Stenhousemuir 0 Queen’s Park 2

Sitting in the stand at Ochilview, it was hard not to let the mind wander to thoughts of what might have been. Barring a couple of painful moments from the penalty spot in the Ayr United replay, Queen’s would have been at Hampden today doing battle with old rivals Clyde, with the prize for the winners being a place in the last eight of the Scottish Cup.

That wasn’t to be, but there was still a big prize on offer for Gus MacPherson’s men this afternoon. So tight is this league – even with almost two-thirds of the season gone – that victory over Stenny could propel us to the heart of the promotion play-offs, while defeat could dump us within three points of the dreaded survival shoot-out.

If that’s not tight then Gulliver’s chairman of the referees’ admiration society!

The Spiders went into this one on the back of a 2-2 draw with East Fife which provided encouragement and disappointment in almost equal measure. It was a blow to lose a two-goal lead, but it was hugely encouraging to see us creating … and taking chances.

So it was intriguing to see how the Gaffer would view things with his team selection. He had decisions to make almost all over the park with Ryan McGeever eligible to return at the back, and plenty options in midfield and up front.

The one position that never looked up for grabs was between the sticks and Willie Muir was handed the No1 jersey. In front of him Gus opted for a defence of Ross Millen, McGeever, Bryan Wharton, Adam Cummins, and Aiden McIlduff. Jamie McKernon sat in front of them, flanked by Anton Brady and Dominic Docherty, leaving Paul Woods to support Dario Zanatta. The bench comprised David Galt, Gregor Fotheringham, Conor McVey, Sean Burns, Liam Brown, Kalvin Orsi and Gavin Mitchell.

Queen’s had the elements in their favour at the start, but apart from an early Docherty shot, had little to suggest they would take the early initiative.

Indeed, the home side were the ones who settled better and after failing to hit the target when Furtado created an opening after five minutes, they should have taken the lead a couple of minutes later. McMenamin was in acres of space as a cross came in from Summers. His header was on target, but lacked the power to beat Muir, who palmed up the first effort and then caught the ball as it came down.

It was an escape, but we couldn’t use it to our advantage and were thankful for the diligent tracking back of Woods after 12 minutes as Kerr rampaged down the flank.

Woods was in action at the other end as Queen’s fashioned their first chance of the afternoon. But former QP favourite David Crawford got down smartly to save.

Queen’s started to settle in at this stage and while never making DC work too hard, did enough to suggest we could win this one.

That belief was strengthened further just after the half-hour mark when we took the lead, And just as against East Fife last week, it was loan signing Zanattta who did the damage. A precise pass from Brady gave the Canadian striker the chance to run at the home defence. He accepted gleefully, taking a few steps forward before burying the ball past Crawford.

The goal gave the Spiders a huge lift and Mckernon went close with a shot from distance, before McMenamin gave the home side their final moment of the first period when he shot over the top.

Half-time

Stenhousemuir 0 Queen’s Park 1

Apart from the goal, the first half had been a relatively tame affair considering what was at stake. That couldn’t be said of the second period, with referee Irvine at the heart of much of the controversy.

The home side were fortunate to win a foul soon after the restart, and with the elements now very much in their favour, needed no second invitation to swing the ball into the box. The delivery was, however, overhit and the ball sailed past for a goal kick.

Brady then engineered a superb break for the Spiders, but all Zanatta could earn as he was crowded out was a corner which proved fruitless.

Ten minutes in came the first real flashpoint. Cook clattered Docherty as the pair challenged for a high ball, but play was allowed to go on for a while before Irvine called it to a halt with both players lying flat on the ground. Cook managed to resume with a bandage on his head, but Docherty was never going to take any further part in this game and was replaced by Fotheringham.

Captain McGeever made his feelings known to the whistler, who indicated that he’d seen nothing amiss. Gulliver would never criticise any official, but many in the visiting support felt Irvine and his assistants were very much in the minority when it came to not seeing what had gone on.

The sense of injustice spurred Queen’s on, and Woods went close with a header after neat interplay between McIlduff and Brady gave him the chance.

Paul went even closer just after the hour when he was put through on goal, only to see his first shot saved – and then his follow-up deflected over the bar by Kerr with the goal gaping. The resultant corner came to nothing, and the feeling began to grow in the visiting ranks that this might not after all be our day.

That feeling grew after 70 minutes when Millen was yellow carded for knocking the ball away to delay a Stenhousemuir free-kick. And the rumblings grew even louder moments later when the same player was dismissed for a second yellow card offence as he slid in late to a challenge.

With almost 20 minutes left, the home side threw everything forward in a bid to salvage something. They switched personnel, as did Gus MacPherson, replacing Woods with Gavin Mitchell.

But it was one of the home subs, Ally Roy, who twice went close within a matter of seconds. In a bid to turn the tide, Gus also replaced the excellent Zanatta with our other loan striker, Kalvin Orsi.

Brady was next to fall foul of Irvine, going into the book for protesting once too often about what he saw as a dodgy decision.

Six minutes from time, Cummins and McGeever got in a bit of a fankle, but the man known as Scouse rescued the situation with a great block as Roy looked certain to tie the scores.

Still the pressure continued, but Orsi was doing his best to hold things up at the front, and deep into injury time, we finally made the points secure.

Mitchell set off on a run from deep in his own half, and with few other options open to him, continued to rampage into the heart of the Warriors’ defence. At the perfect moment, he played a ball into the stride of Brady and Wee Anton buried the ball behind DC.

It was almost a carbon copy of his goal from last week, a game which had also seen Dario open the scoring. The difference this week was that we were now two ahead with the 90 minutes come and gone.

There was still time for the officials to take centre stage, this time angering the home support by denying McMenamin a possible penalty when he looked to be pushed in the box.

That was, however, the last action of the game which ended with the scoreline Stenhousemuir 0 Queen’s Park 2.

There’s still a long way to go in this league, but this was a huge result. It means we now sit fourth in the league, only two points off second spot – and nine clear of the play-offs at the other end.

No praise is too high for the way the Spiders battled their way to this victory, and while Gus will no doubt have a quiet word with his players about the dangers that silly yellow cards can create, he must be chuffed to the gutties with the effort … and the quality of the goals scored.

Games like this are not good for Gulliver’s blood pressure. Results like this make lovely reading for all in the Hampden camp.

Keep the faith!

Highlights from behind the goal

Anton Brady makes the score 2-0 to Queen’s

Dario opens the scoring