Stirling Albion 1 Queen’s Park 1

Whoever originally said that the best form of defence was attack might have had the ear of Queen’s Gaffer Mark Roberts in the run up to today’s trip to Stirling.

Injuries have left the Spiders a shade short on the defensive side recently, so there was a lot of speculation about the likely line-up for Forthbank. Despite all the guesses, it’s fair to say that nobody would have predicted that we would take the field with only TWO recognised defenders.

The surprises began on Friday with the news that former fans’ favourite David Galt was returning to Hampden. But even that welcome news was overshadowed when the teamlines were released before today’s clash with Stirling Albion. It wasn’t the number of personnel changes that raised the eyebrows – only three of last week’s XI didn’t feature from the start at Forthbank – but rather the shape of the team.

Jordan Hart was in goals, but after that the “predicted” defence took a very unexpected turn. Billy Mortimer replaced James Grant at right wingback, with Scott McLean occupying the left sided slot. The back three contained the two recognised defenders – Scott Gibson and Dominic McLaren, and they were joined by Jamie McKernon. Kurtis Roberts returned in midfield along with Calvin McGrory, leaving Alan Gow, David Galt and Lewis Hawke to provide the goal threat. Adam Martin, who had a successful operation after suffering a broken ankle last Saturday, and Lewis Magee were the other players who didn’t feature.

It was one of those selections that would either leave the Gaffer looking a right eejit, or – hopefully – a brave man who could pull a rabbit out of the hat when it was most needed.

The early indications were that the verdict was going to be the former as the home side settled best and were soon on the front foot. Hart’s first action of the afternoon came after just five minutes when he had to deal with a decent effort from the lively Jardine. And just four minutes later, Queen’s were behind. McGrory looked to be held back by Jardine, but while the Spiders appealed, the Stirling playmaker stroked a simple ball through our defence and Smith applied the finishing touch.

Albion continued to hold the upper hand for a spell, but the good news for the travelling support was that they didn’t carve out many chances. And ever so slowly, signs began to emerge that the experimental Spiders selection could provide results.

Galt produced some neat touches to earn early corners, while Mortimer and McLean looked to be enjoying their different roles. Mortimer, in particular, started to find space on the right and one interchange with Galt produced the game’s first booking as Allan simply kicked out at his opponent to stop him going forward.

As the midway point in the first half approached, Queen’s came ever so close to getting level. Following a Galt corner, Roberts saw a goalbound strike blocked before being scrambled clear.

Albion then forced a couple of routine stops from Hart before the Spiders were again threatening. Firstly, a Galt corner was headed over by Hawke and then Roberts saw a backheeled effort cleared off the line. Lewis followed in on that clearance, but just as he looked to have forced the ball home, McGeachie came to his side’s rescue with a last-gasp clearance.

It seemed a goal had to come sooner rather than later. The worry was that as has happened so often in the rotten run we’ve endured recently the goal would come against us on a breakaway. Thankfully, this time, the goal came at the “right” end. Galt took possession on the left and as he turned away from Banner, the defender brought him down. Referee Fordyce pointed to the spot, and McLean stroked the penalty home low to the keeper’s right.

The equaliser was no more than Queen’s deserved and they were soon looking for an even better return. McLean set off on a stonking run after intercepting a crossfield pass, but his final shot was held by the now busy Stirling keeper.

Skipper Gibson was next to try his luck, but his right-footed shot was well taken by Ferrie. The home side were now struggling to get out, and Queen’s were unfortunate – twice – as McLean and Hawke saw efforts cleared right on the line.

With half-time approaching, the Binos fired a warning shot across our bows when Ashmore had a powerful free-kick blocked by the Queen’s wall.

Right on the whistle, McGrory went into the book for a sliding challenge. He could have no real complaints about the yellow card, but the visiting support had plenty to say about the “Lazarus-style” recovery made by Ashmore, who had looked badly hurt when the tackle went in.

Half-time

Stirling Albion 1 Queen’s Park 1.

The second period began with the Spiders still on top, and they won their first corner after less than a minute. It was easily cleared, but seconds later a delightful Gow pass released the rampaging Mortimer. Billy did everything right as he cut back and gave himself a shooting opportunity. Sadly, the final effort failed to match the build-up and Ferrie gathered with ease.

Stirling made their first change at this point, replacing Hughes with Thomas. However, it was the visitors who continued to press and should have gone ahead after 55 minutes. Galt was the provider as he found room on the right and his cutback was met by Hawke. It looked as if he had to score, but Ferrie had other ideas and blocked the point-blank effort.

Cue another change from the home side, with Wright coming on for McLaughlin.

This time the substitution almost produced dramatic results as the Binos mounted their first concerted attacks of the second period. Just before the hour, a McLaren foul gave the home side a shooting opportunity which had to be headed behind for a corner. As the cross was swung in, the ball ricocheted about before falling invitingly for MacDonald. His shot had goal written all over it, but Scott Gibson hadn’t read that script and flung himself in the way to block the shot.

The escape spurred the Spiders back into action and McLaren was agonisingly close to putting us in front when he got his knee to a Galt corner, but then saw his effort clear the bar.

Gow was becoming more influential in an attacking midfield role now and saw three decent efforts saved by Ferrie within the space of a few minutes. For Stirling, sub Wright produced their closest thing – heading over from the centre of the box.

With just less than 20 minutes to go, we saw a flurry of changes. Galt’s productive shift came to an end when the exhausted midfielder came off to a tremendous ovation and was replaced by the energetic Kieran Moore. Mackin replaced MacDonald for the home side before Gibson limped off. Here’s hoping it’s nothing serious – and maybe just a reaction to the stretch for his block a few minutes earlier. Euan East came on for Gibby with the reshuffle seeing Hawke drop back into the centre of defence.

The final period of the match saw both sides have their moments, with most of them coming the way of the visitors.

Ferrie’s first stop, from another Gow effort, went into the “expect-to-save” category. The same couldn’t be said for the way he flew across his goal moments later to turn away a powerful drive from East. He also denied the same player with a smart stop at his near post.

Wright and Ashmore saw shots blocked for Albion before Gow released Moore. The striker’s pace took him in on goal, but his shot was blocked – as was the follow-up effort.

Right on time, the visiting support thought the breakthrough had finally arrived. Hawke flew in to meet a McGrory corner. The header was powerful enough … but somehow sailed wide.

There was still a chance for Albion to try to ruin the day, and Mackin wasn’t a million miles away with a curling effort deep into stoppage time.

That was the last incident of a cracking game of football. Stats can tell you anything you want to take from them, but a couple of points leap out from today’s analysis. Firstly, there were no fewer than 30 shots on goal; 20 of them coming from Queen’s. Perhaps more encouraging from a Hampden point of view was the fact that 10 of these were on target – evidence if any was needed to back up the player of the day award for the home keeper.

Mark Roberts was disappointed in his post-match comments that we didn’t come home with three points in the bag, but the Gaffer was delighted with the performance of all 11 player.

He was particularly chuffed – given the run that we’ve been on – that the heads didn’t go down when we conceded the early goal. The character … and the level of skill … produced by the Spiders today gives us all hope for the remainder of the season. It also gives the Gaffer a big selection headache when the Hampden casualty ward starts to empty.

Could the rollercoaster be set for another upward spiral?

Keep the Faith.