A first senior hat-trick from leading scorer Nicky Clark paved the way for Queens to extend their lead at the top of the table to 9 points as they ended their home fixtures for the calendar year by defeating local rivals Stranraer 4-1. With the score being level at the break, Queens produced a superb second half performance, and could easily have scored more than the three they did score.
The match was the first in a spell of 4 games in 10 days for Queens, and after Alloa reduced the gap at the top of the table to six points following their win over Forfar at the weekend, Queens went into the game knowing that a victory would see them extend their lead to 9 points once again. Manager Allan Johnston made two changes to the team that began against Brechin 11 days ago with Derek Lyle and Stephen McKenna being replaced by Gavin Reilly and Kevin Holt, the latter starting for the first time since the Stenhousemuir game back in October.
Before kick-off a minutes silence was observed to pay respect to Queens legend `Big Jim` Patterson, who sadly passed away recently. The striker, who scored a club record 251 goals for Queens, was one of the first players to be inducted into the Queens Hall of Fame, and although he will be sorely missed by all, his legendary status will remain forever.
The game began with Queens attacking the Portland Drive end of the ground, and they almost opened the scoring as early as the 4th minute when Danny Carmichael was on the end of a Willie Gibson cross, but his header whilst under pressure from a Stranraer defender, flew over the bar. Playing a 4-4-2 formation with Gibson on the left, Queens early attacking play was almost always going down the left channel, and more good work from Gibson created a crossing opportunity for Holt, and although Reilly was able to challenge for the ball in the area, he was penalised for a foul and a free-kick was given. Stranraer striker Michael Moore was starting to cause Queens a few problems with his style of play, and although not all of his actions were entirely legitimate, it was clear that he was a key figure for the visitors in the way they built their attacking moves. A mistake by Chris Higgins saw the ball fall nicely into the path of Moore, but Mark Durnan was able to block the shot and the danger was cleared.
On 14 minutes Queens went close to breaking the deadlock when Carmichael and McGuffie combined well down the right and Carmichael`s shot from the angle was well saved by Stranraer `keeper Mitchell. Minutes later Stranraer did what no other team has done in the league at Palmerston this season so far, they opened the scoring. After winning a free-kick wide on the right, the visitors went in front when centre back McKeown got on the end of Aitken`s perfectly flighted cross to power a header past Lee Robinson`s outstretched hand and into the top corner. The first booking of the game, not surprisingly went to Moore, after avoiding a caution for being late on Gibson minutes earlier, the Stranraer striker was quite rightly shown yellow for a lunge on Holt on the left touchline. For a short spell Queens became a bit sloppy, and the normal sharp, quick tempo passing that has been so much in evidence this season was missing, but fortunately that didn`t last for too long, and on 31 minutes Queens drew level. Gibson picked up the ball on the left and after jinking past two players delivered a cross into the penalty area where Nicky Clark was on hand to glance a header into the far corner to claim his 18th goal of the season.
Clark rises high to equalise
Having got back into the game, Queens almost took the lead following a free-kick on the right. With everyone expecting a cross into the box, Chris Mitchell instead played the ball low towards Clark and the striker`s movement allowed him to create the space to hit a drive that was well kept out by the legs of Mitchell. In the dying minutes of the half, Mitchell and McGuffie combined well to create a half chance, but McGuffie was unable to direct his header into the path of a team-mate, and the ball was swept away to safety by a covering defender.
HALF-TIME QUEENS 1-1 STRANRAER
From the start of the 2nd period it was evident that Queens had stepped up a gear, and Gibson may well have crowned what had been an impressive performance by him with a second goal for Queens, but `keeper Mitchell produced another superb save to keep out his effort from 20- yards. The resultant corner from Mitchell fell to Gibson on the edge of the box, but in choosing to take a touch before shooting, he allowed Dunlop to close his shot down and the chance had gone. However, it wasn`t all one way traffic, and Queens were given the benefit of the doubt minutes later, when Malcolm had the ball in the net only to be given offside. The decision looked pretty close from my position, and thankfully for Queens they got the break.
Queens had started to play some very neat football, and as the half wore on, they began to dominate the game. A delightful flowing move down the right involving Reilly, Carmichael and McGuffie almost opened up the visitors defence, but Carmichael`s final pass was just too strong for McGuffie who ran out of pitch. The pressure was building and Gibson produced a good turn of speed to go past two defenders before being scythed down by a late tackle from Staunton, but play was allowed to continue with Carmichael breaking on the left just unable to find the well marked Reilly with his cross.The referee then booked Staunton for the challenge, and although Gibson initially returned to the game, he was unable to continue and was replaced by Dan Orsi, with Carmichael switching wings from right to left.
Gibson`s game comes to an end
The goal that Queens were threatening to score finally arrived after 63 minutes following another quick break. Lee Robinson`s quick clearance fell into the path of Reilly and the youngster had the presence of mind to wait until the overlapping McGuffie was in position to deliver a perfect cross for Nicky Clark to side foot home from close range. Having gone ahead for the first time in the game, the confidence grew amongst the Queens players, and they began to knock the ball around with accuracy and composure, and a deep cross from Holt created a shooting chance for Dan Orsi at the far post, but the substitute`s effort was blocked away. Carmichael was shown a yellow card on 66 minutes for a late challenge on halfway, but just 3 minutes later, Queens scored a third goal. After getting the better of a defender inside the area on the left Nicky Clark completed his first senior hat-trick by cutting inside and drilling a well placed shot across Mitchell into the far corner, for his 20th goal of the season.
A hat-trick for Clark
With Queens well on top and looking likely to score with every attack, Reilly was next to go close, his shot from distance being not too far wide of the target. Hat-trick hero Clark was given a standing ovation as he was replaced by Kevin Smith with 14 minutes to go, and an attempted lob from distance by Carmichael forced Mitchell to watch carefully as he made the save. Queens final change saw the manager come on for Carmichael, and almost immeadiately, Queens added a fourth goal. As the ball bounced loose in midfield it was collected by Kevin Smith who bundled his way into the area and after seemingly losing control of the ball, he battled away to regain possession before slamming the ball past Mitchell from close range.
Smith finds a way through
The manager almost added a fith goal following a cross from Orsi, and when the whistle blew it confirmed that Queens had moved 9 points clear of the pack again after what was a superb second half performance. The attendance of 2122, the best league crowd of the season to date, were treated to some very entertaining football and as the year draws to an end, Queens find themselves in a very good position at the head of the table. Sponsors named hat-trick hero Nicky Clark as man-of-the-match, and on a day when Queens legend, Jim Paterson was remembered, it was perhaps quite fitting that this season`s leading scorer made the headlines.