Celebrations were rife on the pitch following their penalty shoot-out victory over Rangers in the Ramsdens Cup, but the general tendency was to try to contain the elation. More precious than the win at Ibrox was the sense that this season has the potential to be a significant one.
Allan Johnston's team are now unbeaten in 10 games, and Hibernian were already among their cup victims before Tuesday night's result. The overriding aim is to secure an immediate return to the first division, but defeating Rangers is still more than a mere distraction. The Ibrox side might be in the third division, but their resources dwarf those of any of their competitors in the lower leagues.
Elation was widespread, but mundane issues were pressing. Brechin are next up, and the second division title race would naturally be at the forefront of individuals' minds. It still seemed peculiar, though, to dwell upon the weekend fixture when Dundee United travel to Palmerston on League Cup duty this coming Tuesday.
Queens treated the occasion as if it were commonplace. There might have been an element of self-restraint, but the mood reflected the game itself. The visitors were worthy winners, even if there was good fortune in equalising with the last kick of the ball in the second-half, since the throw-in that led to the goal was disputed and the scorer, Gavin Reilly, looked offside. During long periods, it was Queens who played the more fluent and co-ordinated football.
They prevailed by not reacting to the occasion. There was no attempt to alter their tactics, with Reilly and Nicky Clark, the two strikers, setting the tone by constantly harrying the Rangers defenders. The home side's failure to impose themselves was evident, but the nature of the game was also an indictment.
"We've done that all season, that's how we set out to play," said Clark, who scored Queens' opening goal. "They weren't hurting us when they were passing it about at the back. We were putting them under pressure, so they were playing it back to Neil Alexander [the Rangers goalkeeper], who was hitting it long. We were winning the longs balls, so it was fine. We thought even before the game that we had a chance. Obviously, it's hard to play in front of the big crowd, but we had nothing to lose."
The result was damning for Rangers, but the context was also troubling. Johnston was only appointed Queens manager in the summer, and five of his seven signings were included in the line-up against Rangers. Both sides could claim this as a transition period, but Johnston's team are unbeaten and performed as though every individual was at ease with their role.
Confidence is inevitable from their recent run, but they were still a rebuke to Rangers. Ally McCoist is integrating almost a team of new signings, although many of the players are of higher quality and ought to be able to adapt. Fans will not turn readily on him, but there are contributing factors. Barrie McKay and Lewis MacLeod, for instance, made misjudgments on the ball, but that is typical of young players.
Ross Perry, too, is raw at centre-back, but his development isn't helped by the presence of Emilson Cribari, himself trying to adapt to the Scottish game, at his side. The squad is so thin that there is no competition for places, and the expectation inside and outside the club was that five or six players would arrive before the end of the transfer window. Instead, only David Templeton and Francesco Stella joined on the final day, with Carlos Bocanegra departing.
Rangers' best displays were either side of deadline day, a 3-0 win over Falkirk and a 5-1 victory over Elgin. The team played with tempo, winning the ball in dangerous areas and causing their opponents to falter. Since then, they have drawn 0-0 with Annan and lost to Queen of the South, and a lack of reinforcements has been evident.
In every way, Queens were an example to Rangers. They were energetic and forceful. The industry of Clark and Reilly was endless, and the former scored with a header that would have made his father yearn for his own pomp. Sandy Clark is Johnston's assistant coach and his son has inherited his striker's instinct.
"He's buzzing, along with the gaffer," Nicky Clark said of his dad." They have got us to this stage. [Comparisons] don't bother me, I just go out there and do my stuff. It's good having his background, he helps me through it. He's the same with everybody, he doesn't treat me differently to anybody else. He scored a few goals here, so that's me catching up with him."
Queens could have turned part-time following relegation, but the board decided to retain investment in the first team in the hope of returning to the first division. The players displayed the merit of that decision. It was also a reminder to Rangers that their own team needs to be properly nurtured and supported.
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