|2001/02 A Championship Season Reviewed
|A serialised account of our championship winning season by our man who has been at almost every match home and away - Ewan Lithgow
|Part One - July
|It is to my great pleasure that Colin has given me the task of reviewing one of the greatest seasons in Queens' 83 year history. A Championship season, something that has happened only once before in all that time, and that no less than 51 years ago.
|I consider myself fortunate to be able to comment as well as most on the season, having seen all the pre-season friendlies and 39 of the 41 competitive fixtures. The intention is to cover each calendar month separately as we built towards that momentous party in front of 6,000 at Palmerston in April. Obviously not all sections will be the same length, given that October, December and January had only three games each whereas the club played seven games in each of September and March.
It seems a long time ago now, but it was only ten months ago that the squad reassembled for pre-season training after John Connolly's first season in charge. During his first year the squad had seen a lot of surgery and only Andy Aitken and Warren Hawke remained from the squad he inherited from Rowe and Eadie in the summer of 2000. However, the bones of a decent team were in place with Paddy Atkinson and Peter Weatherson from the first Connolly side having been joined at the turn of the millennium by John O'Neill (from Bournemouth via Ross County) and Graham "Carwash" Connell (from Queens Park). Former Ibrox reserve, Colin Scott, was also in place though in a battle with Jamie Campbell for the No 1 jersey previously occupied for so many seasons by David Mathieson.
This pre-season brought in a number of new faces, some more familiar than others. Supporters' favourite Jim Thomson returned from his two-year sabbatical at Arbroath to claim the captain's armband and, for good measure, brought Jon Crawford along with him too. Alan Gray was an unfamiliar face brought in from Workington, where he had been Player of the Year for two successive years. What a season he would go on to have! The manager's son Stuart was back from college in the USA and on board and notable amongst other previously unknown trialists were Mark Patterson and Gareth McGhie (who earned contracts) and Anthony McStea (who didn't). Returning for a third spell at the club was, former Kilmarnock player, Stuart Davidson and in from Conference football was, one time Ayr and Southampton centre back, Derek Allan.
After a fortnight's training, the first action came in the pre-season Scottish Brewers Challenge Cup tournament at Annan. Queens were the holders of this trophy but faced a stiff test to retain their title with the hosts having invited Division Two title favourites Hamilton Accies and SPL Livingston to the party too, albeit it was a shadow Livi side with the first team touring Holland and Belgium. Queens faced the hosts in their semi-final but, with both teams fielding largely second string sides, to much discontent among the Annan fans who felt they had a chance of a scalp, all that was proved was that Annan do not have anything like the depth that Queens do. Alan Hogg and Warren Hawke both bagged hat-tricks, with Mark Patterson scoring twice as Queens racked up an emphatic 9-4 win.
|The following day's final was a much sterner test. It may have been a reserve Livi side but a decent one never the less, featuring Marvin Andrews who had been unable to get a visa for the European tour and the likes of Craig Feroz and Alex Burns. Goals from Patterson again and Stuart Connolly took the game to penalties and, after David Hagen missed for Livi, it was Paddy Atkinson who slammed the winning kick home
and the first silverware of the season was duly collected by Andy Aitken. Fortunately, for once, it was not the last.
Two days later Connolly took his team South to Workington and a strong side won 2-0 with the goals coming late from O'Neill (pen) and Steven Pickering. However, before the season started both "Picky" and Phil Nixon would be released to return to the English non-Leagues.
The following Saturday saw a trip across the North East to Chester-le-Street and a very welcoming place it turned out to be. Whether they were just that bit behind Queens in preparation or whether they were just not that good I do not know, but they were never a match for Queens. We won 4-0 but the scoreline heavily flattered the home side who barely managed a shot on target in 90 minutes. After home defender Wake had deflected Weatherson's cross past his own goalkeeper it was one way traffic with Weatherson, Connolly and Hawke all adding to the score.
The following Wednesday Third Division Darlington visited Palmerston for the first home friendly and proved to be much tougher than previous opponents. They dominated the first half but Queens gradually worked their way back into it and it was no great surprise when Warren Hawke gave us the lead with twenty minutes left with a drive from outside the box. However, just when it looked like a fine win would be achieved, the visitors levelled in the last minute through a header from substitute Mellanby.
The final pre-season match saw a visit from a strong looking Newcastle side featuring a number of big name players including Elena Marcelino, Lomano Tresor Lua-Lua, Steven Caldwell, Andy Griffin and Oliver Bernard among others. The visitors were by far the best side we saw in the build up and deservedly worked to a 2-0 advantage just after half-time with goals from Bernard (a wonder run from his own half) and Green. However, Queens showed a resilient spirit and, after that man O'Neill had again scored from the penalty spot following Caldwell's trip on Weatherson, Alan Hogg struck with a flashing header to earn a draw.
|That was the end of the friendlies and the team was still unbeaten. Creditable draws had been gained with strong Livingston and Newcastle sides and it was with some optimism that we looked toward the real thing. Those of us with the conviction to visit the bookmakers before the first whistle had particular reason to feel encouraged.