Livingston 1 Queen’s Park 2

The festive fixture calendar certainly didn’t do Queen’s any favours when it scheduled away trips in successive weeks to promotion contenders Alloa and title favourites Livingston. But having brought home a point last week from the ground formerly known as Recreation Park, the Hampden faithful dared to dream that they might be able to do the same on today’s visit to the ground formerly known as Almondvale.

There was certainly no lack of confidence in the camp as they set out on their latest adventure. After all, the last time the Spiders ended 90 minutes with nothing to show for their efforts was away back in October. Since that dark day against Stenhousemuir, we’ve gone six league matches unbeaten, and also negotiated our way past our first Scottish Cup test.

Today, however, would be a different examination. All managers will tell you that history has nothing to do with the game at hand, but Livi went into this one with a score to settle after Queen’s dug deep to beat them 1-0 at Hampden earlier in the season. Quite apart from that motivation, the home side were keen to stretch their advantage at the top of League 1 – and extend their own five-game winning streak.

The Alloa game helped boost Gus MacPerson’s squad’s self-belief, but it also gave the Gaffer a wee selection headache as he had to decide who (if anybody) dropped out from the starting line-up to accommodate the return from suspension of Ryan McGeever. He also had a decision to make at the other end of the park as Dario Zanatta’s loan spell was over and the striker had returned to parent club Hearts.

Dario’s absence was known in advance, but when the team sheets were released, there was more than an eyebrow raised to see Gregor Fotheringham and Ross Millen also missing. They were replaced by Conor McVey and Aiden Malone.
So much of the talk pre-match was how we would actually fit what looked like four central defenders into a defence.
In the end, we started with Willie Muir in his normal position, a back three of McGeever, Scott Gibson and Adam Cummins, Bryan Wharton at right wingback, and Sean Burns on the left.
Jamie McKernon and McVey filled the sitting roles, leaving Anton Brady, Paul Woods and Malone to do the attacking.

If we were slightly slow to settle, it was no surprise, given the changes forced on Gaffer Gus.

The home side had the bit between their teeth from the off and Cadden posed the first threat after three minutes, when he skinned our defence and fired a dangerous ball across goal. Wharton and Cummins stood firm to block the resulting shot and rebound.
Apart from that break, Livi seemed content to fire long balls forward, which certainly suited our trio of Wharton, McGeever and Cummins, who will all have sore heads tomorrow morning (regardless of whether they enjoy a celebratory glass or two tonight).

The first 15 minutes came and went without undue alarm, but then the home side started to turn the screw. De Vita had a shot well saved by Willie Muir and then the bounce of the ball beat Gibson (it was about the only thing that beat him throughout the 90 minutes). The offside flag came to our rescue on this occasion.

It took Queen’s until the 20th minute to earn their first corner, and a good one it was. The ball was eventually taken off the toes of Wharton as he swung to shoot.

Our second corner, almost 15 minutes later, nearly produced the breakthrough. This time the delivery was knocked out to Big Bryan and he belted it goalwards. Crighton got his frame in the way to block the shot and everybody in the stands over a certain age winced at the thought of the damage that would have been done had they been playing with an old Mouldmaster!

The supporters’ thoughts may have been elsewhere, Livi had attack on their minds as they countered at speed and Cadden again led the charge. Muir dealt easily with the final ball in.

Queen’s won another series of corners in quick succession, and the home side didn’t look comfortable as the balls were swung in. They survived, however, and naturally took the lead soon after.

Our defence failed to cut out a long ball and Buchanan raced away to slide the ball past Muir and put Livi 1-0 ahead. The league leaders tried to kill the game with a second goal in the remaining four minutes, but despite a few dodgy moments, we reached to dressing room without further punishment.

Half time: Livingston 1 Queen’s Park 0

The mood in the visiting support was somewhat downbeat at the interval as we had defended well for the most part, but had struggled to make Kelly work too hard.

That changed early in the second period as Burns found a nice wee gap on the left and fired off a cracking cross-cum-shot that the Livi keeper did well to parry behind for a corner.

Again the home side countered quickly, and Wharton can have no complaints about the yellow card he received for stopping Cadden as he burst down the line.

Ten minutes into the second period came the first big moment for the Spiders. Another corner caused problems in the home defence and Cummins had the legs taken away from him as he went for the loose ball. Referee Kirkland had no hesitation in pointing to the spot, but the question that needed answered quickly was who would step up to take the kick in the absence of our top scorer (Millen).

McKernon took responsibility and calmly buried the ball low to Kelly’s left to tie things up at 1-1.

The goal stung Livi, and they almost restored their lead within 60 seconds. Buchanan hit a trundler from the edge of the box, and with Muir unsighted, it took the post to come to our rescue.

Crighton quickly found himself in the book for a crude challenge on McVey, and within another two minutes, Queen’s were in front. It was a set-piece delivery that did the damage, McKernon’s corner causing a real stramash. Malone’s shot was blocked and there was Cummins on hand to smack the ball into the net and put the Spiders 2-1 ahead.

It was a goal that put him level at the top of our goalscoring charts, but much more importantly, it would turn out to be his second winning goal against Livi this season.

Although the winning post still seemed a long way off as the game restarted, Livi were rattled and Malone unleashed a thunderous shot which produced a stunning stop from Kelly.

With just over an hour gone, Livi rang the changes, bringing on Longridge and then Mullen in quick succession for Mullin and Carrick.

McKernon found himself in the book after 65 minutes as he halted Pitman illegally. Naturally, Gulliver would never condone foul play, but Jamie’s teammates will be glad he stopped what looked a menacing attack from developing.

Gus made his first change after 68 minutes when he brought on David Galt to replace Malone. And the sub was quickly involved in a rapid counter attack that was only denied by a desperate challenge from Lithgow which earned us a corner and nothing more.

It was now turning into a Christmas Cracker of a game (that’s not bad, 1211 words before the first mention of the ‘C’ word in a December 24th match report). And it was Kirkland who became the pantomime villain in the eyes of the visiting support after 71 minutes. Mullen looked offside as he gathered the ball, but the officials saw nothing amiss. The whistler did, however, spot a foul as the sub spun into the box, pointing to the penalty spot for the second time in the afternoon.

Buchanan stepped up to take the kick, and while Gulliver would love to say that Muir dived brilliantly to his left to keep out the rocket shot, the truth is that the penalty was struck pretty poorly and Willie was down almost too soon. The ball spun out of his grasp, but he bravely recovered to dive at the striker’s feet and deny him the rebound. The keeper was hurt in the process, as a little melee developed inside the goal net.

Order was soon restored, and the tide flowed towards the Queen’s goal. Kirkland flashed a yellow card in the direction of Brady as tempers became frayed, and we had an incredible escape after 75 minutes. For one of the few times in the match Livi engineered a great crossing opportunity. De Vita’s ball looked as if it had to be turned home, but it somehow eluded everybody in the six yard box and flew to safety.

The aerial bombardment was stepped up as the match entered its final 10 minutes, but Queen’s were in “thou shalt not pass” mood and repelled everything that was thrown at them

De Vita was carded for a foul on McKernon as he tried to burst clear and then the energetic Brady sprinted away and found Woods, who just couldn’t get the ball out of his feet in time and was eventually crowded out.

Buchanan was next on the naughty step as he tried to con a penalty with a theatrical fall to the ground.

The final moments seemed to take an eternity and the table-toppers almost denied Queen’s victory in the 86th minute. Crighton got his head to a corner, but although Muir was beaten, Woods was on the line to smack the ball to safety.

Livi threw on Neill in the last minute, but couldn’t find a way through the defiant Spiders’ rearguard, and the final whistle eventually sounded to spark joyous celebrations among the ranks of the Glorious Hoops.

Since time immemorial, Queen’s have taken great delight in bursting pools coupons on a Saturday, but today’s exploits rank right up there with the best of them.
Not only did we beat the league leaders on their own turf; not only did we give them a goal of a start; not only did we give them a penalty, but we also played some good stuff on the break.
There’s no doubt Livi will feel hard done by (again), as they did enjoy the lions’ share of the ball, but the Spiders will give not a jot after a tremendous 2-1 victory.

And lest anyone get the impression that it was a smash-and-grab effort, the stats reveal that Queen’s won more corners than their hosts … and had only one fewer shot on target in the course of the 90-odd minutes (6 to 5). Anyway, as has often been said before when Queen’s have dominated and paid the price for failing to take their chances, when all is said and done, there’s only one stat that matters, the final scoreline. So read this one and enjoy it … Livingston 1 Queen’s Park 2.

Gulliver couldn’t sign off on this day without taking the opportunity to extend the hope that the large fat man with the white beard does manage to get down the chimney of every young supporter. On behalf of his old chum Homer, the young Twitter team, our matchday snapper … and everybody involved with this famous old club, could we wish you all a very merry Christmas.

Keep the Faith.

Queen’s Park: Willie Muir, Bryan Wharton, Scott Gibson, Jamie McKernon, Ryan McGeever, Adam Cummins, Paul Woods, Conor McVey, Aiden Malone (David Galt), Anton Brady, Sean Burns. Subs – Owen Stott, Craig McLeish, Liam Brown, William Mortimer, Cameron Foy, Ewan MacPherson.

Highlights from behind the goal

Jamie McKernon levels the score

 

Adam Cummins makes it 2-1.