Palmerston Park, Dumfries
Scottish Challenge Cup 1st Round
Match Rating: 3
When I was alerted to Virgin Trains selling tickets from London to the north west of England for just £11 each way, I decided to take advantage and make my first trip to Scotland in over three years. There was the added attraction in that I could take in a competitive game instead of the usual friendlies in July in England. With a ticket booked to Carlisle, nearby Annan Athletic was a serious consideration, however I decided that a slightly longer train journey to Dumfries would be well worth it for a ground with a reputation of being a pleasing mix of old school and modern facilities.
Palmerston Park is a brisk 20 minute walk westwards from Dumfries rail station via the town centre, and there is much to like about the place, particularly for this Englishman used to league grounds where any kind of character is getting very scarce in the quest for “safe” modern and mostly all-seater stadia. This is a ground which oozes character and is a throwback to previous generations. Straddling the half way line is an old fashioned tall all-seater stand, with a small amount of open terracing below and to one side. The other side is not used. Behind one goal is a large terrace – apparently the largest still in use in Scotland – with large old-fashioned cover. Behind the other goal is a smaller and uncovered terrace which was not in use today, whilst a modern all-seater stand stretches throughout the remaining length. Four individual, old fashioned floodlight pylons complete the feel of this being a “proper” football ground, albeit slightly tarnished by the presence of a 3G pitch. The 36 page programme was decent – pleasing on the eye, printed on good quality glossy paper and had plenty of interesting material.
For this relatively local derby, the home team would certainly be favourites, although it was difficult to predict how both teams would play this season, both having come agonisingly close to achieving promotion last season and subsequently losing several players. Queen of the South finished in fourth place in last season’s second tier Championship but lost in the playoffs to Rangers, while Stranraer finished second in the third tier League One but lost in the playoffs to Forfar Athletic.
On an overcast afternoon with occasional light drizzle, Stranraer started the stronger but had precious little cutting edge, and that was to be the theme throughout for them. The home side had the first real goalscoring chance on 13 minutes, when a free kick was curled into the danger area, and was headed towards the far top right corner, but the keeper pulled off a good save to keep the ball out. They did take the lead on 20 minutes, though. A corner was needlessly conceded when a defender headed the ball behind when otherwise the keeper would have caught it, and the ball was played to the far post by Ryan Conway, headed back across goal by Andy Dowie and Derek Lyle nodded home from close range. A narrow lead at the interval was a fair reflection on a half when Stranraer looked stronger, but Queen of the South more threatening.
The home side started the second half strongly, squandering some presentable chances to double their advantage, but after the hour mark they went through quite a bad spell, allowing Stranraer to dominate for a while and although generally they still didn’t convince they could score, they really should have done on 67 minutes, when Ryan Thompson headed over from very close range after a deflected cross evaded the defenders -a definite "would have been easier to score" moment. Although the home side weathered the storm, the tie remained very much in the balance until added on time right at the end, when Conroy stepped up for a free kick and drove the ball into the bottom right corner. So it was Queen of the South who progress to the next round with a solid if unspectacular performance, whilst there was much for Stranraer to be pleased about their performance, although their lack of cutting edge would be a major concern.