Despite Saturday’s 2-1 defeat by Hearts, no-one can argue that Queen of the South are enjoying anything other than a fine season, with promotion play-offs and cup ties at Hampden in their grasp.
One of the main reasons for the Doonhamers’ success is striker Derek Lyle, who has had a colourful career that started at Partick Thistle in 1999 and has involved stints at eight other clubs. With 11 goals so far this season, the recently turned 34-year-old is an unexpected candidate to be this season’s top scorer at a Championship club and one more goal will give Lyle the best-ever return from his 16 seasons in the game.
While a spell as a permanent Palmerston player has given him fresh impetus, there is no one reason for his improved return in front of goal. However, Queens player/manager James Fowler talks about Lyle being a model professional in terms of the work he puts in.
The striker does not get carried away with praise. “I just enjoy myself and do a bit extra to keep myself fit,” he said. “I think after playing all these years I’ve become more intelligent about the game. I’m getting more and more into the right areas, but you cannot put your finger on this or that and say that is why I am scoring more.
“There is competition here for places and that helps. We have had Iain Russell on the bench and Stephen McKenna, Paul Burns and Michael Paton are all back from long-term injuries and are breathing down the necks of people for a starting place. We are all friends and work hard for each other, week in and week out, but you have to be on your toes to keep your starting jersey.”
Despite that competition for places, there is no bitterness within the squad. Lyle added: “The first time I was at Queens we won promotion, won the Bell’s Challenge Cup and I scored in the final. Winning things helps, and this group did that a couple of years ago as well, but this is the best dressing room I have ever been involved in.
“I have been in dressing rooms where some guys are great friends and others are not part of it or there are wee cliques about, but we are all in it together here. That is from young to old and we are proving that on the pitch as it is never-say-die for each other.”
One thing that Lyle fully supports is that mixing of young and old. “I am still a big kid and get involved in all the nonsense that goes on,” he added. “I forget about my age and one thing I always do is talk to the younger players. That never happened when I was starting.
“I would try and have a laugh with the older players and was told not to speak to an elder like that. It is not like that here and the young boys can tell me to p*** off and I don’t care. They are not being disrespectful as we have a tight dressing room.”
Being better in body and mind has also helped Lyle. “I box twice a week during the season, and during the summer I do it three or four times at the ABC club in Robroyston,” he said. “My pal James ‘Tiger’ Lyon runs it and he also does some fitness programmes.
“Big Lee McCulloch goes as does John Fleck and Scott Allan. We get together in the summer and he puts us through our, paces. I know that helps me because when I come back for pre-season I am not an ounce overweight. I look after myself better now than I did ten years ago.”
Lyle added: “I had a bad injury at Hamilton that nearly put me out of the game. I lost a bit of pace as I had pieces taken out of my hamstring to help fix my cruciate. I was 27 then and never really played again until I was 29.
“Perhaps I am getting the benefit of that time out now. I have changed my game as whilst I can still get in behind teams I am not as quick as I was.”
Lyle also reckons that using his head better in two ways has added to his goals.
“I think I have improved my heading over the years and I have scored more that way this year,” he added. “I am also using my head to ensure that I am in the right place at the right time more.
“If you get into the box you have a chance of things falling to you and things have fallen kindly to me this season.”
As well as reaching his highest ever total the season, Lyle has other targets in his sights. “Goals, quarter-finals and pushing for promotion. For my age that is terrific and does not get much better,” he said.
“To get to Hampden or get into the play-offs would be great for me and the club.
“It is a team achievement and I know that the people about here are happy that I am doing so well but nothing is finished yet.”