Queen’s Park 2 Stenhousemuir 1

THE lights went out on Mark Roberts last week — and not only during his QPTV post-match interview at Annan with Sean Davenport.

The 3-2 defeat at Galabank turned out to be Roberts’ last game as QPFC head coach, as November’s SPFL League Two Manager of the Month became the first victim of the new professionalism sweeping through the oldest amateur football club in the world. And a Happy New Year to you, too.

The QP committee immediately ushered in Ray McKinnon as Roberts’ successor and the man empowered to pay players for the first time in the club’s 152-year history. You can be sure he’s already looking at splashing some of that new cash in this transfer window.

McKinnon, 49, comes with a wealth of experience. He can even claim the legendary Brian Clough among his former managers in his 11-club senior playing career, while Queen’s will be the sixth senior club he has managed in five years.

Let’s hope his arrival triggers the fabled “new manager bounce”, and we wish him as much success in rebuilding our club and his own career as former QP gaffers Billy Stark and Gus MacPherson enjoyed.

The new manager joined caretaker Tony Quinn at his first squad training session on Thursday night in preparation for today’s visit of Stenhousemuir, but there were no selection surprises. The only changes from the Annan defeat were the absence of Nicky Jamieson (injury) and Davie Galt (work), with Billy Mortimer and Luke Main stepping up from the bench and youth striker Reece McGuire joining the squad.

We drew 1-1 here with Stenny in August but thumped them 3-0 at Ochilview in November. More of the latter will please your new boss, chaps.

It was a miserable day for a new dawn, grey and cold and wet, as Stenhousemuir took the first kick-off of 2020 at Hampden Park, defending the away end.

Ray McKinnon started the match among the subs on the benches, with Quinno barking instructions from the technical area.

Finnie had moved from full back to between Foy and Little, with Mortimer and Summers outside them creating a flexible back five, with Joffrey, Main and McGrory in the middle behind Salim and Moore.

McGrory was first to show with a 20-yarder that Smith took comfortably, then Tiffoney had us holding our breath with a rocket from a similar distance that thankfully found the side net.

Mortimer was going to have a long afternoon. He was booked in eight minutes for a strong challenge and then conceded another foul two minutes later.

After a stalemate start, Queen’s appeared to be hit with first-night nerves for a spell, as passes went horribly astray and any sense of shape vanished. Stenny were encouraged and on the front foot, and Queen’s  were fortunate when Cook – after a tour through the  home defence – chose to try and set up McGuigan rather than have a shot himself from inside the box.

Queen’s had skipper Muir to thank for keeping the game scoreless in 23 minutes. A nice through pass inside Summers left Hopkirk clear on goal but Muir was out quickly to block his shot for a corner.

But what a transformation in 26 minutes when Queen’s took the lead with a splendid goal.

We needed someone to take control, and it was left to young McGrory to fire a delightful ball over a defender for the overlapping Mortimer to take it expertly on the drop, charge into the box, and lay it on a plate at the feet of Moore to score from six yards. Quick and clinical.

But the inconsistency was still there, and the shocking passing. Little gifted away possession in 35 minutes and McGuigan was left clear in the box, and it took a brave double block by Muir at the striker’s feet to keep the lead intact.

Mortimer was having a busy afternoon, and he confirmed his influence on this game with a marvellous second goal for Queen’s five minutes from the break. Salim won a tackle, Main ferried the ball on for the overlapping Mortimer, and Billy flew into the box before thrashing a right-foot shot that beat Smith low to his right. Great stuff, and a considerably more positive team talk ahead for the new boss.

Half-time: Queen’s Park 2 Stenhousemuir 0.

A good finish to the first half was followed by a shocking start to the second, as Queen’s lost a goal inside two minutes. We had started the half in Stenny’s goal area, Joffrey having a chance, but a quick break down our left resulted in a cross to the far post that the dangerous Cook whacked behind Muir.

It almost got even worse for Queen’s a minute later, when Little passed the ball straight to McGuigan, and Finnie rescued his defensive mate by shadowing the striker into the box and blocking his shot for a corner.

McBrearty was booked for a foul on Main in 55.

Queen’s seemed to have settled by the hour mark, which was the cue for Quinno to head upstairs and have a long confab with the manager.

Moore was booked for a foul in 63 and Queen’s again needed Muir to perform heroics from the free kick, blocking a Blair shot with his body after a scramble in the six yard box.

Queen’s promptly broke and Moore shot wildly over from 10 yards after getting ahead of the defence.

The change for Queen’s came in 67 minutes, Purdue for Main, then Summers was booked for shirt-tugging to stop an attack after another misplaced a pass. Stenny sent on Watters for McBride.

McGrory followed into the book in 75 for a sliding tackle, then Purdue became QP booking No5 for delaying a free kick in 77.

Moore took a knock in 82 and was replaced by Alfie, just in time to see Hopkirk head a corner over from close in.

Referee Stuart was surely heading for writer’s cramp, or space in his diary, after booking Stenny boss Davie Irons in 83 for presumably speaking out of turn.

O’Neil replaced Blair for Stenny in the final minute, and despite a couple of up and under alarms in time added on, Queen’s held on for a crucial debut win for Ray McKinnon.

Next up it’s the deadly away double of Edinburgh City and Kilmarnock. Keep the faith (if that’s still appropriate in our new professional world).

Queen’s Park: Willie Muir, Willie Mortimer, Ryan Finnie, Ciaran Summers, Creag Little, Cameron Foy, Calvin McGrory,  Salim Kouider-Aissa, Luke Main, Joffrey Lidouren, Kieran Moore. Subs: Scott Gibson, Jacques Herraghty,  Cameron Clark, James Grant, Jack Purdue, Reece McGuire, Alfredo Agyeman.

Stenhousemuir: Graeme Smith, Scott McLaughlin, Andy Munro, Jonathan Tiffoney, Jordan Armstrong, David Hopkirk, Connor McBride, Ryan Blair, Alan Cook, Connor McBrearty, Mark McGuigan. Subs: Chris O’Neil, Ryan Watters, Daniel Terry, Kieran Anderson, Dylan Dykes, Max Potter.

Referee: Peter Stuart.

Ray speaks to QPTV after the game

SPFL League Two

TeamPldGDPts
Cove Rangers253259
Edinburgh City251851
Cowdenbeath23236
QUEEN'S PARK26036
Elgin City251034
Stirling Albion24532
Annan Athletic25-1930
Stenhousemuir25-1327
Albion Rovers23-924
Brechin City25-2617