Queen’s Park 0 Stenhousemuir 2

QUEEN’S now need something of a miracle to achieve the impossible and a place in the promotion play -offs.

They chose a very unfortunate time to turn in perhaps their second most ineffective performance of the season, beaten only by Stenny’s 3-0 win here in October.

The defeat leaves us outside the play-off spots, three points behind and needing a big win against Airdrie in our final game there next week to have any chance of overhauling a big goals deficit.

Still, if you can show me a Queen’s Park supporter who has not enjoyed season 2016-2017, however it ends, then I’ll show you a Spider with B-negative in their veins.

As we made our way to the League One opener at Hampden Park on August 6 last year, not even that old anorak Gulliver could have dreamt up such a surreal climax to our promoted season.

We hosted Stenhousemuir today in our last home game of the season, with only that visit to Airdrie to follow, and our League One status already comfortably guaranteed for next season.

But with Stenny bottom and fighting for their League One survival, and Airdrie desperate to secure their promotion play-off place, Queen’s will be pushed right to the death.

Last week’s result at Livi ended our eight-game unbeaten run, but it wasn’t a 4-0 match and since it was against the full-time runaway League Champions we can write it off without much angst. And we still outpointed Livi over the season.

This was our fifth meeting of the season with Stenny, having met in the summer BetFred Cup. Queen’s won all three visits to Ochilview, but Stenny gubbed us 3-0 here in October, so we had been well warned.

Gus was forced into defensive changes from last week, with Gavin Mitchell injured at Livi (where the ref forced him off the park for treatment) and Adam Cummins suspended.

So ahead of Wullie Muir we had a reshuffled back three of Bryan Wharton, Ryan McGeever and Scott Gibson; Sean Burns and Aidan McIlduff at wing-back; Jamie McKernon anchoring midfield with Anton Brady and David Galt; Ewan MacPherson and Dario Zanatta interchanging up front. And now that I’ve mentioned you all, chaps, take a bow (and please join in on the bench) for your sterling efforts.

QP supporters will get the chance to laud their heroes at the Player of the Year presentations after today’s game, but we must acknowledge, too, the magnificent contribution of head coach Gus MacPherson and his backroom team of James Evans, Alan Mahood, Quinno and Rhodesy, to get so much energy, commitment and no little skill from a very tight squad.

As Queen’s kicked off attacking the away end, Gulliver’s old stopwatch came out as we had lost the benefit of the electronic scoreboards, which are being upgraded to host Euro 2020 games (does that mean, as hosts, Scotland will automatically qualify for the finals?!).

It had been windy outside the stadium, but inside was a dead calm and perfect conditions for first McIlduff (congratulations on your goal and Scottish Youth Cup win, young Bhoy) and then Zanatta (all the best when you go back to Hearts, young Jambo) to test the Stenny defence down the line, with the Canadian just being blocked after a run into the box.

Brady got the first shot on target, well held by Bowman after six minutes, and then Marsh was on target with a blatant off the ball kick on MacPherson, which was spotted by the referee but punished only by a talking-to and a free-kick. Go figure.

The next 10 minutes were played mostly in the Stenny half, but keeper Bowman wasn’t called on to warm his hands as Queen’s probed for an opening.

McIlduff and Zanatta combined again in 18 minutes to win a corner on the left, but McKernon’s kick hit the first defender and was cleared.

Queen’s had a let-off two minutes later, when the ball found its way through to Oliver Shaw on the edge of the box, but he shot straight at Muir with the Stenny fans shouting for more (geddit?).

But more was exactly what the Stenny fans got in 21 minutes, when Oliver proved hardy enough to claim a nice opening goal, chipping Muir from just inside the box.

A shock for Queen’s, given their possession, but play-offs don’t come easy, and not against a team fighting for survival. Queen’s had yet to turn up and looked decidedly flat.

Stenny had to make a change in 35 minutes, Gilhaney going off injured to be replaced by Grant, who was on the park for two minutes before taking a head knock in a challenge with McGeever, that saw the Queen’s man booked, Wharton booked for dissent, Grant needing treatment, and the referee having a word with Gus MacPherson.

Queen’s were so far looking dangerous only from corners, but apart from a close call for Wharton with a header they were comfortably dealt with by Stenny. Certainly, Queen’s had to improve significantly in the second half to get back into this.

Half-time: Queen’s Park 0 Stenhousemuir 1

Sean Burns won a free-kick right of the Stenny box straight after the restart, took it himself and shot straight at Bowman, who at least was called on to make a save.

So was Muir, two minutes later, and again it was Shaw creating the chance, stepping inside a tackle in the box but this time shooting straight at the keeper.

But in 51 minutes Shaw made no mistake when he made it 2-0. He picked up a pass from Grant in a central position, shook off a tackle by Burns, skipped past Wharton and calmly slotted the ball behind Muir. Too easy, but hardly a surprise given the very sloppy way Queen’s had been playing.

Shaw was having a field day, finding space at will, and his cross from the right was narrowly headed wide by McMenamin.

Gus made a change in 56 minutes, Gibson being replaced by Brown and MacPherson making way for Orsi, and they made an almost immediate chance to get one back with a Galt cross from the right that Zanatta headed over.

Queen’s probably created more pressure on the Stenny box in the first 10 minutes of the half than in the whole of the first 45 minutes, with two Burns free-kicks being cleared for corners which almost led to chances.

Gus made his final change in 62 minutes, Zanatta being taken off to be replaced by Docherty, and three minutes later Stenny sent on Meechan for Marsh.

The tireless Brady, easily our best player, tried to go it alone in 72 minutes with a strong run but his final shot sailed high over the bar.

Stenny sub Grant, who had been battered since he came on, finally admitted defeat and was subbed by Summers.

Galt then followed Brady with a solo effort, a nice run but with no more payoff as his shot flew well wide. Not our day.

It wasn’t Miller’s day, either, when the Stenny forward got a straight red for a studs-up challenge on McGeever in 79 minutes, but Queen’s had no more success against 10 men than they had against 11.

Homer had learned the drugs testers had turned up before the game. They will have surely noted early on that the Spiders players were not under the influence of any performance-enhancing substances.

So that’s all from Hampden for another season. Enjoy Airdrie, have a safe and happy summer, and we’ll see you here same time next season. Keep the faith.

Queen’s Park: Willie Muir, Bryan Wharton, Aidan McIlduff, Jamie McKernon, Ryan McGeever, Scott Gibson, David Galt, Anton Brady, Ewan MacPherson, Dario Zanatta, Sean Burns. Subs: William Mortimer, Dominic Docherty, Liam Brown,  Kalvin Orsi, Conor McVey, Owen Stott.

Stenhousemuir – Graham Bowman, Sean Robertson, Connor Duthie, David Marsh, Fraser Kerr, Vinnie Berry, Mark Gilhaney, Kieran Millar, Colin McMenamin, Oliver Shaw, Willis Furtado. Subs: Ross Meechan, Ciaran Summers, Carlos Manzana, Jamie McCormack, Thomas Grant, Ally Roy, David Crawford.

Referee: Craig Napier.