Alloa Athletic 3, Stranraer 0
Shaun Niven at Recreation Park
A fixture that always looked like it would be tricky started reasonably well, drifted away from the Blues, then was ended before the interval.
The turning point before the break was a penalty that was despatched – along with the resulting sending off – to ensure there would be no way back.
A decent defensive rearguard in the second half saved any embarrassment but the end result was a very straightforward and easy victory for Alloa, although the Stair Park management team could take some positives from the event.
Stranraer started brightly against last season’s third division champions and were pressing as high up the park as possible with the intention of restricting Alloa space within which they could apply their passing game to exploit the movement up front of ex-Blues Kevin Cawley and Martin Grehan.
The early signs were quite encouraging as a couple of attacks produced corners but these would come to nothing. Craig Malcolm almost broke through when assisted by Mark Staunton but stout defending at the end of his box by Darren Young ensured no progress would be made. Jason Marr was next to defend a dangerous situation, this one of his own making after giving the ball away to Robert Love. Love found Sean Winter but Marr got in the necessary intervention. Alloa eventually responded and the Cawley and Grehan combined to almost get through on goal and Stephen Simmons had half a chance with the follow up but Frank McKeown blocked the effort. Grehan then threaded a lovely pass through to Graeme Holmes but as he tried to square for David Cox, McKeown was again on hand to clear the danger. There was no such luck for the Blues in the 21st minute as a quick incisive break allowed them to take the lead. Cox was the architect with a well-weighted pass down the left that sent Kevin Cawley racing clear. He raced straight for goal before proving why is one of the best strikers at this level by drawing David Mitchell and slotting the ball calmly past him for the opening goal. Alloa began to enjoy the bulk of the pressure after the goal but like Stranraer, they struggled to create anything really dangerous in front of goal all the two goalkeepers had to do for a long spell was marshal the defenders in front of them and indeed, both defences were on top of their opponents. With five minutes to the interval Stranraer had a bit of a flurry and a nice move involving several players and passes only ended when a flick from Ryan Borris was a fraction too far ahead of Malcolm and Scott Bain was able to gather the ball. Cox was denied by Mick Dunlop with a fine tackle and then Grehan headed a Michael Doyle cross over from a good position before Bain was finally called upon to make a save. Winter chipped the ball across goal and Borris charged in from the left and met the ball on the volley but the home keeper got down quickly and made a fine save. Alloa reacted and the impressive Simmons made another good break forward only to find McKeown there to block his progress but on the stroke of half time it was Simmons again who created the games defining moment. Bursting through the defence he attempted to round Mitchell and although there were lots of other players around the referee awarded a penalty and dismissed the Blues keeper for an early bath. Russell Cadwell was brought on for his debut while Love was sacrificed and his first task was to pick the ball out of the net as Martin Grehan sent him the wrong way with the spot kick.
Stranraer came out for the second half with a massive uphill task and the intent of not succumbing to a hammering while maintaining the slim hope that they could create a chance and get back into the game. Indeed the Blues kept things as tight as they could and could take some credit for their efforts. Nevertheless with the numerical advantage, it was Alloa who caused all the problems and continued to pour forward time after time. Both the fullbacks, Doyle and Daryll Meggatt had been fairly quiet earlier but they were now able to attack in support and with the extra width the home side made many chances. Staunton stretched at the last gasp to deny Cawley at the expense of a corner from which Ben Gordon was able to fire a left footed drive at goal that gave Cadwell the opportunity to make a fine save. Stranraer tried to push forward but Alloa immediately countered through Doyle who covered 60 yards before finding Cawley who attempted to chip Cadwell but couldn’t gain the required height. A double save followed as Cadwell denied Young with a drive from the edge of the box and while Grehan should probably have been more clinical, Cadwell reacted well again to grab the ball. Stranraer introduced Michael Moore to try and provide a different threat with half an hour remaining as the Blues striker announced his return from his recent injury layoff but try as might he wouldn’t be able to influence the score line on this particular afternoon. Alloa continued to dominate and Meggatt dragged a shot wide of the target, Simmons hit the side netting with a header and Mark Docherty failed to beat Cadwell from a tight angle as the home side frustratingly were unable to convert their pressure into a third goal that would surely kill off the contest. McKeown then threw himself in the path of snap shot from Robert Thomson and then the substitute had another two efforts from inside the box that Cadwell saved in both instances. Stranraer created half a chance with minutes left as Lloyd Kinnaird broke and crossed for Malcolm but he could find no way past Marr who tidied up the clearance. Almost inevitably as the game entered stoppage time, Alloa finally broke down the Blues stubborn resistance with a third goal when after a bit of a scramble in the box the ball fell nicely to Graeme Holmes to sweep a low shot into the corner of the net. There was still time for Cadwell to make another double save to deny a shot from Thomson and the follow-up flick from Grehan but the game had been up for Stranraer much earlier in the day.
Keith Knox had no dispute with penalty award but was disappointed that the goalkeeper had been sent off which killed the game for the Blues and it was always likely to be too big a task to overcome. He was pleased that Cadwell had done well when he came on and now looked forward to the two important home games that loom on the horizon.
Alloa manager Paul Hartley was delighted with the performance of his team and the positive reaction they had given him to the poor showing of their previous match. He felt that Alloa were always in control and could probably have scored more goals but the important task of getting a home win on the board had been achieved.
Alloa Athletic: Scott Bain, Michael Doyle, Daryll Meggatt, Ben Gordon, Jason Marr, Darren Young, Kevin Cawley (Mark Docherty 73), Stephen Simmons (Ross McCord 81), Martin Grehan, Graeme Holmes, David Cox (Robert Thomson 66). Subs not Used: Edward Ferns, Craig McDowall
Goals: Cawley 21, Grehan 45 Pen, Holmes 90
Stranraer: David Mitchell, Lloyd Kinnaird, Michael Dunlop, Mark Staunton, Frank McKeown, Chris Aitken, Sean Winter (Max Wright 73), Grant Gallagher, Craig Malcolm, Robert Love (Russell Cadwell 44), Ryan Borris (Michael Moore 59). Subs Not Used: Dean Agnew, Kieren Wood.
Sent Off: Mitchell
Referee: E Anderson