SO THE race for the Championship is still very much on. With Dundee beginning to show some ominous momentum as league leaders, Hamilton demonstrated a bit of much-needed resilience and sharp finishing to keep up the chase after some indifferent results in the run up to the festive period.
In a game where the entertainment only rarely ebbed after a breathless opening 25 minutes, Accies deservedly prevailed mainly thanks to their energetic assault on the Queens goal in the first half, which should have been rewarded by more than a goal each from Louis Longridge and Mickael Antoine-Curier. However, with the visitors pulling one back from Iain Russell and showing greater resolve after the interval, it needed a stunning finish from Ali Crawford to allow Alex Neil’s men to start looking upwards again rather than over their shoulders.
A relieved, but happy, Neil was left reflecting on the fine margins and twists of fortune that can decide the fate of sides like his own where currently each result counts a great deal. “We’ve played better in some games recently and haven’t gone on to win,” he insisted. “We started really well today, then we shot ourselves in the foot a bit with their goal and we were a bit tentative after that. Once we broke away and got the third that settled us a bit again though.”
Any notion that there might be a post-Hogmanay lethargy about New Douglas Park on a murky afternoon were simply blown away in a frenetic opening spell which firstly saw the visitors denied by the woodwork and a goal-line clearance within the space of seconds and then Accies fly into a two-goal lead. In view of what was about to befall them, Queens had good reason to curse their luck as Chris Higgins sent in a powerful header which walloped the crossbar and then Stephen McKenna’s follow-up was nodded off the line.
Hamilton immediately stepped forward to unleash a couple of quick-fire strikes to add to a bewildering start to the game. In both cases the Queens rearguard were slow to react at set pieces, with Longridge and Antoine-Curier pouncing on loose balls after a free-kick and corner respectively, to drill fierce shots past a helpless Zander Clark. Astonishingly, Antoine-Curier managed to find the time to miss a sitter in between these goals as he side-footed against an upright when it seemed easier to score.
The way the hosts were pulling their opponents out of position and exploiting their hesitancy when confronted by pace suggested there were more goals to be had for them before the break. Surprisingly then, the next occasion the ball found its way into the net it was to be Queens who put it there, igniting a flicker of hope courtesy of Russell, who lashed a shot beyond Blair Currie from close range. It proved to be a brief respite from the Hamilton bombardment but, despite further fiery efforts from Antoine-Curier and Crawford, a pulsating first half closed with the outcome still in the balance.
Intriguingly, Queens were to make a far better fist of things after the break having clearly decided it was time to exploit a few of their opponents’ weaknesses rather have their own laid bare. In a series of set pieces, the aerial prowess of centre half Mark Durnan caused all sorts of palpitations for the Accies defence. The closest he came was when he saw one effort dug out from under the crossbar and booted to safety.
Neil’s men may have been more sparing with their attacking endeavours in this half, but they still carried real menace. A James Keating drive was the next to connect with the frame of the goal, but the two-goal cushion was soon restored when Crawford belted a shot into the roof of the net just before the hour mark.
Jim McIntyre’s men showed commendable resolve in continuing to take the game to Accies after this but they just could not find the composure required to make their considerable pressure count. “The goals we gave away were poor defensively,” admitted the Queens manager, “but I thought we dominated the second half and Hamilton scored their third against the run of play.”