Matchzone: Queen’s Park Reserves (H)

Kilmarnock kicked off the 2023/24 SPFL Reserve League campaign with a 3-2 loss against Queen’s Park at the BBSP Stadium, Rugby Park on Tuesday 29th August.

A mix of youth and experience was selected for the league opener, with youngsters including Ethan Mersey and Ben Brannan blooded alongside first-team regulars Liam Polworth and Joe Wright who got valuable minutes in their legs ahead of Saturday’s cinch Premiership clash against Ross County.

Steven Warnock was given the role of supporting Bobby Wales and Innes Cameron in attack, while Fraser Murray and Aaron Brown assisted on the wings. Ben Brannan and Liam Polworth anchored the midfield, with Ethan Brown, Ethan Mersey and Joe Wright protecting Kieran O’Hara’s goal.

It took less than a minute for the returning Joe Wright to display his experience, stepping in to intercept a pass following the visitors’ initial box entry. Killie went on to dominate the first 10 minutes, winning the first couple of corners which were dealt with by the away side’s defence and goalkeeper respectively.

Aaron Brown was quick to find the target after drifting in from the left wing to collect a loose ball, which was struck first time into the arms of Calum Ferrie.

The first real sight of goal fell to Killie attacker Innes Cameron who strided into the left side of the box before forcing a solid save from a shot arrowed towards the near post. In an end-to-end spell, Kieran O’Hara was called upon to make an impressive save of his own – parrying a powerful long-range strike away from his bottom left corner.

Following his early sighter, Innes Cameron broke the deadlock with 13 minutes on the clock. The attacker displayed trademark power as he broke through on goal, holding off chasing defenders before calmly slotting home from just inside the penalty area (1-0).

Killie came close to doubling their lead after quarter of an hour. A pinpoint cross from Ben Brannan on the right touchline was met by Aaron Brown who nodded narrowly over the bar from 12 yards. The lively Ben Brannan would go close himself five minutes later, seeing a well-struck 25-yard effort claimed by the Queen’s No.1 who gathered down to his bottom right corner.

The Spiders caused problems of their own as the game progressed past the half-hour mark. A high-press resulted in a couple of turnovers inside the Killie half, the second of which concluded with Alejandro Fairlie’s 20-yard attempt curving inches past Kieran O’Hara’s right post.

After limiting the Southside Club to half-glimpses at goal, Killie doubled their advantage 10 minutes before the break. Excellent wide play saw Fraser Murray gain a yard on the full-back before delivering a cross into the middle of the box and onto the head of Bobby Wales, who gratefully nodded into the bottom right corner (2-0).

Comfortable in possession, the home side relentlessly searched for a third goal which would put the game out of sight. Bobby Wales was next to try his luck, rifling a right-footed effort narrowly wide from the outskirts of the penalty area – earning an applause for his ambition. Steven Warnock forced a fine one-handed save moments later after retrieving possession deep inside the Queen’s half.

Half-chances were all that fell in the five minutes prior to the interval. Fraser Murray went closest to extending the lead through a 30-yard free-kick attempt which was fired wide of the top right corner.

Searching for a route back into the match, the visiting side started brightest in the second period. However, it was the Queen’s No.1 who was forced into the first save of the half. Neat wing play from the energetic Fraser Murray resulted in a cross being fired into the box towards Innes Cameron who diverted goalwards but without making a strong enough connection to truly worry Calum Ferrie.

Kieran O’Hara was called back into action after 55 minutes when a quick break towards the Killie goal finished with a strong one-handed save from the Republic of Ireland international. His resistance was eventually broken five minutes later: a recovery of possession inside the Killie half resulted in Liam McLeish firing over the full-stretch keeper (2-1).

Queen’s began to show confidence as they targeted an equaliser, dictating a five-minute spell of play before the Ayrshire side regained a foothold on possession. In contrast to the first half, shooting opportunities were evasive for much of the second 45 – Queen’s the more clinical.

The visitors found an equaliser in the strangest of styles with just over 10 minutes remaining. A corner on the Main Stand side was driven low into the box, before taking a nick off a Queen’s boot and nestling in the bottom corner. Debate surrounded the celebrations, with Liam McLeish appealing loudest (2-2).

In the cruelest of circumstances, the visitors were handed a chance to win the game from the penalty spot with two minutes remaining. The ball was judged to have struck a Killie hand as an attempted slide challenge was made on the byline. Liam McLeish stepped up and smashed into the top corner, sealing his hat-trick and all three points (2-3).

Result: Kilmarnock 2-3 Queen’s Park

Kilmarnock lineup: O’Hara, Brannan, E.Brown, Wright, Mersey, Murray, Polworth, Warnock, A.Brown, Wales, Cameron

Queen’s Park lineup: Ferrie, Smith, Mauchin, Bannon, Reid, Waugh, Hickey-Fugaccia, Connolly, McLeish, Fairlie, McCormick.