Kilmarnock 2 Queen’s Park 0

As a warm-up for the League campaign, our Betfred Cup draw couldn’t have been much tougher, pairing us as it did with two Premier League sides. And considering that Gus had to build a team virtually from scratch, it was little wonder that some in the Spiders camp feared the worst.

So there’s got to be some quiet satisfaction with the way we have performed in the opening four games. Although we lost our final encounter to Kilmarnock, it took the Ayrshire side an hour to open their account – and they only made the game safe with a penalty deep into stoppage time.

Much of the talk pre-match was about whether Gus would shake things up after the midweek draw with St Mirren. Queen’s had shown up well in that one, but they’d put in a huge effort and you had to wonder how they would recover in just four days. The Gaffer obviously had few such worries, making just two changes to his starting line-up; young James Grant coming in for the unavailable Gavin Lachlan, and Josh Peters taking over from Adam Martin. So the team that ran out at Rugby Park was: Jordan Hart, Grant, Ciaran Summers, Jamie McKernon, Gerry McLauchlan, Scott Gibson, Kurtis Roberts, Dean Kindlan, Smart Osadolor, William Mortimer and Peters. The bench comprised Martin, Brendan Sharpe, Daniel Nimmo, Calvin McGrory, Cameron Foy, Daniel Kindlan and Jack Dunlop.

Right from the start, it was obviously going to be a different sort of game from Tuesday night. For one thing, the contrast between the plastic pitch and the simply superb Hampden surface reinforced Gulliver’s long-held views that football is a game that should be played on grass. There was also a marked difference in style of the opposition, with the experienced Kris Boyd providing a very different physical challenge to the questions posed by St Mirren.

The pattern of the game was established early, with Kilmarnock dominating possession, and Queen’s making sure they didn’t give anything away cheaply, while trying to hit on the break when they could.

Neither side was seriously tested in the opening 10 minutes and then Queen’s mounted their first serious attack, but Peters and Osadolor were closed down before threatening MacDonald’s goal.

Killie then tried to turn the screw and put us under a bit of pressure with a series of corners and free-kicks. McLauchlan and Gibson dealt with everything that came their way, ably assisted by the midfield harrying of McKernon and his partners in crime.

Peters forced MacDonald into action with our first real shot in anger, before we had our first real scare after 25 minutes. Former Spider Eamonn Brophy found space on the right and blasted in a shot that had the net rippling … fortunately, it was the side netting and we remained on level terms.

So it continued, with Killie knocking on the door and the Spiders resolutely refusing entry. Just as we went into the last 10 minutes of the half, we had the first moment of real controversy. Grant found himself on the wrong side of Ndjoli and the striker went down under the challenge. Gulliver’s seen penalties awarded against us many times in similar situations, but on this occasion referee Cook waved away the claims and we carried on.

Hart had to make a couple of routine saves as Boyd and Burke tried their luck, and Captain Gibson produced a storming challenge to deny Brophy as he prepared to pull the trigger.

We’d been under pressure for much of the opening half, but the interval arrived with nothing on the scoreboard.

Half-time

Kilmarnock 0 Queen’s Park 0

There were no changes in personnel at the break, and little change in the pattern of play when the action resumed. The Ayrshire side began where they’d left off, winning plenty of dead-ball opportunities. However, with the exception of a Burke header which was blocked, we were relatively untroubled in the opening skirmishes.

Indeed, we could have taken the lead after 51 minutes when Osadolor charged down a clearance from MacDonald. Unfortunately for the striker, the rebound took him a bit wide of goal and the keeper recovered in time to dive at his feet and spare himself what would have been a very embarrassing moment.

Mortimer was booked for a foul on Taylor and the Killie man then went close with a shot from the edge of the box.

The hour mark came and went, and some in the visiting camp dared to dream of another upset. The dreams were shattered after 62 minutes when Queen’s failed to clear their lines for the first time in the afternoon. Naturally, we were punished as Brophy pounced to tuck the ball past the helpless Hart.

The Premier League side went looking for a killer second, but Queen’s refused to buckle. Both sides made changes as the final 20 minutes approached. Killie brought on Erwin and Jones for Brophy and Ndjoli, while Martin got a run at the expense of Peters.

Boyd went close with a header and was then denied by an excellent stop from Hart.

Queen’s brought on McGrory for Mortimer and the sub led one counter charge which ended with a shot from the impressive Roberts being held by MacDonald.

With the clock running down, Sharpe came on for Osadolor.

Seven minutes from time, we’d the second booking of the afternoon, but from our vantage point behind the goal, we couldn’t see what the offence was – and whether it was Gibson or Boyd who Cook penalised.

Hart produced a stonking stop to keep out a Burke effort and McLauchlan completed the job by poking the ball behind for a corner. Right on time, Boyd hit the post with a close range effort, and it looked as if we would leave Ayrshire with only a single-goal defeat. However, three minutes into time added on, Gibson was ruled to have fouled Boyd in the box and the whistler pointed to the spot. Despite getting agonisingly close to the spot kick, Hart just failed to get his fingertips to the ball and the deficit was doubled.

That was the final action of the afternoon, and immediately after the restart, Cook brought proceedings to a close.

So what’s to be made of our League Cup campaign? The good news is that we look to have a solid defensive platform to build on. It’s no mean feat to keep out two Premier League attacks for more than 150 minutes before conceding. We’ve got options aplenty in midfield, and upfront – and Gus has still to give game time to one or two of his summer recruits.

Given the larger than usual player exodus over the summer, it’s hugely encouraging to see what looks like a promising side starting to take shape.

We’ll get another real tough test when the league action kicks off next Saturday, as it’s never easy to travel to Peterhead and bring back anything other than a hangover.

However, there are grounds for optimism on the field, and there’s only one course of action open to followers of the Glorious Hoops … Keep the Faith!