Arbroath structured themsleves more defensively than throughout the season. Under temp boss Todd Lumsden, we've suffered from Queens breakaways last time we played here so played more cautiously throughout with Nichol anchored in front of the defence. We could have sealed the game against a competent and physical Queens side if we'd used our breakaways more effectively... but we're heading for the playoffs
Arbroath 1 Queen’s Park 1
Heading for Arbroath this morning your scribe couldn’t stop himself indulging in the old “what if” scenario.
“IF ONLY” … Queen’s hadn’t been so harshly reduced to 10 men at Coatbridge? WHAT IF” … Rovers lose again today and we beat Arbroath? And then it gets really dangerous with the “DO YOU REALISE” … that if we had won just one of our league games against Albion Rovers this season we would now be sitting at the top of the table with our title prospects in our own hands?
As events unfolded, we know that’s all irrelevant. Rovers have won the league, and it’s disappointing to see the title dream die. But rather than dwell on that, let’s reflect that by any standards, this has been a good season for the Spiders … and it’s far from over.
We are still guaranteed our spot in the end-of-season promotion bun fight, where we are all but certain to face today’s adversaries in the semi-final. We’ll be looking for a better outcome, but it was almost inevitable that the Red Lichties would come good at some stage. They were far and away the best team in the early stages of the season. And having gone into freefall around Christmas, they parted company with their manager last weekend.
Teams often get a lift with a change of face in the dugout, and the question before today’s match was whether that would be the case, or would the Spiders build on last weekend’s convincing win over Annan and bring home a priceless three points?
Gaffer Gus MacPherson had a strong squad at his disposal, with only Shaun Fraser ruled out through work commitments. To balance that blow, Ryan Hynes was available again after injury. So it was no surprise then that Gus went with the same starting XI from last week, in conditions which were as benign as Gayfield is ever likely to offer up. There was precious little wind and the playing surface looked fine.
We had started well against Annan – and opened brightly again this afternoon. We’d the first half chance of the match after two minutes when Rooney found space for a shot. It was, however, a tame effort, which was easily held by McCallum.
The home side went straight up the park and carved out an opening of their own, Bobby Linn has damaged our hopes in the past, and delivered a dangerous ball across the face of our goal. Thankfully, there were no takers.
Queen’s put that scare behind them and got back to business. Our right flank in particular was threatening, with Rooney in the mood and Carter as ever willing to chase anything that looked like coming his way. It was promising stuff, but the promise was dealt a severe blow after just nine minutes. Nicoll’s tackle on Rooney – right under the flag of the assistant referee – was certainly of the firm variety, but the officials deemed it to have been legitimate.
What was instantly clear, however, was that it had hurt young Shaun who buried his face in his strip in anguish. Despite lengthy treatment from Our Bob, Rooney’s afternoon was over, and it’s got to be debatable if we’ll see him back in a QP strip this season.
Conor McVey was the man chosen by Gus to replace Rooney and we retained the upper hand for the opening 20 minutes. That’s when it all started to go right … and then very wrong. Just as news filtered through that Rovers were trailing to Clyde, Willie Muir produced a cracking stop to deny Murray the opener.
We started to dream again, only to have the dream crushed after 24 minutes as we conceded a goal that will give Gus and his defensive coaches nightmares. We looked to have dealt with another home attack, but got ourselves in a tangle as we tried to play the ball out. McWalter seized the opportunity, played in Murray – and he buried the ball behind Muir.
It was a sickener, and while we tried to pick ourselves up immediately, there’s no denying the goal changed the shape of the game.
McElroy fired in a shot from distance which never troubled McCallum, and while Carter continued to give former Spider Ricky Little a testing afternoon at the heart of the home defence, we couldn’t produce the vital breakthrough. All we had to show for the rest of the first half was a succession of free-kicks, which all came to nothing.
Even the news that Rovers had gone two behind failed to provide the vital spark for the Spiders and we went in at the interval trailing by one goal.
Arbroath 1 Queen’s Park 0
The latter part of the first half had been scrappy, and the second period opened in exactly the same manner. Neither side could get a stranglehold on proceedings as niggly fouls made sure it was a stop-go afternoon. One of those fouls saw Mitchell’s name go in the book after just 48 minutes, and seconds later Linn brought a routine stop out of Muir with a low shot from distance.
Something had to change if we were to get anything from the game and after 56 minutes the manager made his first move. It was a bold one, replacing Mitchell with McPherson, but despite having two strikers on the pitch, we couldn’t carve out an opening for them.
Our best moment came on the hour when McCallum had to race from his box to deny Carter as he chased a ball over the top.
Gus gave the dice a final roll after 65 minutes, replacing Berry with Moore. By now, we knew that Rovers were back on terms, but the travelling supporters did their best to lift their team, and the boys responded by continuing to press at every opportunity.
Arbroath, however, are a better team than recent form suggests. They repelled our attacks without too much trouble, and threatened themselves on the break. Murray, in particular, looked the menace he is and it took a great block by McVey to keep him out as he bore down on goal.
Queen’s then won what Gulliver’s notebook suggests was our only corner of the match. (The aide-memoire provided by the stats from the BBC suggest that was indeed the case). Regardless, we wasted the opportunity by failing to get the ball past the first defender.
Despite the title hopes being all but over as we knew Rovers were now ahead, Queen’s continued to battle for the consolation of an equaliser. We threw everything forward, and almost paid a harsh price as Murray broke clear after 85 minutes … only to be denied by the alert Muir in the Queen’s goal.
Deep into added time, we finally got some reward for our sterling efforts. A high ball into the Arbroath box was only partially cleared by Nicoll and as it fell to Sean Burns, he crashed a low volley into the corner of the net. It was a goal worthy of winning a game – rather than just guaranteeing our runners-up spot in the league – and it was a fitting note to end the afternoon.
Typically of the Spiders, the moment took your scribe back to where this report began:
WHAT IF … Clyde had held on to beat Rovers? IF ONLY … Rooney hadn’t been crocked so early.
Ifs and buts are all good and well, but DO YOU REALISE that we still have promotion very much in our own hands?
Keep the Faith, this is where the fun really begins.
Queen’s Park: Muir, Mitchell (McPherson), Burns, Berry (Moore), Quinn,Wharton, Woods, Slattery, Carter, Rooney (McVey), McElroy. Subs – Hynes, Gibson, McGregor, George (S/K).