2003/04 Season Review
A serialised account of our season by our man who has been at almost every match home and away - Ewan Lithgow
Part Eight - February and March
The first action of February was the trip to face Motherwell in the Scottish Cup and what a game that turned out to be! There were blizzards before and after the game but an incredible 2,500 Doonhamers battled through the snow to see the game with real belief that we might be able to create a shock. However, the team started like they hadn't thawed out yet and the SPL side had the lead inside the first minute after Andy Aitken's clumsy challenge on Clarkson led to a penalty converted by Derek Adams. Before the interval Alex Burns had doubled and then trebled the advantage and it seemed Queens best hope was a snowstorn forcing an abandonment. However, Sean O'Connor had other ideas and the big striker was in inspired form in the second half. He struck twice just after the hour mark, should have scored another in between with an even better chance and generally terrorised the home defence. It seemed an equaliser, and with it a virtual certainty of live Sky coverage in the replay, had to come but it didn't and Terry Butcher was a publicly relieved man at the end.

Sean on song
A week later came a disappointing defeat at bottom of the table Brechin. Jim Thomson's return from illness lasted just 20 minutes before he was sent off for a last man foul on Charlie King after his mistake allowed the tricky midfielder through on goal. Despite this, Queens dug in and even took a shock second half lead when Bowey converted at the far post after fine work from Jaconelli, making his first start. However, the effort caught up with the team eventually and first King and then Beith converted right sided crosses from Templeman to earn the home side a vital win. To cap off a disappointing day all round, Brian McColligan was also sent off for retaliation following a shocking challenge on him by Chris Templeman. After the match John Connolly conceded in a tv interview that the title challenge was now over and was heavily criticised by a number of fans for his comment. Personally I felt he was right at the time and history proved him right. Whether he should actually have said it is another question altogether but it was mountains made out of molehills really.
In the aftermath of the Brechin defeat Connolly also made it clear that he felt John Dodds was to blame for Brechin's comeback and his response was to go out and sign Kilmarnock's Craig Samson on loan for the remainder of the season. Samson went straight into the side for the visit of Inverness the following weekend but had surprisingly little to do as the league leaders surrendered rather meekly. Sean O'Connor scored first early on, tapping in after Joe McAlpine's effort came back off the post, and then turned provider, setting up Bowey to double the lead. Paul Ritchie pulled a goal back in the second half from a free kick but the visitors never looked like grabbing an equaliser and didn't deserve one.

Samson joins up

For the third successive month the final game of the month fell victim to the weather. This time the visit of Ross County was called off early with some doubt over the pitch and both teams equally able to play the following weekend as a result of Scottish Cup exits. Instead most of the players and officials gathered together for the wedding of physio and Business Development Manager Kenny Crichton. Also present at what almost amounted to a reunion of the previous year's side were Andy Goram, Robbie Neilson, Derek Anderson, Jon Crawford and Best Man John O'Neill.

The month ended with Queens slipped a place to 4th on 38 points from 24 games, 11 points behind new leaders Clyde who also had a game in hand.

Before the rearranged game with Ross County, Falkirk won their game in hand against ICT and dropped us into 5th place as a result. Also, Sean O'Connor was awarded the title of Bells SFL Player of the Month for February, presumably mainly thanks to his exploits at Motherwell.

The County game resulted in yet another 1-1 draw at Palmerston and in truth we probably deserved no better. Bowey scored early on again but Steven McGarry grabbed an equaliser with just 8 minutes left.

Another chance lost
Midweek saw the long awaited re-arranged game with Clyde which was a must win game if we were to maintain any faint designs on an involvement in the title race. In the end though it was Clyde who strengthened their hand with a critical 2-1 win and became only the third (and final) team to win at Fortress Palmerston all season. Connolly's tactic of playing four centre halves, gambling on Jim Thomson's fitness, to combat Clyde's "big physical presence" backfired horribly and the nippy Ian Harty gave Thomson the runaround all night. Fotheringham opened the scoring with an excellent volley in the first half and, though Eric Paton hit the bar with a free kick, Clyde were well worth their lead which was extended one minute into the second half through Harty. Gary Wood missed an open goal from five yards and Paul Burns hit the post with a half-volley before Alex Burke tucked away a penalty awarded for handball against Kernaghan. However, the visitors saw out the remaining time with no serious scare of an equaliser.

Saturday though saw Queens bounce back with a super showing and a fine win at Falkirk. Alex Burke scored both goals in a 2-0 win, the first after good work by O'Connor and the second after a forceful run by Bowey. Craig Samson made a couple of fine saves but Queens were much the better side and might well have won by more.

The following weekend saw a game postponed for the 4th time this season, this being the first away one and so late that most fans were at least halfway to Kirkcaldy. Before the rearranged game Queens confirmed that Jim Thomson had been transfer listed at his own request after being left out of the starting eleven to face Falkirk last weekend. He was back in the side to face Raith though as an auxiliary right back with Eric Paton out through illness. Not a single Queens player had even touched the ball when Pereira opened the scoring after just 14 seconds and it got worse inside the first five minutes when Pacquito doubled the advantage. Sean O'Connor pulled a goal back, tapping in after Berthelot could only parry Alex Burke's effort but Brian Reid's second half dismissal for one foul too many on Pereira ended the match as a contest. Jim Thomson's final minute own goal merely added to the score, it didn't change the result.

The final game of the month was a dreadful 0-0 home draw with doomed Ayr United. There were no goals and precious few efforts worthy of even mentioning.

At the end of March we sat down in 6th with 43 points from 29 games, now some 14 points behind Clyde. In fact with just seven games remaining it was looking increasingly likely that St Johnstone in 3rd and 7 points clear were almost out of reach also.

Ewan Lithgow
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