HAMILTON missed the opportunity to take advantage of Championship leaders Dundee having an idle weekend and were forced to settle for a point – remaining second in the tense chase for the single automatic promotion place – after this keenly-contested encounter with Queen of the South.
Scorers: Queen of the South- Reilly 63; Hamilton Academical - Canning 56
The outcome yesterday actually increases the possibility that these two sides could cross paths in the play-offs and judging from what was on view both sets of supporters could be chewing on their fingernails as to who might prevail come May.
This was an attritional 90 minutes, with chances few and far between as both sides pressed up and suffocated any prospect of a free-flowing game. With little width being explored, play was compressed between either penalty box for long spells and it was both a relief and something of a surprise that we were treated to two goals in quick succession after the break, Martin Canning’s effort for Accies being followed by Gavin Reilly’s response for the hosts.
“It could have gone either way”, reflected Hamilton manager Alex Neil, “but having gone in front we’re a bit disappointed. When you get the goal, you’re hoping you can see it out. Over the piece a point is probably a fair result – both teams went for it and tried to win.”
Notwithstanding the desire of either side to claim a crucial victory, the opening 45 minutes were sterile with few openings and the best moments coming principally from the hosts. The darting runs and energetic hustling of Reilly was a recurring source of discomfort for the visitors’ central defensive pairing of Canning and Jesus Garcia Tena. A fine sinuous passing move involving Iain Russell and Paul Burns saw Reilly breaching the Accies rearguard but after rounding Kevin Cuthbert he ran out of space and slammed his shot against the post from a tight angle.
Russell was also denied by the frame of the goal as the interval approached, his fiercely-driven shot cannoning off the crossbar and teammate Bob McHugh unable to knock in the rebound as his diving header flew over the target. Hamilton, who had a fairly even share of the possession, struggled to engineer any opportunities but Anthony Andreu did test Zander Clark’s reflexes with a fiery 35-yard effort.
If ever a game needed a goal to inject some verve into the proceedings it was this one and it was perhaps unsurprising that it took a set piece to unlock the door.
Jason Scotland won a corner for Accies early in the second half and when it was floated over, Canning, pictured, found himself with space to direct a simple header into the net. Given all the unproductive huff and puff that had preceded it, Queens managed to get themselves level remarkably quickly. Only a few minutes had elapsed when the omnipresent Reilly applied a commendably composed finish to a ball driven across the visitors’ box by Kevin Holt.
Uplifted, and led principally by Russell and Reilly, the hosts chiselled away at the obstinate Hamilton defence in search of a winner and the latter was denied his second goal of the afternoon only by a magnificent reaction save by Cuthbert, who somehow managed to push his netbound header to safety. Whilst they may have been frustrated not to have taken all three points, there was a scare for Jim McIntyre’s men as Grant Gillespie’s last-minute effort had to be tipped away by another fine block by Clark. “I’m disappointed we weren’t a little more ruthless,” remarked the rueful Queens manager, “but I thought the response of my players to going behind was magnificent”.