Stranraer 1, Stenhousemuir 2
Shaun Niven at Stair Park
One of the most protracted and dramatic close seasons in history was at last consigned to exactly that – history – last weekend.
The competitive action finally got under way with Stenhousemuir arriving in Galloway for the now traditional curtain-raiser in the Ramsdens Challenge Cup first round.
Stranraer started the game poorly and, for the first 20 minutes, the Warriors were in control.
John Gemmell and Sean Dickson combined to set up a chance for Andy Rodgers that Mick Dunlop managed to block. Gemmell and Rodgers linked up soon afterwards and this time Gemmell struck at goal but blasted over the top. Another half chance followed when Gemmell headed down for Brown Ferguson but his outstretched leg just couldn’t get that vital touch.
The Blues ventured forward eventually but Robert Love and Grant Gallagher failed to find Sean Winter with a pass and the Warriors could go on the attack once more.
Against the run of play, Callum Reidford was forced to make the first save of the game. Chris Aitken instigated a move from midfield and his through ball fell to Craig Malcolm at the edge of the box. His first time effort was heading for the bottom corner until the intervention of the goalkeeper. Kevin McKinlay had another chance for the visitors but fired over but by this time Stranraer had changed their shape and were now much more involved in the game and coping better with the Warriors than they had in the opening exchanges.
Indeed, in the 22nd minute, Stranraer should have taken the lead. Malcolm found himself in space on the edge of the box when Aitken, Winter and Love linked up well but he curled the ball over the top and the chance was gone.
Stenhousemuir responded immediately and when Rodgers was felled just outside the Blues’ box, Eric Paton stepped up and hit a great free kick that bounced over off the crossbar. Stranraer then had a similar chance when Love was dumped on the turf but Aitken didn’t trouble the Warriors’ keeper.
Scot Buist and McKinlay then contrived to almost gift the Blues an opener by losing the ball 25 yards from goal. Ryan Borris nicked it and found Malcolm who this time beat Reidford but McKinlay recovered in time to clear the ball off the goal line.
Disappointment was to follow for the Blues almost straight away as they failed to defend a Warriors’ corner and conceded the opener. McKinlay delivered and found Gemmell whose presence was enough of a nuisance once again to allow him to force the ball home past David Mitchell. And that was enough to ensure that Stenhousemuir would take an advantage into the break.
Stranraer came back out strongly and the midfield trio of Aitken, Gallagher and Borris combined to create an opening for the latter but his shot was sliced slightly and drifted a couple of yards wide of the target. An even better chance followed when the Warriors cleared an attack in less than convincing style, allowing Gallagher to head back over the central defenders into the path of Love. The Blues striker homed in on goal but couldn’t beat Reidford, who did well to spread himself enough to block the shot.
Borris then had a chance from distance that was blocked by Ross McMillan as Stranraer continued to take the game to Stenhousemuir. The Warriors looked content to soak up pressure and always looked a threat when they came forward. Mitchell was forced to look lively to punch away a Paton cross that seemed bound for the head of Rodgers with both sides sensing the importance of the next goal.
Successive corners for Stenhousemuir resulted in two chances but a Buist header and a Paton shot were both closed down and came to nothing. Ferguson fired over a cross that Rodgers got on the end of but his header from 10 yards went a couple of feet too high and Stranraer survived.
They reacted by introducing Michael Moore into the fray. His presence took only two minutes to bring an equaliser but his only involvement was in providing a distraction that allowed Winter to catch the defence napping with a front-post run to power a header home from an Aitken corner.
Moore laid a pass through for Love who beat the offside trap but great tracking by McMillan ensured the Blues’ striker couldn’t get close enough for a shot. At the other end McMillan should have made an even bigger impression when he rose to meet a Bryan Hodge corner but under little pressure he headed wide when he ought to have done better.
Another chance came minutes later and, as the Warriors lined up to shoot, desperate defending by a prostrate Dunlop was sufficient to see Paton drive the ball high and wide.
Darren Smith made a great run down the right and, as he reached the bye-line, looked up and expertly picked out Dickson but fine defending by Frank McKeown saw the chance deflected away and it looked as though the Blues would hang on for a deserved half hour of extra time.
It wasn’t to be, though, as five minutes from the end, Stenhousemuir grabbed a winner with a scrappy goal. McKinlay crossed from the left and Gemmell did well at the back post to rise above Dunlop and get a header on target that Mitchell managed to beat away. Brown Ferguson was the man on the spot just a couple of yards out and he bundled the ball into the net for the winner and a place in the next round.
New Warriors boss Martyn Corrigan was delighted to have won his first match as a manager. He was particularly pleased with the first half performance but also took heart from the way his side battled when Stranraer came back into the game and grabbed the goals at vital times.
Keith Knox was disappointed with opening 20 minutes but after that was satisfied in general with the performance that had given him more positives than negatives to take away. He was pleased that the team had begun to pass the ball better as the game went on and while the result was disappointing there was plenty of encouragement to be taken going forward.
Stranraer: David Mitchell, Lloyd Kinnaird, Michael Dunlop, Mark Staunton, Frank McKeown, Chris Aitken, Sean Winter, Grant Gallagher, Craig Malcolm (Michael Moore 68), Robert Love, Ryan Borris.
Subs not used: Dean Agnew, Kyle Rafferty, Adam Forde, Russell Cadwell.
Booked: Love, Gallagher
Goal: Winter 70
Stenhousemuir: Callum Reidford, Greg Ross, Kevin McKinlay, Scot Buist, Ross McMillan, Bryan Hodge, Brown Ferguson, Andy Rodgers (Darren Smith 76), John Gemmell, Eric Paton, Sean Dickson.
Subs not used: Iain Thomson, Ross Brash, Stewart Kean Dean Shaw
Booked: Rodgers, McKinlay
Goals: Gemmell 36, Ferguson 85
Referee: D Roache