Pitch invasion puts paid to Preston’s hopes of shock

Referee Nick Walsh, far left, cautions Kieran Dodd in front of the Preston bench. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach
Referee Nick Walsh, far left, cautions Kieran Dodd in front of the Preston bench. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach
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THERE was no second Battle of Prestonpans this weekend, but there were enough smoke bombs, fire crackers and pitch invasions to influence the second round William Hill Scottish Cup replay between Preston Athletic and Queen’s Park.

The Glasgow side triumphed 2-1 thanks to Blair Spittal’s first-half double. However, the chances of a Preston success were hit just seconds after defender Richard Ramsay pulled a goal back on 50 minutes.

Preston hearts were beating faster and Queen’s Park looked to be on the ropes when a group of around 100 home supporters, who had been letting off smoke bombs and fire-crackers throughout, opted to run onto the park.

Their over-exuberant reaction saw on-pitch celebrations that included visiting goalkeeper Blair Lochhead being mocked by a circle of fans.

Referee Nick Walsh decided to take both teams from the field, despite order being on its way to being restored.

The sight of a police sergeant walking down the middle of the pitch for 50 yards to have a discussion with the match official brought comparisons to a famous Irn-Bru advert, but thankfully all clothes were kept on.

The sergeant and his two colleagues arranged for the offending supporters to leave the ground and when the teams returned six minutes later, a bit of fire had gone out of Preston and Queen’s saw things out.

Goalscorer Ramsay said: “The stoppage took the wind out of our sails as we looked well up for it at that point. That delay hurt us and what went on did not seem that bad. They had fans coming on when they scored in the first half, so to take us off was a bit of an over-reaction.

“The fans were up for the game. We had Queen’s Park coming here and that is a big game for us. The sending off of Mark Stewart in injury time was an over-reaction as well. However, the first half affected us badly as we started really slowly.”

Ramsay had been at fault when Spittal took advantage of his hesitancy in the home box and slipped the ball under John Gilbertson to give Queen’s the lead after 13 minutes.

Twenty-five minutes later, Spittal flicked in a Michael 
Keenan header to put Queen’s in control and the game would have been out of sight had Sean Burns scored rather than shoot wide when clean through just before the break.

Preston boss David Bingham made two substitutions at the break and Ramsay redeemed himself with a fine headed finish to a free kick by Michael Osbourne.

The game then had its short hiatus and Queen’s used the break at this point to re-group and whilst Jamie Brown had a half-chance from a Sean Martin knock-down, Preston never quite got back on top of things.

Queen’s settled and Burns had an effort deflected wide, Keenan headed against the bar and despite Tony Quinn missing an easy chance to totally calm their nerves when he shot against Gilbertson, with the goal gaping, they saw things out.

Home substitute Stewart saw red in injury time when he picked up a second booking for a challenge on Spittal, with Bingham sent to the stand for voicing his displeasure at the decision.

Bingham said: “We gave away soft goals, but our second-half performance was outstanding. It was not to be and I let people down with getting sent to the stand at the end. It is a passionate game and sometimes I wonder if match officials understand that.

“The break never helped us and it gave them a chance to settle down. It was not ideal, but the game was not at Hampden. It was at a non-league ground and we don’t have the comforts they have. We cannot afford to have a policeman to man-mark every member of the crowd.”

Bingham added: “You do not want anyone hurt, but it was a big game and perhaps it got the better of a couple of people.”

Queen’s Park now face Ayr United away and head coach Gardner Speirs said: “Losing the goal after half-time disappointed me as we had warned the players about giving away free kicks. I got the chance to speak to them when the break came and we calmed things down.”