Queen’s Park 1 Dunfermline 4
YOU wait 17 years for supporters’ buses to make the Mount Florida-Dunfermline run and then two come along at once.
Queen’s and the Fife Pars closed that long competitive gap last October in the Irn-Bru Challenge Cup, when we lost 2-1 at East End Park.
Today Dunfermline and their fans make the reverse trip to Hampden Park as the clubs closed an even longer gap. Surprisingly, this is the first-ever Scottish Cup-tie between the teams.
Today could be considered a Spiders distraction, a welcome break for the squad, and us fans, from the rigours of a testing League One campaign, but this will be one tough third-round shift for the players.
We have managed only two league wins this season, and both of them away from home, and we could hardly be in worse shape player-wise for the visit of a promotion-chasing Championship side.
Captain Sean Burns and midfield top scorer Anton Brady are both suspended for bookings carried over from last season, and they took a watching brief alongside injured trio Ewan MacPherson, Kevin Green and Ciaran Summers.
It’s a well-worn cliché that injuries give fringe players the chance to come into the team and stake their claim, but that was certainly the case for the Spiders today.
Two youth players, centre half Lewis Magee and striker James MacLennan, got that start and two more in Robbie Leitch and Billy Mortimer were on the bench as Gus MacPherson made four changes from last week’s dismal 2-0 home defeat to Arbroath.
As well as the aforementioned Burns, Brady and MacPherson, Willie Muir, Ross Millen, Adam Cummins, Gregor Fotheringham, Scott Gibson and Conor McVey made up half the 18-man Spiders squad that played at East End Park last season, and all but sub Muir started again today.
Michael White kept his place in goal after a fine game against Arbroath, Conor McVey came off the bench to start, and David Galt was back after injury.
(By the bye, can you name the nine other players from that QP squad at Dunfermline who have since left QP? Answer at end of report).
Dunfermline listed seven players today who also faced Queen’s last season.
The Pars were coming off the back of a 1-1 draw at Falkirk last week when they finished with nine men.
Kallum Higginbotham and Declan McManus were sent off, but they were still available for the cup, and Pars boss Allan Johnston was able to name the same side. It included sub Fraser Aird, who (in)famously scored in the 90th minute for Rangers to beat Queen’s at Hampden in the Third Division almost exactly five years ago in December 2012.
The Pars trail Championship leaders St Mirren by two points, despite having just one win in their last six, and that following a super run of eight wins out of nine.
On a bright, bitterly cold afternoon, Hampden was looking well, although whether it passes muster for some of its critics for next week’s Betfred Cup Final remains doubtful. Btw, you should read President Doc’s spirited advocacy for Hampden Park in his weekly blog on this website.
There was a decent crowd in – and mostly supporting Queen’s, it seemed, as they were all sporting black and white! – as Queen’s got us underway attacking the away end.
Galt forced the first corner in four minutes with a positive run, but keeper Murdoch was allegedly fouled as Galt swung in the kick and the Pars escaped unharmed.
A minute later and Galt forced another corner with a strong run down the left, but his flag kick this time had Murdoch flapping to punch it to safety.
A splendid through ball by Gibson in 11 minutes had MacLennan haring into the box on the left and it took Murdoch to race 10 yards off his line to slide in and clear the ball from the young attacker.
Queen’s had held their own in the first 15 minutes, but the Pars showed their teeth in 17 minutes. Cummins needed a header at full stretch to clear a dangerous Cardle cross for a corner, and when the kick came in McVey did well to clear a Ashcroft header off the line.
But compact Queen’s could not have been unhappy with their physical commitment, or their ability on the ball in the first 20 minutes against a very mobile, very slick side.
Galt was showing up well down his left wing beat, and he came so close to putting Queen’s ahead with a sublime bit of skill in 37 minutes.
He skipped past one defender, nutmegged a second, and from the tightest of angles fired over a shot that came off Murdoch’s far post with the keeper nowhere.
Galt was the best player on the park at this point. He won a tackle in midfield in 39 minutes, moved forward and let loose a stinging low shot that Murdoch at full stretch could only push away. Duff picked up the loose ball in the box, squared to McVey, but he blazed over. A good chance.
The Pars had their first attempt on goal in 41 minutes, and they knew little about it as a cross bounced off an unsuspecting head and went just wide. Now that would have summed up Queen’s season perfectly had it gone the other side of White’s post.
A splendid first half for Queen’s, then, matching the Pars’ superior ability with no little skill of their own and a great attitude.
Half-time:Queen’s Park 0 Dunfermline 0
Dunfermline must have had the hairdryer treatment at half-time the way they came out the traps after the break, and they went ahead in two minutes.
Cardle was given acres of space on the right to drive over a cross that the equally unmarked Clark met at the far post and headed down and behind White. Too easy, undoing all our compact defensive work of the first half.
Queen’s had a quick chance to get back on terms, Galt picking out MacLennan in the box with a free kick but the youngster failing to connect with his header from eight yards.
But the Pars had pushed men forward and it was no surprise when they made it 2-0 in 59 minutes, Talbot lashing in a low shot from 20 yards.
Then, surprise, surprise, Queen’s pulled a goal back two minutes later. Galt was fouled on the left and his free kick flew through a packed penalty area and somehow landed in the net behind a bemused Murdoch. Cummins was getting pats on the back but that might have been for providing nuisance value in the box. Either way, Queen’s were alive and kicking.
Pars sent on Splaine for Wedderburn in 64.
It was so very nearly 2-2 a minute later, as Docherty’s left foot rocket blasted back off the bar with Murdoch beaten.
That was Docherty’s last action, as he was replaced by St Mirren loanee Leitch and Mortimer replaced MacLennan.
Andy Ryan replaced Nicky Clark for Pars on 70.
Leitch was quickly into the action and he had a great chance to make a difference in 74 minutes. He intercepted a pass in midfield and bombed forward in the clear, but he passed up the chance to shoot in favour of cutting back, and was dispossessed.
Shiels was replaced by Martin in 77 and a minute later the Pars subs helped to make the game safe. Splaine’s shot from distance was parried by White, but it fell straight to Ryan, who had a simple task to score.
Millen was booked for a foul in 87 and a minute later it was 4-1, Cummins’ headed clearance falling at the feet of McManus, and from the edge of the box he rattled a low shot wide of White. Another lesson in finishing.
And that was that. A spirited display from Queen’s, who did not deserve to lose four goals and could in fact have scored more themselves. But that’s the story of our season, isn’t it?
Keep the faith. It’s only Raith in the Kingdom next week.
Queen’s Park: Michael White, Ross Millen, Scott Gibson, Lewis Magee, Adam Cummins, Gregor Fotheringham, Conor McVey, Dominic Docherty, James MacLennan, Chris Duff, David Galt. Subs: Luke Donnelly, Thomas Orr, Jack Iredale, Luke Whelan, Robbie Leitch, William Mortimer, Willie Muir (gk).
Dunfermline: Sean Murdoch: Ryan Williamson, Callum Morris, Lee Ashcroft, Jason Talbot, Kallum Higginbotham, Nat Wedderburn, Dean Shiels, Joe Cardle, Declan McManus, Nicky Clark.
Subs: Fraser Aird, Jean-Yves M`Voto, Aaron Splaine, Callum Smith, Andy Ryan, Lewis Martin, Cammy Gill (GK).
Referee – Steven McLean.
Spiders who played at Dunfermline last season but have now left Hampden — Ryan McGeever Craig McLeish, Darren Miller, Paul Woods, Liam Brown, John Carter, Aiden Malone, Andrew Murphy (GK), Bryan Wharton (on loan at Pollok).