Stranraer 3, Arbroath 2
It may look on paper as though this was a close match but the reality was that it was anything but.
The Blues roared out of the starting blocks and a superb first-half display had them well on top. Indeed, only the absence of a more ruthless streak in front of goal prevented the contest being over by half-time.
From the kick-off Stranraer set about their opponents with an intent that was a delight to watch. The initial signs were good and suggested better things would follow – and it didn’t take very long for that to happen. From a corner, the Red Lichties managed to avert the danger initially but the ball broke to Andy Stirling who had time to pick out a target in the danger zone. He achieved that perfectly with a splendid curling cross that Martin Grehan was able to attack and he ensured he was first to the ball and nodded past Scott Morrison to give Stranraer the lead.
It took fully 25 minutes for Arbroath to get anywhere near the Stranraer goal, but when a fine solo run by Alan Cook down the left was followed by a low drive from a difficult angle keeper David Mitchell did his job.
The game remained firmly in the control of Stranraer and when Mitchell launched another long clearance that the Arbroath back three failed to deal with, Grehan latched on to the bouncing ball and hammered a shot from inside the box that only narrowly missed the target.
If that was a stroke of fortune for the visitors, it didn’t last long as the home side capitalised on more slackness at the back and doubled their lead. It was Paul Sheerin who made the crucial mistake with a misplaced pass but Stirling who provided the vital component of the move with a great driving run forward and he unleashed a fierce drive that Morrison could only parry, and the ever alert Jamie Longworth headed the loose ball straight back into the net.
There was no stopping Stranraer as they opened up the Arbroath defence almost at will and a third goal soon arrived to put them in total command. Gallagher was the architect, winning a header in midfield that moved the ball forward to Grehan, who looked surrounded by defenders but a magnificent decoy run from Gallagher in support opened up a gaping hole for the striker to exploit and he did so magnificently by turning and drilling a low shot past the helpless Morrison.
Arbroath had to try something different and a formation change saw a more positive approach. Mitchell did well to take in a Cook cross under pressure and Sheerin had a shot deflected to safety.
As the hour mark approached, Arbroath grabbed a lifeline. David MacGregor gave away possession and the visitors surged back towards the goal. The ball fell to Lee Erwin and he showed good technique to drag the ball down and past the keeper.
There was still time for a late controversy and the referee angered home fans with two apparent errors in stoppage time. Mark Docherty dashed into the box and was grounded by David Banjo with the contact obvious to everyone only to receive a caution for a dive. Then, as Arbroath moved back upfield, Rumsby fouled Erwin at least a couple of yards outside the box but a penalty was the result. Alan Cook stepped up and converted it confidently but there was no time for it to be any more than a consolation.
Stephen Aitken was relieved that the incidents at the end had not tarnished what was a superb performance from the Blues, agreeing that Stranraer fully deserved to win although it would have been nicer to have finished the game off sooner.
Stranraer: David Mitchell, Scott Rumsby, David MacGregor, Scott Robertson, Frank McKeown, Chris Aitken, Andy Stirling (Ryan Borris 87), Grant Gallagher, Martin Grehan (David McKenna 72), Jamie Longworth, Mark Corcoran (Mark Docherty 68). Subs not used: Sean Winter, Adam Forde, Chris Fahey
Booked: Rumsby, Stirling, Docherty, McKenna
Goals: Grehan 11, 39, Longworth 30
Arbroath: Scott Morrison, David Banjo, Colin Hamilton (Johnny Lindsay 40), Darren Smith, Michael Travis, Alex Keddie, Bobby Linn (Steven Milne 46), Ross Chisholm, Lee Erwin, Alan Cook, Paul Sheerin (Lee Sibanda 75). Subs not used: Lari Yao, Bradley Donaldson, Kieran McWalter, Josh Gray.
Booked: Hamilton, Lindsay
Goals: Erwin 59, Cook 90 (pen)
Referee: E Norris