Queens chances of reaching the end of season play-offs suffered a slight setback this afternoon as they were beaten 2-1 by fellow play-off contenders, Falkirk. In a game that saw the visitors reduced to ten men midway through the second half, Queens fought their way back into the match after falling two goals behind, and although they created enough chances to level the game, the visitors were able to hold on to record a vital victory that moved them to within two points of second placed Hamilton.
Queens returned to action after a week off due to Raith`s involvement in the Ramsdens Cup Final, and manager, Jim McIntyre made two changes to the team that started the game against Morton 14 days ago, as both Mark Kerr, and Derek Lyle were replaced by Stephen McKenna, and Bob McHugh with Kerr`s injury problem keeping him out of the squad altogether. Joint top scorer, Iain Russell,who had also been undergoing treatment was passed fit and was able to be named amongst the substitutes. Visitors Falkirk had to contend with the absence of their leading scorer, Dumfries born- Rory Loy who missed out through suspension, and defender Kieran Duffie also missed out due to injury. Having won their last 3 games without conceding a goal, the `Bairns` began the day knowing that if they could avoid defeat, a play-off place would be theirs, although starting just four points off of top spot, they were still very much in contention to gain automatic promotion.
The game was 15 minutes late in starting as two of the match officials had been delayed in heavy traffic on their way to Dumfries, but eventually on a sunny, but windy afternoon for football, it was the home side who got the game under way, and attacking the Terregles Street end, they forced an early corner after Paul Burns and Bob McHugh combined down the right. As is usual, Chris Mitchell was on set-piece duty and his delivery to the near post was well defended by centre back Flynn under great pressure from Mark Durnan . With eight minutes gone Falkirk created their first opening of the game when an excellent cross by Millar following a free-kick only just evaded the onrushing pair of Beck and Flynn.
That was about as good as it got footballing wise for the next 10 or so minutes as both teams struggled to find any rhythm to their play with players from both sides taking it in turn to give the ball away at will. The tedium was broken just short of the twenty minute mark when Stephen McKenna cracked a shot goalwards, but his powerful drive went straight at `keeper McGurn who saved comfortably. The game began to slowly come to life, and following a corner, Queens `keeper, Zander Clark saved well to keep out McCracken`s close range header, and as the ball was played back into the box, another header, this time from Flynn, only just failed to find the net. At the other end, the pass of the half from McKenna found Gavin Reilly on the left, but as the striker tried to get past the final defender, Vaulks made a timely challenge to halt the Queens attack.
Reilly worked tirelessly
A break from midfield involving McHugh and Ian McShane led to Queens gaining another corner, and from the resulting set-piece they came mightily close to taking the lead. Once more Mitchell`s delivery was precise as he picked out the head of Andy Dowie at the far post, but the defender`s header was well saved by McGovern at the expense of another corner. This time unfortunately on trying the same routine, Mitchell`s delivery was slightly over-hit and Dowie`s connection only succeeded in putting the ball out for a throw in. The visitors were just starting to have the upperhand and the impressive Millar went very close when his shot from just outside the box whistled inches past the near upright as Clark watched on. An even better chance came the way of the visitors minutes later as the home defence struggled to clear the ball from a corner, they breathed a collective sigh of relief as Vaulks blasted his effort from 10-yards out well over the bar.
Queens best chance of the half came after 39 minutes, and once more it came as a result of another set play. Paul Burns did extremely well to win his side a corner on the right, and Mitchell`s delicate cross into the near post was met by Stephen McKenna`s flicked header that came back off the crossbar. It was hard luck on Queens and as the half moved towards it`s conclusion, the home side would have felt somewhat aggreived not to have found the breakthrough. They created two further half chances in quick succession as firstly, Reilly worked himself an opening before shooting tamely straight at McGovern, and then Ian McShane tried his luck from just outside the area, his effort also causing McGovern no difficulty.There was to be one final chance in the first half and it went to Falkirk. With the Queens defence being guilty of playing themselves into trouble deep inside their own half, Falkirk won a free-kick as McKenna was penalised and McCracken`s glancing header from Millar`s perfect delivery did not miss by much. That was the final piece of action of the half, a half that limped along for the most part, but certainly got better towards the latter stages, although once again in the four meetings between the sides this season, Queens could not find a goal in the opening forty-five minutes.
McKenna heads against the post
HALF-TIME QUEENS 0-0 FALKIRK
There were no changes at the break and the pattern of the early stages of the half followed that of the opening half as most of the play was confined to the middle of the park, as both teams continued to give the ball away with alarming frequency. However, once the game settled, it was the visitors who began to have more of the possession and a shot from Alston produced a smart save from Clark. Backed by a very decent travelling support Falkirk at last started to play some decent passing football, although their approach play wasn`t matched by their play in the final third.
The next thing of note was a double substitution by Queens just short of the hour mark as both Bob McHugh and Michael Paton were withdrawn and replaced by Derek Lyle and Iain Russell. The substitutes had barely enough time to move into their respective positions as less than 90 seconds later, Falkirk had bagged the opening goal. A combination of Alston and McGrandles carved out an opening for Alston just inside the penalty box, and the youngster produced a sublime finish by bending the ball past Clark`s despairing dive. Queens responded well to going behind, and might have drawn level almost instantly, but Reilly`s powerful drive following a quick Queens break, lacked composure and flew wide of the target. Less than a minute later, things got even worse for the home support in the crowd of 1863 as the visitors doubled their advantage, and unfortunately the goal came following a defensive error. A long ball from defence seemed to pose no problems for Queens but an error of judgement by Andy Dowie allowed Mark Beck to latch on to his weak back header and calmly lift the ball over the head of the advancing Zander Clark and although Mark Durnan managed to get to the ball, it had already crossed the line as he attempted to clear.
Alston produced a superb finish to give the visitors the lead
Falkirk were clearly well in control at that point, and they had chances to increase their lead when a Millar free-kick was pushed away by Clark, and then Beck went close moments later as Queens began to rock under the pressure. The introduction of Russell did liven up the Queens attack, and the joint top scorer was to prove pivotal over the course of the next ten minutes. Queens best chance of scoring looked likely to come from a set-piece, and sure enough after 67 minutes they got themselves right back into the game following a corner. Mitchell`s outswinging corner picked out Iain Russell just inside the penalty area and his header back across goal found Chris Higgins who thumped a shot against the bar, fortunately for Queens the ever alert Gavin Reilly reacted quickest of all to thump a shot into the net to give the home side some hope. That goal meant that Reilly has now scored in the last five consecutive home games- not sure when that feat was last achieved, that`s one for the `statto`s to look up- but it certainly lifted the mood around 3 sides of Palmerston.
Reilly fires past McGovern to give the home side some hope
There was a Queens debut for on-loan Celtic man, Lewis Kidd who replaced Ian McShane straight after the goal, and moments later, Queens were handed what seemed to be another boost when Falkirk were reduced to 10 men. Iain Russell showed good pace to escape one defender but after trying to get the better of Flynn, the Falkirk player was a bit late with his tackle and his mis-timed challenge was seen by referee Allan to be worthy of an instant dismissal. A late challenge certainly, but a red card? that decision did seem a bit harsh. However, 11 against 10 it was for the final quarter of the game, and pretty much most of the remainder of the contest was played out in the Falkirk half of the pitch with Queens enjoying most of the possession. They did get the ball in the net shortly after the sending off, but Lyle was penalised for pushing the `keeper at yet another Queens corner.Unfortunately for all the pressure that they put on the Falkirk defence, it has to be said that they only really went close to equalising on one occasion when McKenna picked out a lovely through ball to find Kidd, but the youngster was really unlucky to see his shot crash against the foot of the post before the ball was scrambled clear. With time running out Queens were just not able to find the right pass to unlock the resolute visiting defence, and when McGrandles and Russell tangled in the box, the half-hearted appeals for a penalty were quickly subdued by the roar of delight from the travelling support as the referee ended the contest.
As the other results filtered through the reality of the defeat began to sink in, as Queens are now joined on 48 points by Dumbarton whom we visit next weekend, although the game in hand-at Raith on Tuesday- could see Queens move clear again if the result is favourable. For the second home game in a row, Gavin Reilly was named as sponsors man-of-the-match, although for the majority inside Palmerston the outcome was hugely disappointing.