Rock Steady stewards from Palmerston on duty here too. So some familiar faces telling us to keep our feet off the seats.
On to the action though and when the match kicked off it was the hosts who started much the brighter side. Airdrie were fairly dominant throughout the opening twenty minutes or so but only really threatened Mathieson's goal on the one occasion. That came just five minutes in when they were awarded a free-kick a yard or two outside the box, left of centre. Calderon struck it and it spun off a defender (Andy Martin I think) leaving Smiler stranded as it hit the left post and came back out.
However, about halfway through the period, Queens became much more adventurous and took control of the game for the rest of the half. Dean Muir had much to do with getting Queens going and on 22 minutes he had our first significant effort on goal with a long range shot which appeared to be going wide but the Spanish keeper, Javier Sanchez Broto, scrambled across to palm it wide anyway. On 28 minutes Muir curled over a corner which Andy Martin met with a firm header. Broto saved comfortably enough but was then penalised for holding on to the ball for more than the allowable six seconds. From the resulting indirect free-kick, Sunderland laid the ball off to Muir again and he drove just over the top. Within a minute Broto's erratic goalkeeping had given Queens another corner when he very nearly flapped Caldwell's hanging cross into his own net. The corner, though, came to nothing and Airdrie were able to break quickly down their right side. As the defence charged back Sandy Hodge put in a sliding challenge on the ball carrier. From where we were he seemed to have got something on the ball but referee Eric Martindale thought otherwise and reached, a little harshly, for the first yellow card of the night. Sandy would have cause to regret that later on.
The first half then drifted towards a conclusion before bursting to life in its' final moments. First Airdrie surged forward, throwing a right sided cross into the penalty area. Jesus Garcia Sanjuan took a blatant dive in the box which clearly incensed the Queens defence and they looked to the referee to take action but Martindale simply waved play on. Queens broke upfield straight away and Caldwell seemed to be clear in on goal only to be stopped by the referee's whistle. This time Mr Martindale interpreted what looked a 50 - 50 challenge as a foul by Brian.
Queens started the second half in the same manner they finished the first and in the 47th minute we took the lead. It was a goal all about Paddy Atkinson. He collected the ball out on the right touchline and cut inside. Two defenders were left trailing as he cut into the right side of the penalty area before unleashing a shot into the bottom left corner of the net. The lead was no more than Queens deserved at that point having had control of the game for the previous half hour or so. Straight from the kick off Mark Weir picked up the game's second yellow card for a sliding challenge which failed to win the ball.
One would have expected the first division side to hit Queens with everything in a bid to equalise quickly but in fact we dealt fairly comfortably with their response. Their best effort around this time came on 55 minutes when David Mathieson dived quickly across his line just to be sure a shot from Martin Prest was going wide. In fact Queens looked more likely to score a second than lose a goal and on 59 minutes Caldwell broke clear down the left and crossed for Peter Weatherson to head wide. On 62 minutes Queens made their first substitution when Steven Pickering replaced the tiring Dean Muir. Two minutes later, Weatherson earned a free-kick about five yards outside the penalty box and slightly left of centre. He hit it quickly himself and put it just wide with Broto rooted to the spot. However, referee Martindale had not been happy with the wall and ordered a retake. Weatherson had another go but this time could only hit the wall. The ball broke out to Mark Weir though and his cross-cum-shot brushed off the forehead of Brian Caldwell and only just missed the far post. A further minute later and it was Weir again, jinking to the edge of the area after good work by Andy Martin and John Sunderland before hitting another shot into the side net with Broto struggling to get there.
Ironically, having dropped right out of the game, the "Diamonds" suddenly found themselves level. The already booked Sandy Hodge committed a foul right on halfway under the referee's nose. It looked for a moment that the Martindale was going to have words with big Sandy but he decided to let it go. However, the free-kick was knocked up to the edge of the box where it was laid back to Antonio Calderon. The Spaniard, who had looked easily Airdrie's most dangerous player, struck a beautiful shot from outside the box into the top right corner of the net. This was to be his last significant contribution though as on 77 minutes he was caught by a Paddy Atkinson tackle and had to be substituted.
Queens were still more than holding their own at this point but the match took a turn for the worse for us with just five minutes remaining. We were pushing for a second goal when a bouncing half clearance landed between Sandy Hodge and the Airdrie No 7. Both players went for the ball but the Spaniard nicked it away first. Sandy seemed to just catch him on the shin with his studs and he collapsed, writhing on the ground. This sparked a small melee with players from both sides becoming involved. The end result though was that Sandy saw a second yellow card, making a red one and an early bath for him. John Connolly immediately replaced Brian Caldwell with Tony Nelson, presumably with the intention of tightening up the midfield.
There were no further chances, so extra time was to be required and it was the home side again who started much the brighter. Straight away they broke up the left and Mathieson made the night's one real save when he spectacularly turned away a diving header from only six yards out. However, the goal wasn't long delayed and two minutes into the extra period it arrived. The ball arrived at Paul Clarke, fully thirty yards out and he hit an absolute screamer into the top right corner of the net off the underside of the crossbar. This could very well be the best goal we see all season and Mathieson hadn't a prayer of stopping it.
Little happened in the remainder of the first period of extra time. The Airdrie player who was involved in the Hodge sending off limped off still feeling the effects of the tackle and, as they had used all their substitutes already, the sides were evened up again. On 101 minutes Queens used their last change to bring on Warren Hawke in place of Mark Weir and in the final minute of the period he headed a Paddy Atkinson cross wide at the back post.
With the sides levelled up again, Queens put everything into the opening part of the second period. Right away Paddy Atkinson broke down the right again and crossed in for Peter Weatherson. A proper contact looked sure to mean a goal as Broto was caught out of position but Peter could only brush a header across the face of the goal. A minute later Weatherson again shot from the edge of the box only to see it deflect over the bar. The "Diamonds" though held out for the next ten minutes quite comfortably before the typical end-to-end panic of the last two minutes set in. By now the game was being completed in monsoon-like conditions and it was difficult for both sets of players to keep playing good football. With two minutes to go Tony Nelson fed Warren Hawke on the right. Warren cut inside and laid the ball off to Peter Weatherson, who shot across the face of the goal only for a deflection to take it wide again. Back came Airdrie and one of their substitutes fizzed a shot just over the bar. The match finished in surreal fashion with a corner to Queens in injury time. Up came David Mathieson to try to cause confusion in the box and it almost worked as the ball dropped out to Andy Martin on the edge of the area. He controlled it well on the chest but volleyed well over. There was no time to restart and Airdrie were grateful to hear the final whistle.
Queens were beaten but by no means disgraced. In fact they did themselves proud. There was very little to choose between the sides and it took two goals of rare quality to beat us. On this form we have nothing to fear from Falkirk next week either but first we must visit Hampden on Saturday and look to end Queens Park's 100% league record.