Queen of the South suffered their first defeat in 20 matches and first of 2013 as they fell 2-1 to Stenhousemuir at a blustery Ochilview Park.
With the league title already secured in addition to the Ramsdens Cup the Queens players may be forgiven for taking their foot of the pedal. This combined with changes to the regular starting lineup as Pat Slattery and Steven Black made their second and third starts of the season respectively saw Stenhousemuir take advantage by catching the Doonhamers on the counter-attack.
Queens dominated much of the contest but Stenhousemuir took the lead after 28 minutes through Darren Smith`s low finish before Chris Mitchell curled in a fantastic free-kick on half-time to send the teams in level. Queens upped the tempo in the second half and created numerous chances but were unable to capitalise allowing Stenhousemuir to steal the win on the counter through Sean Dickson`s header.
The match began with both teams struggling to come to terms with the strong wind as high balls became increasingly difficult to judge but it was the Dumfries side who took early control of the contest and almost opened up the home defence after just five minutes but Chris Smith in the Stenny goal rushed out to grab the ball at the feet of Nicky Clark.
Chris Higgins then had the ball in the net as he met Chris Mitchell`s crossed free-kick with a powerful header only to see the linesman`s flag go up to disallow the goal.
Higgins heads home from an offside position
Stenhousemuir had threatened sporadically through long range efforts but opened the scoring as Sean Dickson`s throughball found Darren Smith who made no mistake as he fired the ball low past Lee Robinson from the edge of the area.
Nicky Clark then created the best opportunity of the match so far for Queens as he raced into the left-hand channel before cutting onto his right foot and hitting what looked to be a goal-bound shot only for Kevin McKinlay to pull off an outstanding block.
Despite that opportunity Stenhousemuir were the better of the two teams with the goal giving them increased confidence and Jamie Reid epitomised this increase in confidence as he attempted to lob Lee Robinson from range only for the wind to carry his effort clear of the crossbar.
Queens were still carrying a threat though as Pat Slattery fired in a fierce low drive that Chris Smith did well to hold before Chris Mitchell`s quality from set-pieces told once again.
The foul on Clark was to the left of centre of the pitch, about 25 yards from goal, in a perfect position for a free-kick taker of Mitchell`s class. He made no mistake as he curled the ball across the goalkeeper and into the top left corner to save Queens` first half blushes as the referee called an end to the half.
With their manager`s words ringing in their ears, Queens came out with much more verve and intensity as they looked to rush and harry the Stenhousemuir defence and to create chances.
They did so as Nicky Clark got in down the left to cut back for Derek Lyle to strike but the experienced forward could not catch the shot properly and scuffed over the bar.
Stenhousemuir then had an opportunity as David Rowson had a good chance to shoot from inside the box but put his shot well over the bar. Stenhousemuir were restricted to brief counter attacks as Queens were in control of the match and created a wonderful chance on 51 minutes as Dan Carmichael beat the offside trap before overcooking his touch to allow the defence a chance to recover and his rushed cutback for Nicky Clark was cleared.
Danny heads for goal
The pattern of play with Queens controlling the match and Stenhousemuir sitting in before breaking on the counter continued as Stenny`s John Gemmell had a shot from wide following some slack passing in the Queens midfield before Lyle had a half-chance from eight yards but could not get his effort on target.
The sucker punch came after 72 minutes as the industrious Jamie Reid found space on the right wing and his cross found Sean Dickson free at the back post to head beyond Robinson making the score 2-1.
Nicky Clark had a golden chance to level the scores just minutes later as he pounced on a defensive mistake to sprint clear of the chasing defence but he was denied by the feet of Chris Smith as the `keeper raced out to meet him.
Nicky takes a tumble in the box
The home side were happy to sit and defend their lead and Queens struggled to find a way through. Their best effort came from another Chris Mitchell free-kick but this time he could not find the net as his low effort clipped the wall before being pushed wide by Chris Smith.
The Second Division pushed for a late leveller but struggled to create any real chances and despite being on top for the vast majority of the contest fell to just their second defeat of the league season.