Queens` remarkable season continued at Palmerston this afternoon as a comfortable 2-0 victory over Ayr United saw them take another step towards claiming the 2nd division title, as a goal in each half was enough to earn Queens all three points. The win, their 23rd league victory of the campaign, and their fifth in succession, also saw the runaway league leaders make it four wins out of four against Ayr in the league this season as the visitors never really threatened to become the first team to end Queens` unbeaten home league record.
Manager Allan Johnston made two changes to the team that began at East Fife last time out, as Kevin Holt, and Derek Lyle replaced the midfield duo of Derek Young and Stephen McKenna, with Lyle playing wide left as Queens went with their usual 4-4-2 formation. New signing Michael Paton started on the bench, along with former Motherwell and Ross County midfielder, Marc Fitzpatrick, who featured as a trialist. Visitors Ayr, who started the day in 7th place, just 6 points outside the play-off positions, included former Queens player Ryan McStay in their starting line-up, however they had to make do with out their leading scorer Michael Moffat who was missing through suspension. Queens began the game as statistically `the best ` team in Scotland, and such has been the dominance of Johnston`s team this season, the 69 points they had at kick-off, was as many as the bottom three sides had gained between them.
The game began with Queens almost getting off to the perfect start as Gavin Reilly went close in the opening minute, but as play settled down,at the other end, it was the visitors who had a decent chance to force an opening. Ryan McGuffie was penalised for a foul on Ayr player-manager Mark Roberts just outside the box, but the opportunity was wasted when Sinclair drove his shot well wide of the target. The best chance of the opening period went to Queens, and it came about after some exceptional play from Danny Carmichael. The tricky winger took control of the ball just outside the box, and after skipping past two defenders, he fired a shot low and hard that was pushed out by Ayr `keeper Smith straight to Reilly who shot first time but saw his effort fly off the `keeper and over for the first corner of the game.
On 16 minutes Roberts became the first player to be booked after he was late with his challenge on Chris Mitchell, and at that stage of the half, although Queens were having most of the possession, their impressive build up play lacked the final, decisive pass. Another chance followed quickly for Queens as Carmichael linked well with Nicky Clark before driving a shot-cum-cross along the 6- yard line that almost ended with Reilly putting the ball in at the far post.
An even better opportunity came just minutes later when Queens were awarded a free-kick after Ayr `keeper Smith, picked up a back pass eight yards out on the left. After a minor disagreement with McGuffie and then the referee, Smith talked himself into a yellow card for dissent. Free-kicks in such a position seldom lead to a goal as the penalty box is more often than not packed with players, both attacking and defending, and in this instance the defence won out as Mitchell`s cut back to Clark allowed the striker a shot that although was on target, had far too many bodies to get past.
Queens were now starting to take firmer control of the game, and Chris Higgins was very unlucky not to put his side ahead after meeting a Mitchell free-kick with a powerful header that beat Smith, but smashed against the far upright. A goal at that point would have been no more than Queens deserved as they continued to cause more problems for the visitor`s defence. Queens were enjoying a good deal of success down the left wing as Holt and Reilly combined well on several occasions, and just short of the half hour, Ayr`s McGregor became the third player to be cautioned after a sliding challenge left Reilly on the ground as the Queens man looked to break clear.
Gavin Reilly takes a tumble
After 34 minutes, skipper Higgins reacted well to make a last ditch tackle as Ayr threatened in a rare attack, and moments later Queens nearly made the breakthrough when a cross from Clark was blocked into the path of Carmichael who tried a delicate chip shot that went just inches over the bar. More excellent play from Carmichael saw him jink past two defenders, and despite being fouled he was still able to deliver a teasing cross that was only inches away from being met by Clark.
Danny fires the ball across the box
Then just as it appeared that the half would end in frustration for Queens, with practically the final touch of the half, the league leaders went ahead. Another move down the right saw Carmichael break clear again and this time his precise cross found Derek Lyle at the front post rising highest to plant a firm header into the bottom corner. There was only time for the visitors to re-start the game before the whistle sounded for the break after a half largely controlled by Queens was given the perfect ending with Lyle`s 12th league goal of the season, suitably acknowledged by at least 3 Queens fans in the stand (3 of the day`s mascots were Lyle`s children)
Derek Lyle turns away once his header hits the back of the net
HALF-TIME QUEENS 1-0 AYR UTD
The only changes made at the interval were made by the officials who swapped their grey tops for more brighter yellow ones, presumably so they would be easier to see!! The away side started the half on a positive note and forced their first corner of the game when Lyle did well to block a cross, but the set-piece came to nothing as the danger was comfortably dealt with.
Queens first attack of the 2nd period almost saw them add to their lead. Following a neat passing move involving Clark, Carmichael and McGuffie,the full-back delivered a cross that fell to Lyle some 10-yards from goal, but the striker sliced his effort wide of the post and the opening had gone.Leading scorer Nicky Clark then went close on two occasions in quick succession, firstly glancing a header wide after an excellent run and cross from Holt, and then he almost provided the perfect finish to some fine approach play between McGuffie and Carmichael, with his diving header from McGuffie`s cross missing by just a few inches.
Nicky goes close with a diving header
The home side were well on top at that point, and it seemed to be only a matter of time before they scored again, and on 62 minutes they did just that. A cross from Lyle on the left was headed down by Carmichael and Gavin Reilly showed great composure in controlling the ball before creating space to fire his shot past Smith from 12-yards out. The fourth yellow card for the visitors was shown to Crawford after a rather crude challenge on Carmichael, as Queens continued to attack with purpose down both flanks.
Gavin spins around and strikes home
On a rare foray into the final third of the pitch, Ayr finally had a shot on target, but Roberts` effort from distance was easy for Lee Robinson. The `keeper then caused a moment of concern when his attempted clearance slipped from his hands which may have proved costly had any of the Ayr players been close enough to take advantage. The visitors finally created some pressure and won a couple of corners in quick succession, but nothing came from either. It was very obvious that Ayr were missing their leading scorer, and a player who has scored 20 of his teams 44 league goals, was always going to leave them struggling to find the net in his absence.
Queens` leading scorer Clark almost added another to his impressive total,only just failing to make a firm enough connection to an inviting cross from Lyle. The fifth and final yellow card of the game came with just 10 minutes to go when Hunter was cautioned for bringing Reilly down, it appeared that Hunter was the last man and he may have been fortunate not to see red as Reilly would have been through on goal.
The win was almost completed with what would have been a well deserved goal from Danny Carmichael, as he tried a curling shot from the edge of the box that produced a decent diving save from Smith. That was the last action of a game that Queens were always in control of, and on another day, may well have scored more than the two goals they did get. Man-of-the-match was given to Danny Carmichael, with most of the crowd of 1471 enjoying another victory for the champions elect.
Another Sponsors MoM for Danny
With Alloa being held at Stenhousemuir, the gap at the top has now grown to 20 points, and as Brechin still have 13 games left to play, the title wining game may just be the next one Queens play at Palmerston in 3 weeks time on Easter Saturday.