Two second-half goals saw Queens battle back to come from behind in the first leg of their Championship Play-Off game against Falkirk at Palmerston tonight. They recovered from going a goal behind early on to score twice and take a slight advantage into Saturday`s deciding 2nd leg at the Falkirk Stadium. The fifth meeting of the sides this season was always going to be a tight affair, and after falling behind as early as 6 minutes into the game, the hosts produced a second half comeback that culminated in them scoring the winning goal seconds before the full-time whistle.
After Saturday`s draw at Cowdenbeath, Queens made no less than 6 changes to the team that started at Central Park, as both rested players and suspended players returned to the line-up, with Mark Durnan, Mark Kerr, Chris Mitchell, Derek Lyle, Ian McShane, and Paul Burns all starting the game as Queens opted for a 4-3-1-2 formation with Saturday`s scorer, Bob McHugh playing just behind the two strikers. Visitors Falkirk were without their top scorer, Rory Loy who missed the game through injury, but their team was packed with a host of talented youngsters that went so close to winning the title.
The game began with the visitors starting well and an early cross from Vaulks saw Zander Clark being called into action, punching clear under strong pressure from striker Beck, whilst at the other end, Queens responded with a foray down the right, and from Mitchell`s throw, McHugh drove a shot straight into the arms of Falkirk `keeper McGovern. A delicate lofted pass over the top of the visiting defence by Mark Kerr looked to have freed Iain Russell, but as the striker prepared to shoot, he was flagged for offside by the nearside assistant.
The opening few minutes had thrown up a couple of decent chances for both sides, but after just 8 minutes it was the visitors who gained the advantage when good approach play involving Vaulks and McGrandles down the right created a chance for Alston, and the midfielder found the bottom far corner of the net with a cracking drive from just inside the penalty area. Queens were on the back foot, and only some good reading of the game by Clark kept his team from going further behind as he was smartly off his line to head away a poor defensive back pass by Andy Dowie. As the visitors stepped up the pressure, Sibbald found Alston 20 yards out, and the scorer of the opening goal was not very far away from finding the net for a second time.
Clark is beaten as Falkirk take an early lead
With Queens struggling to get any sort of rhythm into their game, Falkirk continued to look likely to add to their goal, and Kingsley was next to have a shot, although his effort ended up being well wide of the target. The home side were on the end of some good fortune after 24 minutes when Falkirk had strong claims for a penalty waved away by referee McKendrick. A long ball down the left seemed to be drifting out for a goalkick, but full-back Kingsley put Mitchell under enough pressure to get in behind him, and as he moved past the Queens defender, Mitchell appeared to pull his shirt but play continued and Kingsley hit an effort wide of the far post. After that spell of pressure from the visitors ended, Queens at last got forward enough to have a shot of their own, however, Paul Burns` strike from 20-yards out trickled wide of the target.
As the play switched once more to the other end, just past the 30 minue mark, Falkirk had a big chance to double their lead. Following a corner on the right, which was half cleared, a cross back into the middle of the area found the unmarked McCracken, but somehow from 8-yards out he placed his free header a yard wide of the goal. That was a huge let off for Queens, and they almost made Falkirk pay minutes later when following good work from Kerr, Paul Burns went close, but after easing past Flynn, and with the `keeper coming towards him, he was unable to keep his shot on target and his effort slipped narrowly past the near upright. This period was the best of the half for Queens, and McHugh drew a decent save from McGovern, after neat play involving Russell and Ian McShane, had created the chance. More hesitancy in the Queens defence saw Burns penalised for a foul some 25-yards from goal, but from a decent position, Falkirk wasted the opportunity when Millar drove his free-kick straight into the defensive.
Queens ended the half well as a shot from McShane was blocked, and a panicky defence gave them a fortunate corner, but they were unable to create anything from the set-piece as once again the visiting defence stood firm.
HALF-TIME QUEENS 0-1 FALKIRK
Once again it was the visitors who started on the front foot and just 50 seconds into the half Shepherd glanced a header goalwards at the near post, but Clark saved comfortably and no damage was done. The first corner of the half for Queens brought with it their first half chance of the half, Mitchell`s delivery being returned into the area by Durnan, and McHugh, on the turn but slightly off balance hooked his attempt wide. There was no doubt that Queens had increased their urgency at the start of the half, and as they worked their way into the half, at last the crowd became more involved in the game, and as the atmosphere intensified, the likelihood of Queens getting themselves back into contention grew by the minute, and on 56 minutes, Queens did indeed get back into the game.
Having been awarded a free-kick midway inside the Falkirk half, McHugh tried to take the kick quickly and free the unmarked Russell on the left, thankfully for Queens however, the referee was not happy with it being taken as quick and so it had to be re-taken. This time the team produced a `training ground routine` free-kick as Mitchell`s delivery was headed back across goal by Dowie and Bob McHugh powered a close range header past McGovern to give Queens parity. The goal was a major boost for the home side and they were the better team for the opening 20 minutes of the half, although having found the equaliser, they did find it hard to create any real clear cut scoring opportunities. At this stage, the Queens midfield trio of Burns, McShane, and the very impressive Kerr, were controlling midfield, and it looked as though Queens were the team who would be next to score, but slowly the visitors began to find their way back into the half, and in fact it was them who had the better of the chances as the game progressed.
McHugh heads in his first
and celebrates with the crowd
Just past the hour mark Zander Clark made a fine save to keep out Sibbald, and moments later the talented midfielder was on the end of a late challenge from Mark Durnan, the tackle causing referee McKendrick to caution the Queens captain. The resulting set-piece saw Millar go closer with his effort this time, although his attempt landed well wide of Clark`s goal. Queens made the first of three changes with ten minutes to go, with Danny Carmichael replacing Derek Lyle, and as the game became a bit more stretched both teams had chances to find a winning goal. Ian McShane was rather fortunate not to be booked for a foul midway inside his own half, and following the set-piece Sibbald was again instrumental in causing a fair amount of panic in the home defence, but after giving away a corner, Kerr defended the situation well. Derek Young replaced McShane with just three minutes left, and Lewis Kidd came on for Iain Russell for the final minute.
With the game looking more and more likely to end all square, the final 60 seconds of the game could not have been any more dramatic. A quick Queens break from defence saw the ball end up at the feet of Danny Carmichael on the right, and after cutting inside he slipped a perfectly weighted pass into Bob McHugh and the on-loan Motherwell man allowed the ball to run across him and on to his left foot before he smashed an unstoppable drive past McGovern into the top corner of the net.What a strike, and what a huge goal for Queens, there may have only been around 2000 people inside Palmerston, but the roar that greeted the goal sounded like it came from more like 5000 people such was the noise. The cheering had barely died down before the whistle sounded for full-time, and once again the applause rang all around the ground.
Number two heads for the net from McHugh
It is only half -time in this Play-Off tie, but Queens will take a slight advantage to Falkirk on Saturday, and if they can play the way they did for much of the second period, then who knows what might happen.