Queens cruised to a comfortable 2-0 victory over South West rivals Stranraer at Palmerston this afternoon, as a goal in each half saw them take another step towards beating Gretna`s record 88 points total set back in the 2005/06 season.
Following last weekend`s thrilling Ramsdens cup penalty shoot out victory, Queens boss Allan Johnston, made 5 changes to the team that began against Partick, with Chris Mitchell, Marc Fitzpatrick,Stephen McKenna, Derek Lyle, and Chris Higgins all making way, to be replaced by Ryan McGuffie, Kevin Holt,Paul Burns, and Steven Black. There was also a first team debut for young Pat Slattery who slotted into midfield alongside the experienced Derek Young.
Youngster Slattery took over the Stephen McKenna role
The visitors, desperate for points to try and avoid the relegation play-off spot, arrived at Palmerston with 2 wins, 2 draws, and just one defeat from their last 5 games, although their form against Queens in recent seasons has not been good, and it was 3 wins from 3 this season for the 2nd Division champions before kick-off today.
As in the last home game against Brechin, the visitors sportingly welcomed Queens onto the pitch as they formed a guard of honour, whilst the crowd of 1806 warmly applauded their `double` winning heroes out into the warm April sunshine.
McGuffie leads his side through the Guard of Honour
Queens began in their usual 4-4-2 formation, with a new front pairing of Clark, and Paton, but there was a quiet, somewhat tentative start to the opening period of the game, with neither side showing much composure on the ball . The home side were certainly having much more of the early possession, but on too many occasions, the final pass was just not there. Having made quite a few changes, there seemed to be a lack of cohesion about Queens during the first quarter, but slowly they began to take control of the game, and after 14 minutes, Slattery had the game`s first half chance, but his shot from 25 yards was always drifting wide of the near post. The youngster was involved again minutes later as Queens won their first corner of the game. With regular set-piece taker Chris Mitchell watching on from the stand, Paul Burns, took the first corner, and his deep cross picked out Slattery on the edge of the box, and his drive on the volley was blocked away by the under pressure Stranraer defence. Little was seen of the visitors as an attacking force, but on a rare breakaway they won their first corner, but nothing came of it as Queens cleared comfortably.
After 24 minutes, the best chance of the opening spell fell to Queens. Following a quickly taken free-kick by Young, Ryan McGuffie, skipper for the day in the absence of Chris Higgins, broke clear down the right and delivered a well placed cross into the 6- yard area for Michael Paton, but his header was slightly mis-timed and `keeper Mitchell saved easily. Moments later, Queens attacked down the right again, however, this time McGuffie`s excellent cross found no takers and the ball drifted out of play.
Queens were certainly well on top at this point, and it was no surprise that on 31 minutes they went in front, although there was certainly a surprise about the goalscorer. After winning possession in midfield, Queens broke forward and the ball eventually broke to Young inside the penalty area, the midfielder slipped a neat pass inside the full back finding Holt almost on the bye-line, and when the Queens left back`s attempted cross fell back into his path, from close range, Kevin Holt blasted home his first ever goal for Queens. With their tails up, Queens began to play with an increased tempo, and Michael Paton almost doubled their advantage after Clark and Burns had combined well to create a chance for the former Aberdeen man, but his attempt from 14 yards out missed the target and flew wide. The same player had another chance minutes later when having been set up by Burns, he cut back inside onto his right foot, but unfortunately curled his shot a couple of feet wide of the far post.
Kevin Holt fires home the opener
HALF-TIME QUEENS 1-0 STRANRAER
There were no changes made by either side at the break, and the pattern of the early stages of the second period mirrored that of the first half, with Queens dominating possession, but not being able to get in behind the visiting defence. It was 12 minutes into the half before a shot of any significance arose, and it was goalscorer Kevin Holt who was at the heart of the attack. His long ball down the left wing found Clark who was able to hold the ball up before playing the ball back into the path of Holt who`s first time effort from the edge of the area was comfortably held by Mitchell.
Just after the hour mark, Queens leading scorer Clark had his first real chance of the game, but after holding his run perfectly to stay onside,the pass from Danny Carmichael just ran away from him and the chance was gone. Derek Lyle replaced Derek Young after 63 minutes, and the substitute was involved in a flowing Queens move that saw them go very close to doubling their lead. Holt did superbly well once more down the left, and his pinpoint cross found Lyle inside the area, and his cushioned header that set up a shooting chance for Clark should have been rewarded with a goal, but the top scorer hit his shot wide of the far post.
In an effort to liven up their attacking options Stranraer introduced Michael Moore for the last quarter of the game, but even he could not turn things round as his side were made to look very ordinary by a Queens team playing at much less than full throttle. The second goal almost arrived with 15 minutes to go. Clark chased after a long ball down the left and his square pass into the 6-yard box seemed to be perfect for Lyle, but as the substitute prepared to prod the ball home, Stranraer defender Dunlop slid in to knock the ball behind for a corner. However, the home fans did not have to wait much longer for the second goal as a minute later Queens scored again. Once again the break came down the left wing, and after controlling the ball and racing past the last defender, Nicky Clarkproduced a neat finish - with the help of the near post - to score his 35th goal of what has been a tremendous season for the former Aberdeen player.
Nicky Clark fires home his 35th of the season
and acknowledges the crowd on the terracing
No sooner had he scored, as in last weekend`s cup final victory, Clark was substituted, with Kevin Smith coming on to replace this seasons Scottish football`s leading goalscorer. Smith almost scored with his first touch, after some audacious skill from Lyle set up Carmichael to deliver a cross that ended with Smith being thwarted by a good save from Mitchell. With time almost up, and Queens well in control, McGuffie came close to adding a third goal for Queens but his shot across the face of the goal crept narrowly past the far post. Queens made their final change with just 5 minutes remaining, Marc Fitzpatrick replacing the tiring Michael Paton.
The final whistle saw Queens collect their 15th home league win of the season, and they also completed a fourth win over Stranraer this season, conceding just once to their South West rivals. Man of the match went to Danny Carmichael, and as Queens rested several players, both Steven Black, and Pat Slattery gave very accomplished performances that bode well for the future of the club. Gretna`s points record is now clearly within sight for a Queens team that has performed superbly well all season, and it is to be hoped that the team can create another piece of history in the weeks ahead. Only East Fife stand in the way of Queens going through their home league programme undefeated this campaign, and the way the team have played throughout this season, there is every possibility that they can maintain that record.
The Ramsdens Cup is paraded around the ground at the end of the match