Inverness Caledonian Thistle 2, Stranraer 0
Stranraer bowed out of the Scottish Cup on Tuesday but not before they had again made their Premiership opponents battle hard.
Ultimately, the two-goal margin didn’t convey the story accurately as Stranraer were more than a match for Inverness for long periods.
The visitors were hit with a hammer blow early on when the home team scored within three minutes with a goal from Nick Ross.
But this did not dampen Stranraer spirits and they battled back into the contest. Stranraer created a great chance with an incisive move up the right. Neat passing between Scott Robertson and Jamie Longworth allowed Sean Winter the space to burst into the penalty area and from a tight angle he hit the target but Dean Brill saved.
As the half progressed, Stranraer settled into a rhythm and began to dictate more of the play. The problem the visitors kept encountering was a resolute Caley Thistle back four.
Steven Bell tried to send Winter clear on the right but the move was delayed as the ball got stuck in the mud. However, Winter won the ball back and forced a corner. Andy Stirling delivered and McKeown saw his header land on the roof of the net and that was as close as the Blues would come during the first half.
Inverness came out of the blocks quickly after the interval but after a 10-minute spell of pressure, Stranraer once again dug deep and had a period of their own where they had plenty of possession but again found it difficult to convert this into clear-cut opportunities.
With Grant Gallagher in particular and Bell winning their fair share of the midfield battle it began to look increasingly like Stranraer had the energy and fitness to force a result but they still struggled to break down the Inverness rearguard.
Even when Inverness broke forward a superb challenge from Scott Rumsby set up a counter-attack that David McKenna and Martin Grehan inspired and found Stirling who won a corner. Stirling delivered and Bell just failed to get enough contact on his header to threaten the Caley Thistle goal.
Stranraer were playing well and hoping for a chance when suddenly it came. Bell picked up the ball in the centre circle and headed forward. As the ball sat up and demanded to be hit, he did just that from 30 yards and as the ball dipped and looked to be heading for the top corner, Brill lived up to his name and produced a fine save.
Inverness needed another to make the game safe and sealed the result right on full-time. Greg Tansey found Aaron Doran 20 yards out and he bent a shot around Mitchell.
A proud Stephen Aitken reflected positively on how well his team had matched Inverness again and despite the disappointment of the early goal, the team dug in and gave as good as they got. “It would have been nice to have got a goal to give the supporters who turned out tonight but it wasn’t to be,” he said.
Inverness Caledonian Thistle: Dean Brill, David Raven, Graeme Shinnie, Gary Warren, Josh Meekings, Richie Foran, Ross Draper (Aaron Doran 66), James Vincent, Greg Tansey, Nick Ross (Marley Watkins 80), Billy McKay.
Booked: Draper, Watkins
Goals: Ross 3, Doran 90
Stranraer: David Mitchell, Scott Robertson, Mark Docherty, Scott Rumsby, Frank McKeown, Steven Bell, Sean Winter (David McKenna 66), Grant Gallagher, Martin Grehan, Jamie Longworth (Adam Forde 75), Andy Stirling. Subs not used: David MacGregor, Lloyd Kinnaird, Chris Fahey.
Booked: Docherty, Bell
Referee: A Muir