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Hamilton 3 Queen of the South 1: Antoine-Curier is the force of nature to raise expectations

ONE Scottish fixture was called off yesterday due to heavy rainfall.

Ali Crawford scored Hamilton's third goal		 Photograph: SNS
Ali Crawford scored Hamilton's third goal Photograph: SNS

Four miles down the road there was another drenched in the anticipation of a return to the top flight, with Hamilton Academical winning to keep in touch with SPFL Championship leaders Dundee. The forecast for the Lanarkshire side had become overcast during a run of four league matches without a victory towards the end of last year, but a win against Queen of the South yesterday would allow Hamilton to recover a far sunnier disposition.

There was daylight between the teams within just 10 minutes and it illuminated those charged with recovering the club's place in the top flight, almost three years after Hamilton were relegated. Mickael Antoine-Curier played in the side which dropped down in 2011 and he has returned this season boasting the same physique which can make the ground tremble. The visitors' defence seemed to shiver when faced with the striker too, not least when he barrelled on to one fugitive back pass midway through the first half, only to batter a shot over the crossbar.

The France-born forward provides a clear and deliberate strength in this Hamilton team, but his side are often a more persuasive candidate for promotion to the Premiership this season when they employ greater subtlety. In Antoine-Curier and defender Martin Canning, the Lanarkshire side have two sturdy pillars, with the callow players strung between them billowing with clever enterprise. Ali Crawford would puff out his cheeks more than once, his movement and measured passing allowing his team-mates to find a yard of extra space in attacking positions.

They would put a bit of a gap between themselves and Queens within the opening 10 minutes, with Louis Longridge steering a low shot into the net after four minutes. The initial lofted free-kick from Mikey Devlin had exposed the Queen of the South defence and they would be left covering their modesty again just six minutes later when Antione-Curier clattered the ball past goalkeeper Zander Clark.

"In the first half hour we were completely comfortable and it looked as though it could have been more," said Alex Neil, the Hamilton player-manager.

They were the cold facts on a chilly Lanarkshire afternoon, although the visitors had briefly been invited to warm up their ambitions of a second consecutive victory. The Dumfries side had found comfort from a win in Cowdenbeath last month and waited only three minutes to trouble Hamilton - Chris Higgins crashing a header against the crossbar.

It was an act of simple impertinence which Queens were unable to repeat. The club had arrived in the division with ambitions of becoming nestled in mid-table, although those have been lowered as the campaign has drawn on. They are capable of holding their own - a win over St Mirren in the Scottish League cup earlier this season was not a victory of chance - but yesterday their more assured players became trapped beneath their team's early collapse.

Michael Paton is the Dumfries side's most compelling talent and Iain Russell is a devilish figure, with the pair of them combining to cut the deficit in half after 22 minutes. Russell turned a shot into the net after Paton's shot was deflected across goal.

The latter would flash another shot past a post, Russell had one turned wide late on and there was a spell of pressure for Queen of the South late on, but that would serve only as a gentle reminder to Hamilton that they were meant to be in a game. "We battered away, but we just didn't have that killer instinct," said visitors' manager Jim McIntyre.

That would not bother their hosts; Crawford having bounded on to a loose ball to lift a shot high into the net to make it 3-1 after 58 minutes. His side would rise to within two points of first place by the end. "At the start of the season our aim was to make it into the top four and it's a credit to the players that expectations change," Neil added, looking toward the bright spells ahead.

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