Aug 1 2012 By Andrew Burns
A SECOND half header from Nicky Clark sealed Queens’ place in the second round of the Ramsdens Challenge Cup.
Clark’s 69th-minute goal was enough to see Allan Johnston’s team through at the expense of Scottish First Division new boys Dumbarton.
This was the Doonhamers’ first game at the Bet Butler Stadium, and the first time that the Dumfries outfit had played a competitive fixture in the town since 1997.
Staged at the Sons’ previous home Boghead Park, Queens ran out comfortable 3-0 winners that day and could easily have repeated that scoreline on Saturday.
There were many familiar faces in the starting line-up, with eight of Saturday’s match-day squad featuring in the opening league fixture of last season at Livingston.
But the set-up has changed significantly and new additions, including returning star Willie Gibson and ex-St Johnstone teenager Mark Durnan, injected an already strong Queens side with that little bit of extra quality.
Meanwhile, former Aberdeen midfielder Derek Young was started as one of two trialists in the squad along with former Queens striker Derek Lyle.
The performance was pleasing in many ways, not least in the Doonhamers’ continued desire to keep the ball on the ground, but the Dumfries men were also guilty of squandering a succession of chances from outset.
Clark, playing in more advanced role alongside Kevin Smith up front, had a golden chance to put his side ahead after just four minutes when he latched onto a defensive error to go one- on-one with former Queens keeper Stephen Grindley but the Sons number one parried away the tame effort.
Soon after Clark weaved in and out of two challenges to create another decent chance for himself but Grindley was up to the task again to deny the forward.
Dumbarton responded well and troubled the visitors through wingers Mark Gilhaney and new signing Steven McDougal, with defender Chris Higgins clearing the latter’s goal-bound effort just a few yards from his own line.
Neither side could make the breakthrough as half-time neared, with Danny Carmichael’s volley not troubling Grindley, while Alan Lithgow and Gilhaney couldn’t convert their chances.
Dumbarton continued to press and Queens keeper Lee Robinson showed why he was the Doonhamers’ player of the year last season with a fine save on the stroke of the half-time, turning Scott Agnew’s superb curling free kick round the post.
Queens started the second half on the front foot, with Carmichael, Clark, Smith and debutant Gibson continuing to cause problems for the Dumbarton defence.
Both sides had very strong calls for a penalty, with Higgins’ mistimed tackle from behind in the box bringing Gilhaney down before Clark, again through on goal, was bundled over from behind by XX, but referee Hilland waved away the appeals.
In what was a thoroughly entertaining end- to-end game, Queens continued to apply the pressure, with pacy forwards Clark and Carmichael both up passing up decent opportunities just after the hour mark.
But the visitors finally made the breakthrough when Clark, unfazed after missing successive chances, lost his marker to head the ball into an empty net after some impressive play down the left-wing from Carmichael.
Sons boss Alan Adamson mixed things up immediately after the goal, bringing on loan star Mark Lamont and Phil Johnston for Gilhaney and Bryan Prunty.
But they struggled to break down a solid Queens defence marshalled by the central pairing of captain Chris Higgins and new arrival Durnan.
Dumbarton huffed and puffed but, apart from a manic scramble in the box when the ball appeared to be cleared from the line, failed to blow any houses down as the visitors played the game out.
Full-backs Kevin Holt and Ryan McGuffie, who struggled to get to grips with Dumbarton’s wingers for a long spell, stood strong as the clock ticked down.
And Higgins and Durnan won almost everything in the air while Robinson looked far more comfortable in collecting crosses out of the air than last season.
This Ramsdens Cup clash was Queens’ first away win since a Scottish Cup win over Partick Thistle in January and the appreciation from the 200-odd travelling Doonhamers was as clear as day when referee Gary Hilland brought things to a close.
Dumbarton: Grindlay, Jason Marr, Lithgow, Graham, Creaney, Gilhaney (Johnston 73), Fleming, Agnew, McDougall, Lister, Prunty (Lamont 73). Subs Not Used: Ewings, McNiff, Lyden.
Queens: Robinson, McGuffie, Durnan, Higgins, Holt, McKenna, Young, Gibson (Lyle 79), Carmichael, Smith (Reilly 63), Clark. Subs Not Used: Atkinson, Mitchell, Johnston.
Goals: Clark 69.
Referee: Gary Hilland
Man of the Match: Mark Durnan.