A goal in each half was enough to give Queens a comfortable victory as they eased to a 2-0 win in their 2nd division clash with Ayr United. The win, their 5th in succession, extended their unbeaten league run to 13 games, and it was only due to some fine goalkeeping from the visitors No 1, that prevented the winning margin being greater than it was.
Following three successive away games, all of which resulted in victories, Queens returned to Palmerston for the first time since their win over East Fife at the end of October, and after 2 games in 4 days last week, manager Allan Johnston decided to make just a single change to the team that started in Tuesday`s 5 star performance at Forfar as Paul Burns returned in place of Willie Gibson. Visitors Ayr, who arrived in Dumfries on a recent good run of just one defeat in their last 8 games began the day in fourth place, albeit some 15 points behind their table topping hosts.
Given the fact that the pitch had been subjected to a fair amount of rain over the past few days, as well as an overnight ground frost, the surface looked pretty decent at the start of the game, and it was Queens, lining up in a 4-4-2 formation who got the game underway.
The opening period saw Queens have plenty of possession, and an early attack down the right might have produced an opening goal, but after Paul Burns and Ryan McGuffie combined well to set up a shooting chance for Burns, `keeper Brown made the first of several saves by pushing the ball over for the games first corner. The delivery from Chris Mitchell was aimed at the far post where Burns smashed in a half-volley that produced an even better diving save from Brown. The visitors first venture forward saw them create a half chance but striker Moffat was unable to bring a spinning ball under control, and Lee Robinson was able to collect under no pressure. The trickery of Danny Carmichael created another chance for Burns on 14 minutes, but his effort did not have the power or direction to trouble Brown. The best chance that the visitors had in the early stages fell to Moffat, but Robinson was down quickly to make a smart save to preserve his clean sheet, and as play quickly switched to the other end, on 16 minutes, Queens took the lead. A foul on Clark midway inside the Ayr half down the right led to a free-kick, and Chris Mitchell-not for the first time this season-delivered a perfectly flighted cross into the box where Ryan MCguffie got ahead of his marker to guide a flicked header past the stranded Brown to score for the second game in a row.
McGuffie puts the ball into the bottoom corner to open the scoring
The goal was certainly merited, and Queens were playing some good football which was very pleasing on the eye, and it was clear that the players were continuing to play the way they had done in their recent games at both Arbroath and Forfar. They might well have extended their advantage after 25 minutes when Carmichael found Derek Young, his cross being headed narrowly over by Clark as Queens pressed for a second goal. Minutes later Brown produced a brilliant reflex stop reacting well to keep out a close range header from Young. The Ayr No1 almost went from hero to villain moments later when he miscued a clearance straight to Carmichael 30 yards from goal, but fortunately for the `keeper, Carmichael returned the ball straight into his arms.
Danny wins the race to the byeline and gets the cross in
Ayr player boss, Mark Roberts, forced Robinson to make a good save 5 minutes before the break, but it was Queens who had the best opportunity to add to the score. McGuffie and Lyle exchanged passes down the right wing, and after eluding the last defender McGuffie`s pull back from the bye-line fell nicely for Carmichael on the angle of the 6 yard box, but the winger missed his kick and the danger had gone. As the half came to an end, Queens were quite clearly on top and would have been further in front but for a fine first 45 from visiting `keeper Brown.
HALF-TIME QUEENS 1-0 AYR UTD
Neither side made any changes at the break and as the half settled down, it was the visitors who had the better of the play for the first few minutes, forcing an early corner, and then a shot from distance by Crawford that flew high and wide. To be honest that was really the only time that Queens came under any real pressure in the game for any length of time, and it wasn`t long before Queens regained the grip they had on the game as on 55 minutes they doubled their lead.
A sweeping move from left to right that went through Mitchell, McKenna and Burns allowed Burns the chance to break down the right wing before driving in a perfectly weighted cross to the back of the penalty area where Nicky Clark was on hand to knock home his 5th goal in 4 games, and his 16th in all competitions so far this season. Queens were in complete control at this point, and Burns should have made it 3-0 following more good play from Carmichael, but he shot wide when well placed at the back post. It was almost one way traffic towards the Ayr goal, and Lyle was next to go very close after Mitchell`s cross was headed inches over by the Queens striker. The attacks were coming thick and fast and Carmichael produced another good run and cross that was gathered by Brown just ahead of the onrushing Clark.
Clark adjusts his body to get a foot on the ball and steer it home
Although they were being outplayed for the most part, Ayr created a decent chance to reduce the arrears when a burst forward from Moffat set up a chance for Sinclair but with his shot seemingly going in, the ball was deflected wide by a very good block from Chris Higgins. On 70 minutes Carmichael did well to win the ball and send Clark racing through on the angle of the 6 yard box but once again `keeper Brown was equal to the in form striker`s effort, diving to his left to prevent a certain goal. Some of Queens play was superb, with neat , crisp passing at the forefront of many of their moves, and most of the 1935 fans in the biggest league crowd of the season to date, certainly enjoyed the football that their team delivered.
Stephen McKenna-who celebrates his 27th birthday tomorrow-went looking for an early present, probably remembering his `wonder` strike he got against Ayr almost a year ago, but his shot was hit straight at the `keeper. With just 8 minutes left, Ayr were awarded a free-kick just outside the area after Derek Young was penalised for a foul, but what could have turned into a dangerous situation was wasted when Sinclair`s effort was well off target. Queens then made all 3 changes as Lyle, Carmichael and Clark were replaced by Orsi, Reilly and Hopkirk-the latter making his first appearance at Palmerston. With the game moving into it`s final moments, Gavin Reilly had the opportunity to add a third goal deep into stoppage time, but from a narrow angle he was unable to get the better of Brown who once again did well to make the save.
McGuffie chases down
The sponsors named Ryan McGuffie as man of the match, and once again it was another solid performance from him and the rest of the back four as they notched up clean sheet number 9 from the 13 league games Queens have played. The gap at the top of the table remains at a very healthy 9 points and with a very exciting looking cup tie coming up against Kilmarnock next weekend, Queens will go into that game full of confidence and with every hope of giving their SPL opponents a challenging game.