Queen’s Park 2 Celtic Colts 2

Celtic won 4-3 on penalties.

Squad rotation is all the rage these days with the big boys of world football, but it’s not something you usually associate with Queen’s Park. Any time a QP Gaffer makes wholesale changes, it’s usually down to injuries, suspensions, work commitments … or a combination of all three.

However, Mark Roberts had hinted in the build up to our Tunnocks Cup tie against Celtic that there would be a different look to his side – and he was certainly true to his word, with no fewer than nine changes from the XI who got our league campaign off to a successful start just three days ago. Only Ciarán Summers and Salim Kouider-Aissa retained their starting spots, and there were senior debuts for a couple of 16-year-olds as Jacques Heraghty and Reagan Thomson took their bows.

So the unfamiliar Spiders line-up looked like this: Heraghty in goals with James Grant and Summers flanking a central defence of Scott Gibson, Robert Griffiths and Cameron Clark. Luke Main, Adam Martin and Reagan Thomson were in the midfield, while Kieran Moore supported Salim up top.

It was experimental to say the least, and the early stages were worrying as the young Celts found space on our right to fire over a series of menacing crosses.

But we also posed quite a threat going forward with the pace of Moore, the trickerty of Martin – and the goal threat of Our Salim. The striker could (should) have opened the scoring after four minutes when a Main cross gave him the chance to bullet a header goalwards. Sadly, it was straight at keeper Mullen and he managed to parry it away.

The visitors then did their best to gift the Spiders the lead when a Coffey backheader eluded the keeper and finished just inches wide of the empty net. The resultant corner came to nothing.

Just when it looked like Queen’s were getting on top, we gave away the opening goal. A long ball from Church found its way to the lively Aitchison who calmly beat Heraghty to put Colts one up.

The Spiders tried to hit back immediately and Summers wasn’t far away with a final shot from a quick break on our left.

However, there were gaps at the back for Queen’s and former Arsenal youngster Armstrong Oko-Flex looked in the mood to exploit them. He volleyed narrowly wide after being set up by Church and then doubled the Celtic lead on another rapid counter attack.

With less than 30 minutes on the clock – and already two goals behind – it looked like being a miserable night on and off the pitch for followers of the Hampden side. Aitchison could have added a third after another QP defensive lapse, but Heraghty was alert to deny the striker.

Mark Roberts’ side has proved its resilience before, and even though the personnel weren’t too familiar, the determination to get something from the tie was as strong as ever.

The Spiders began to create chances of their own again and got their reward seven minutes from the interval. A free kick on the right edge of the Celtic box was tapped inside to Our Salim and he buried a powerful shot beyond Mullen to give us some hope.

Spurred by the goal, Queen’s went in search of a quickfire second. Martin looked in the mood and ran at the defence with purpose. With the interval approaching he burst into the Celtic penalty area twice within a matter of seconds. The first time he looked to be taken out by Connell; the second time it looked like Church halted his run illegally. Referee McKendrick and his assistant saw nothing amiss with either challenge, and the whistler added insult to injury by booking the diminutive winger for diving.

Needless to say, neither decision went down well with the QP faithful, and the officials left the field at half-time knowing they weren’t top of the pops down Mount Florida way.

Half time

Queen’s Park 1 Celtic Colts 2

Celtic made one change at the interval, with Connell (perhaps injured by the “dive” of Martin) being replaced by Savoury.

Both sides continued the positive approach, and Gibson forced Mullen into action with a shot on the turn after a Spiders’ corner. It was to be the skipper’s last involvement of the night as he was replaced by Lewis Magee.

The sub was quickly in the action, halting a dangerous run by fellow newcomer Savoury.

The pattern was now set, with Queen’s enjoying a fair share of possession, but Celtic looking increasingly menacing on the break.

Mark made his final changes of the night shortly after the hour when he replaced Summers with Creag Little and then brought on Jack Purdue for  Salim. Celtic took off Oko-Flex and brought on Burt.

Queen’s might have looked a bit lightweight up front after the changes, but the pace and persistence of Moore is always going to give defenders a headache. And while not the biggest, Martin has skills aplenty – as he demonstrated with a sweet equaliser after 72 minutes. Clark provided the ammunition with a piercing long ball. Adam took it in his stride, waltzed inside Coffey, and then knocked the ball past Mullen to tie things up at 2-2.

The action continued to swing from end to end and Griffiths went in the book for a late challenge on Aitchison. He was joined by Grant, Henderson and Little as tempers got a little frayed.

With penalties looming, there was one big chance to win it in the 90 minutes … and it fell to Moore. He nipped in ahead of the Celtic defence to get on the end of a through ball, and as Mullen came off his line, Kieran looked up and lobbed the ball over the tall keeper. The effort was on target, but the bounce was far from kind and took the ball inches over the crossbar.

It was a sickener, and a dreadful reward for the youngster’s non-stop shift, but there was an even crueller twist still to come.

The game duly went to penalties and after both sides scored their first two apiece, Moore stepped up and saw his effort saved by Mullen. Queen’s’ hopes were briefly revived when Heraghty saved Miller’s effort, but Purdue hit the post with our fifth penalty, while substitute Burt scored – and that was that.

It was a disappointing end to the night and means we won’t have any Welsh outings to look forward to this season. However, the game itself was far from the worst ever witnessed, and we did maybe get a glimpse of the future with Thomson and Heraghty starting out on what we hope will be long, successful senior careers.

It was also good to see Gibbie back in action and we can only hope his shift was cut short as a precaution and not because of any more injury woes.

So it’s back to league business on Saturday, and back to our proper home. It’s a fair bet that the Gaffer will make sweeping changes again for that one, but tonight’s performance showed that nobody in the squad can take their place for granted.

Keep the Faith!