Queen of the South effectively secured their place in the play-offs after Derek Lyle’s first-half volley was enough to defeat Falkirk, their only remaining rival in the battle for fourth place in the Championship.
Queen of the South - 1
Falkirk - 0
Referee: A Muir
Yesterday’s hard-fought triumph capped a memorable nine days for the Dumfries side in which they also beat Hibs at Easter Road and recorded their biggest-ever win over Rangers. James Fowler’s buoyant side now sit four points clear of the Bairns with a game in hand. Crucially, Falkirk’s two remaining games are against Rangers and Hibs, while Queens finish with a run of three games against teams in the bottom four.
Lyle, who scored the winner from Queens’ only notable attempt on target, said: “We can only throw it away now. It’s in our hands, so it would be really sore if we blew it now. Most people would have laughed if anybody had said we’d take nine points from games against Hibs, Rangers and Falkirk in such a short space of time.
“We want to make sure we win our last three games so that we go into the play-offs with momentum. I don’t care whether we play Hibs or Rangers. We’ve beaten them both recently. We’ll fear no-one in the play-offs.”
Falkirk had to win at Palmerston to have a realistic chance of moving into fourth, and, although they enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, they lacked a cutting edge in the absence of their injured top scorer, Rory Loy. They almost went ahead in the 11th minute when John Baird’s half-volley from the edge of the box was tipped over by Queens goalkeeper Zander Clark after Kieran Duffie had seen a close-range header blocked on the line. However, the hosts, as they had done in their historic 3-0 win over Rangers on Thursday, went ahead with their first chance.
With 22 minutes gone, Clark sent a long kick-out forward, Falkirk defender Will Vaulks tried to nod it back to his goalkeeper but didn’t get enough on it, and, as the ball dropped on the edge of the box, Queens’ top scorer Lyle pounced to volley it beyond Jamie MacDonald and into the net for his 18th goal of the season. “It was one of those that nine times out of ten, you can hit and it’ll end up flying anywhere, but, thankfully, I caught it sweet,” said the 34-year-old, who is one behind Hibs striker Jason Cummings in the Championship scoring charts.
Queens threatened again three minutes later when Ian McShane cut the ball back from the left, but Gavin Reilly shot wide from a couple of yards with the goal at his mercy.
Falkirk tried to respond in the 37th minute, with David Smith’s powerful shot deflected behind. From the resultant corner, taken by Craig Sibbald, Vaulks headed wide at the near post. Smith then clipped a cross inches wide of the far post before the former Hearts player rasped another shot from outside the box into the arms of Clark.
The visitors controlled the second half but struggled to create any clear-cut chances. Substitute Kevin O’Hara, who had just come on for his first-team debut, had a decent opportunity in 73 minutes but he blazed his shot over from eight yards after latching on to a drilled cross from Luke Leahy.
The youngster went even closer three minutes later when his header from a Smith cross was clawed out for a corner by Clark. However, for all their possession, there was to be no reward as the Bairns’ lingering play-off hopes faded.
Peter Houston, the Falkirk manager, insisted it was a slow start to the season that ultimately cost his side a top-four berth, as opposed to yesterday’s setback. Now he needs to pick his team up for their Scottish Cup semi-final against Hibs at Hampden on Saturday. “I’m sorely disappointed because I don’t think we deserved to lose,” he said. “We dominated the game possession-wise and Queens had only one chance and scored from it. It was our cutting edge that let us down. It showed how much we miss Rory Loy when he’s injured. But take nothing away from Queens – they’ve had three tough games in a week and they’ve taken nine points. That’s the reason they’re heading for the play-offs. Congratulations to them. We’ve got to pick ourselves up for the Scottish Cup semi-final. A lot of teams would like to be in our position with that to look forward to.”
Queens manager James Fowler was proud of his team for grinding out such a significant result at the end of a gruelling week. He said: “What a week we’ve had in terms of results but you could see towards the end that the boys were out on their feet. We’re not there yet but we’ve given ourselves a good chance to clinch a top-four place. It’s ours to throw away.”
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