The departure of Gordon Chisholm and Billy Dodds, after the year in which they had been Scottish Cup Finalists and then European contenders was a distant memory, though it was just round the corner.
For some it was all too much and internet notice boards lit up regularly with complaints and worries. The decision to renew season tickets may have been delayed until the announcement of the appointment of a duo that have a proven track record in Division One. Andy Millen and Gus McPherson were able to do the necessary with St Mirren, get them into the SPL AND keep them there. No mean feat and one they will want to reproduce down the South Coast.
What Gus inherited was, however a bit of a mess. There will always be several sides to the stories at Palmerston but what is absolutely true is that Full Time Queens had little money, a damaged reputation and were given hardly any hope of staying up. People were openly suggesting they would be fodder at the wrong end of the table this season no matter if Harry Houdini got the manager’s job.
McPherson wasted little time in going out to sign new players but there were times when it was suggested that they might not have 11 players to fill a shirt at the beginning of the season. With a youth set up that had seen a number of under 19s step up to Modern Apprenticeships in 2010 though, there was perhaps no problem in filling the shirts; it was just questionable what quality could be brought in to make the season more bearable. How has that season been then?
In the December Falkirk defeat Queens fielded no fewer than 8 signings made by McPherson and the score line – 5-1 victory for Falkirk at Palmerston – was a shock and surprise to many including the Falkirk manager! Whilst we were all left wondering where that had come from it is perhaps time to reflect on two contentions made regarding Queens. They have had to rely on youth and this new team has taken time to gel but once it does should move to safety in the First for them for another year. The question not being asked is what would be progress for the Doonhamers in season 2011/12?
Starting at the back Lee Robinson was signed by McPherson having previously been on loan at the Club. He has established himself as a solid, if yet unspectacular keeper. The verdict so far is that McPherson made a good signing but of he wants to climb up the league may need, in the close season to look at this position.
In defence McPherson brought in experience. Mark Campbell came from Raith Rovers. An experienced player with a wealth of ability Campbell has been out injured recently, came back against Falkirk and will possibly have wished he was still injured! Along side Campbell came Chris Higgins who had been released by SPL new boys Dunfermline. Higgins has been a regular and solid starter for Queens and from the beginning of the season has worked hard to create a better defensive record than the one with which they began the season. McPherson’s third defensive signing was Alan Reid. Well known to both Andy and Gus, Reid had been at St Mirren so again there was plenty of knowledge coming in at the back. Reid has been in and out the side recently but the experience these guys brought into the team has allowed McPherson to develop a fairly flexible approach to tactics.
Having been known for the 3-5-2 mid November he then switched to a 4-3-3 against Ayr United and came away with a 4-1 win. It has certainly helped the development of local lad Steven Black and Kevin Holt. Both 18 years old they have featured more often than not in the squad this year and with this season of tutelage under the 3 guys McPherson has brought in could be a safe and secure future for the club’s defences. Whilst they don’t have the worst goal difference in the league their goals against is concerning. They have conceded 27, though 2nd place Falkirk have conceded 23. It is that type of league.
In midfield, McPherson also brought in experience. In Scott McLaughlin and Stephen Simmons (not technically a Gus signing) they boast a lot between them. McLaughlin was a promotion winner last season with Ayr United whilst Simmons has SPL experience. Add to that the tug of war between Queens and Morton over Steven McKenna – won eventually by McPherson – and it is a solid midfield. Youngsters Nicky Clark and Kevin Holt have played their part in making this a team with a competent system to compliment some of the existing staff. Let’s not forget that there were already players there working hard for the club.
It may, of course, be bizarre to talk of experience being the key from McLaughlin, Simmons and McKenna when you have former Scottish Internationalist, Alan “Magic” Johnston a regular in the team but their contribution is not to be sniffed at. It has taken time for the middle of the park to gel and the form of Danny Carmichael has helped with McLaughlin’s goals of late to provide some hope that this is a solid unit. Overall the verdict must be promising, though it may need further than this season for it to click. You also have to wonder for how long Johnston can contribute at this level.
Up front came in Tom Brighton, Marc McCusker and Kevin Smith. If there is an area where there is a decided lack of progress it may be here. Brighton has not set the heather alight. Whilst he and Kevin Smith share top spot in terms of goals scored it is with 5 apiece – the same tally as midfielder, Scott McLaughlin. McPherson has attempted to rotate the strikers and may still be looking for the right combination. It may be significant that Smith got a hat trick in the demolition of Morton with Brighton getting the 4th whilst none of the strikers, 3 months later, got any in the 4-1 defeat of Ayr United. Early season promise may be fading as both Brighton and Smith have not scored since November. McCusker has been on the bench for most of this time so no real chance of him chipping in with a few…
There is a lack of young strikers getting to the squad though attacking options from Carmichael, Kevin Holt and Nicky Clark compensate. There are 3 on the books but we have not seen 2 of them – Steven Degnan and Gavin Reilly – and the 3rd – Ryan Smillie – has 4 subs appearances. The verdict therefore for the club is it needs to sort its striking options. There has not been a huge impact from what has been brought in and there seems to be little fancied in terms of the youth set up.
The start of the season had been hard for McPherson with only 2 wins and 2 draws in the first 9. Out of the Ramsdens Cup in the 1st round, there was also disappointment at Rugby Park in the Scottish Communities League Cup where they suffered a 5-0 defeat. Since then there has been improvement though they have an awful habit of winning big and then losing the next few! The December/January period – if it is free from postponements – will be a real test for Queens. Partick twice away – league and then cup – Hamilton and Ross County at home before a tricky away tie to Livingston and finishing January with a home game against Morton.
Gus McPherson’s experience and the development of a flexible squad who has the ability to switch tactics, bring the youth through and create a team that is difficult to beat may be the way forward. The people brought in by McPherson have made a significant contribution. The Falkirk result was a freak one. Despite having lost 2-1 the week before at Dundee Queens did compete, the previous game was the demolition of near neighbours, Ayr United. Whilst both Gus McPherson and Andy Millen are looking for a settled side it may be a very bumpy season still to come for Queen’s fans. Whether they are in mid table or they are stuck in the play offs is far too difficult to predict. One thing though is for sure, both the coaches and the staff of the club are determined to work together in a way that 9 months ago seemed impossible. That may be the only progress worth celebrating for the now.