It's a long, long way to Dingwall but it's an even longer way home pointless yet again. Queens haven't won away this season and, despite the return of the four players unavailable for the midweek cup tie and the long awaited return of Andy Thomson, there was never any real threat that we were going to do so today. Ian McCall made four changes to the starting eleven who lost to Accies in midweek with Shaun Dillon, Ryan McStay, Graham Weir and Andy Thomson returning for English, O'Neill, Bowey and he suspended Gary Wood. Bowey at least made the bench but there was only a seat in the stand for the former pair. Michael Mullan joined Bowey, Scott, Carr and Gibson on the bench.
It was Lionel Djebi-Zadi who made the first statement of intent intercepting a pass intended for Derek Lyle and taking a pot shot at goal from three yards inside his own half having spotted Barnard on the edge of his box. Fortunately although the ball was on target the trajectory wasn't flat enough to prevent Barnard getting back in time to save. Three minutes later on the end of a passing move Kevin McKinlay drove for goal but Eric Paton deflected it wide for a corner. In the 16th minute Alex Burke made an excellent run off the back of Brian Reid and cut in from the right side to set up Don Cowie but fortunately the young midfielder could only put a toe on the ball and Barnard saved the ball. Three minutes later it was Burke's turn to shoot for goal but his effort flew narrowly past the target. It was one way traffic at this point and next to have a go was Don Cowie again, latching on to a block of a Zadi shot and forcing a good low save from Barnard. On the resulting clearance Richie mis-kicked completely though and hit it straight to Burke who ran at goal before striking across the face of the goal in between the far post and the in-rushing Sean Higgins.
A goal was clearly coming and finally arrived on 26 minutes. A rather soft free kick was given by Mr Mackay in midfield and knocked into the penalty area. The ball was half cleared but fed back out to Alex Burke on the right of the box and when he fired the ball low across the box Kevin McKinlay was on hand to knock the ball into the net as Barnard tried desperately to get across to the shot.
Queens showed as a danger at the other end for the first time in 32 minutes when Stuart Lovell won a challenge in midfield and exchanged passes with Andy Thomson before shooting from the edge of the box, only to see Jim Lauchlan make a brave block of the ball. Normal service was resumed four minutes later though as this time it was Mark McCulloch forcing a good save from Barnard with a low 25 yard effort. Five minutes before the break a curling effort from Cowie was headed off the line by the alert Lovell with Barnard beaten. The final effort of the half saw Cowie shoot wide from 30 yards.
It had been a very one-sided half and it was no surprise that Ian McCall moved to make changes at the interval. On came both Steve Bowey and Willie Gibson, off went Graham Weir and Brian Reid. That meant a switch to 3-5-2 with Lovell joining Thomson and Dillon in the back line and Lyle moving up front to join "Super" Andy. Unfortunately the changes had no time to take any effect before County doubled their advantage. This time McCulloch fed a ball into John Rankin on the edge of the penalty area and he shielded the ball before swivelling to fire into the bottom left corner. Two minutes later Shaun Dillon was a very lucky man not to be booked for cynically hauling back Sean Higgins who was beyond him and looking like running past Lovell too.
On 52 minutes Ryan McStay actually forced the first save of the day out of Stuart Garden but it was an easy one for the veteran keeper. McCall decided to make his final change throwing on Michael Mullan for Derek Lyle. Just after the hour mark County broke forward from a Queens attack and Higgins made the bye-line before looking for Alex Burke at the back post only to be blocked out by Jim Thomson, doing well to get back. Two minutes later it was County breaking forward again. This time it ended with Burke and McKinlay in a two on one situation but Burke's pass to the young forward bobbled as he went to hit it and the ball skewed wide. In the 69th minute Paul Burns had a pot at goal from 30 yards but Garden again got across to make the save without great trouble. A minute later Ryan McStay went in the book for hauling back John Rankin from behind somewhat cynically.
The game was finished as a contest on 72 minutes when County added a deserved third. It came from a right sided corner which was turned goalward and cleared off the line. Martin Canning on the edge of the box hammered it back in though and there was that man Alex Burke to flick a header in via the crossbar. However, no sooner had the lead been added to than Queens cut it back again. On 74 minutes Willie Gibson's initial cross was cleared only as far as Steve Bowey on the edge of the box. 'Bowser' arced a ball back into the box and there was the man of the moment Andy Thomson to loop a header beyond Garden into the net from about ten yards for his 110th goal for the club, more than ten years after his 109th!
County were soon back in the ascendancy though and in 76 minutes Barnard made a good save low from John Rankin's 20 yard effort. A minute later Paul Burns worried Garden with a curling 20 yarder from the left side of the box but up the other end Higgins forced a save from Barnard from 30 yards. With ten minutes left Michael Mullan latched onto a through ball and fired in a low shot which almost sneaked below Garden but the keeper recovered the ball before Andy Thomson could latch onto the loose ball. Two minutes later though Higgins latched onto a Jim Thomson error to set up Burke for a run at goal and Barnard again came to the rescue.
On 82 minutes Queens had a big penalty shout turned down when Andy Thomson harassed Martin Canning into a clear handball in his own box and, had that been given and converted, it might have made for an interesting last few minutes. Somehow though the match official was the only one who didn't see it! With five minutes to go Gardiner Speirs made his first change when David Winters replaced Alex Burke who had been outstanding for the home side. A minute later Barnard was called into action again, making a fine save at the feet of Sean Higgins but Queens could make no further inroad into the County rearguard.
At least defeats at home for Brechin and Stranraer mean we are no worse off relatively and have an awkward fixture out of the way but games are starting to run out and if we are to have any hope of hauling back our Galloway rivals then wins are imperative and soon.