Queen’s Park 2 Albion Rovers 2

QUEEN’S saw out 2018 with a derby and today we’re seeing in the New Year with another clash against nearly local rivals. So compliments of the season, dear reader, from Homer and Gulliver as we welcome Albion Rovers to herald our penultimate January at our Hampden Park home????

We ended the year in disappointing fashion at Broadwood last week. Mistakes apart, we can certainly plead mitigating circumstances in the 2-0 defeat to Clyde, what with our recent dearth of recognised centre backs. Our latest makeshift back line featured ‘wee’ midfielder Jamie McKernon at its centre as head coach Mark Roberts got creative.

We have struggled in the past few weeks at both ends of the park without suspended centre half Gerry McLauchlan and injured top scorer Lewis Hawke, so it was a relief to see both back in the team for the visit of Rovers.

But that relief was tempered by the news that keeper Jordan Hart, an ever present this season, was missing with flu, and young Kieran McDougall came in for his first senior start a fortnight short of his 18th birthday.

Adam Martin started, and other changes from last week saw Calvin McGrory, Lewis Magee, Smart Osadolor all drop to the bench.

So, all change then as we set about addressing that sticky spell that has seen us lose six of our last seven games, with no goals in five our last six.

If we can cut out the mistakes – and convert some of the chances we continue to create (one fewer shots on target than Clyde last week) – then we’ll be shooting up the table in no time during the second half of the campaign!

Albion Rovers may be looking cut adrift at the foot of the table, eight points behind ninth-placed Berwick and a comforting 13 behind the Spiders, but this will be no easy 90 minutes for QP – and certainly not with our history of benevolence towards the bottom clubs (East Stirling being a painful case in point) that has extended well beyond this supposed season of goodwill.

There was local interest, too, in the Rovers team, with ex-Spiders Gregor Fotheringham and Bryan Wharton lining up against their old mates.

And it was Fotheringham who kicked off for the visitors, knocking the ball back for Wharton to fire his trademark  diagonal ball out of play under the main stand.

We had seven minutes of sparring before Queen’s mounted  their first threat. Young Martin showed good pace to get to the byeline, where he stepped inside the full back with a neat stop, and his inswinging cross was headed clear as Hawke prepared to meet it with his own header.

McDougall comfortably dealt with Rovers’ first threat, a header from Fotheringham, a minute later, but it was Queen’s who made the breakthrough after 13 minutes.

Summers swung over a corner from the right, Hawke this time connected at the near post to flick it on, and McLaren nodded it in at the back post for his first senior goal.

But the lead lasted just a minute, as Queen’s failed to cut out Escuriola’s cross from the right and Rodgers shot high into the roof of the net almost from on the goal-line.

Elementary stuff from Queen’s having just gone ahead, and it got worse in 19 minutes when Rovers took the lead.

Escuriola again set it up, beating McKernon and getting through the defence too easily to set up Fotheringham in the box to fire low under the helpless McDougall.

Well, that’s a turnaround. And to think we were looking comfortable! We’re taking benevolence to a new level.

There was added disruption for Queen’s in 26 minutes, when Summers went off injured and Magee took his place. So from a position of having only one central defender to call on recently, we now had three in the back four.

Stunned would be the best description for the home support. That almost changed in 29 minutes, when Martin brought out a good save from the Rovers trialist keeper, and Queen’s then twice went close with blocked shots after two subsequent corners.

But Queen’s were struggling to find any spark, and disaster struck in 36 minutes when McLauchlan and Roberts had a sickening clash of heads when going for the same high ball just inside the Rovers half.

McLauchlan, who has been in the wars recently, was helped off, holding a dressing to his bleeding forehead, and Roberts followed him up the tunnel shortly after, having had treatment on his mouth.

Calvin McGrory and Kieran Moore replaced them, with McKernon again dropping back into defence and Gow into his place. So much for that surfeit of centre backs!

The rejigged Spiders managed to reach half-time without further alarm. Over to you, coach Roberts.

Half-time: Queen’s Park 1 Albion Rovers 2

The lively Escuriola, who had been a handful, was booked a minute into the restart for tugging back Gow, and it was Queen’s who showed first as McLaren sent Grant down the right and his cross was turned behind by Martin.

Come the hour and it had turned into a bit of a slog for Queen’s, as we struggled to find any rhythm or create any openings.

Byrne, another success for Rovers, could have made more of a break in 64 minutes but he overran the ball with support wide.

Escuriola was replaced by Gallagher in 67 minutes, and the change was followed by a fine QP equaliser that belied our poor form.

Moore fired over a dipping cross from wide right  – our first decent delivery of the day – and there was the Hawke to steer a good header into the net.

Moore came close a minute later to giving Queen’s what two minutes earlier would have been an unlikely lead, with a back heel that the keeper held under pressure from Hawke.

But we certainly had a game now, and it could go either way.

Martin came so close in 79, taking down a Peters pass 12 yards out and firing straight at the keeper, but Queen’s had young McDougall to thank for keeping them level when Byrne – looking miles offside – was allowed to drive into the box and unleash a shot that the teenager did brilliantly to block with his legs. Well done, young man.

As the action swung from end to end, Moore won a free kick 20 yards out and Gow sent it narrowly over the bar, then the veteran set up Grant for the final chance of the game, a shot blocked for a corner that was cleared.

We’ll settle for the draw! Keep the Faith.

Queen’s Park: Kieran McDougall, James Grant,  Ciaran Summers, Jamie McKernon, Gerry McLauchlan, Dominic McLaren, Kurtis Roberts, Lewis Hawke, Alan Gow, Josh Peters, Adam Martin. Subs: Scott McLean, Kieran Moore, Lewis Magee, Billy Mortimer, Euan East, Smart Osadolor, Calvin McGrory.

Albion Rovers: Trialist, Sean Fagan, Scott Forrester, Bryan Wharton, Jason Krones, Rohan Kearney, Ben Reilly, Gregor Fotheringham, Declan Byrne, Gerard Hernando Escuriola, Shaun Rodgers. Subs: Jamie Watson, Lawrence McMahon, Barry Eley, Ben Dailly, Daniel Potts, Paul McGeough, Jaime Gallagher.

Referee: John McKendrick