Keith Knox’s strategy of resting key players during the league run-in proved to be a great tactical move as his fresh looking Stranraer side bounced back from five straight defeats to dominate this play-off semi-final. A confident 3-1 win in front of just under 500 fans gives the Blues the upper hand going into the second leg at Hampden tomorrow.
The game was played at a tremendous pace and it took the home side just 17 minutes to go in front, when Craig Malcolm’s pass released Sean Winter to beat the defence and slam home from close range. The advantage was doubled five minutes later when Malcolm pounced on defensive indecision to score his 16th league goal of the season.
Only desperate defending stopped Stranraer increasing the lead, including a goal-line block of a great effort from Malcolm.
Moments after the restart (where Queen’s Park manager Gardner Speirs had, as he put it, “cleared his throat somewhat” in the dressing room) his side were back in the game. They won a corner and Watt’s quick delivery caught the home side napping as Tony Quinn was there to bundle it into the net. Stranraer worked hard to restore the two-goal advantage and would have done so on a number of occasions were it not for some heroics from visiting keeper Neil Parry, who made three fine stops in quick succession to deny the Blues. A third began to look inevitable, though, and it came 22 minutes from time, when Winter met Martin Grehan’s looping cross with a perfectly executed volley to put Stranraer in the driving seat in this tie.
Afterwards, Knox was quick to stress he wasn’t getting carried away. “We had some great chances and on another night could have killed off the tie completely but I’m delighted with the performance. We’ve a big game still to play on Saturday, though – this is only half-time”.
Stranraer: Mitchell, Taggart, McGregor, McKeown, Noble, Winter, Stirling, Aitken, Borris (Gallagher 46), Malcolm, Grehan (Moore 70). Subs Not Used: Marshall, Belkouche, Stuart McColm.