Blues go so close to cup upset

Stranraer players and fans celebrate after Jamie Longworth makes it 2-1
Stranraer players and fans celebrate after Jamie Longworth makes it 2-1

Stranraer 2 Inverness Caledonian Thistle 2

An entertaining cup tie finished all square and now Stranraer face the long trip to the Highlands next Tuesday for a replay against the Premiership side.

It was no more than Stevie Aitken’s battling Blues deserved as they again matched illustrious opposition and earned all the plaudits after an enthralling encounter.

The Blues agreed to wear their lime-coloured away kit, which had proven lucky earlier in the season and maybe lightning could strike again.

Within a couple of minutes it should have. Andy Stirling linked up with Grant Gallagher who slid a perfectly weighted pass into the path of Sean Winter who should have scored but his effort hit Dean Brill.

Inverness replied with a long-range effort from David Raven that didn’t threaten David Mitchell but a free header from Ross Draper minutes later should have troubled the keeper but the giant midfielder headed straight at him.

Stranraer had a couple of early penalty shouts turned down as a Jamie Longworth shot struck a defender and then Martin Grehan was bundled over but the referee waved play to continue.

Steven Bell had a chance from the edge of the box on the next Blues attack but dragged his effort as the League One outfit continued to more than match the League Cup finalists.

Nevertheless, the visitors managed to take the lead against the run of play. Graeme Shinnie chipped the ball down the left and as it eluded Bell it gave Aaron Doran the chance to turn him and step forward to the edge of the box where he curled a low shot out of the reach of Mitchell five minutes before the break.

Stranraer mounted another attack and Stirling found Docherty as he overlapped on the left. His cross looked certain to be converted by Grehan but Shinnie bundled him over and a penalty was the result with the Caley Jags defender fortunate only to receive a yellow card. Martin Grehan stepped up and sent Brill the wrong way to ensure the Blues had parity at the break.

The second half opened with Inverness trying to wrestle the ascendancy but finding it difficult to do so.

Longworth tried to break but Warren won the ball in a challenge before Doran shot straight at Mitchell and eventually the Highlanders manager John Hughes was forced to pay Stranraer the compliment of changing his formation and introduce another striker in Richie Foran to play more directly.

Billy McKay was denied by Scott Rumsby and he then had another chance blocked by Frank McKeown.

Just as the visitors had scored against the run of play in the first half, Stranraer returned the compliment with 18 minutes left. A loose ball in the centre circle fell to Longworth and the Blues top scorer broke through on goal. As he reached the penalty area he unleashed a right-footed drive that was past Brill in a flash and his short goal drought was over as his 20th of the season was greeted by a huge roar.

However, the visitors were level again within two minutes. A cross from the right was headed back into the middle by Foran and Inverness top scorer McKay reacted quickest and nodded the ball into the Stranraer net.

Mitchell twice denied McKay by diving at his feet to save as Inverness pressed for a winner but in truth they never really looked getting it and it would have been harsh on Stranraer had they been denied another bite at the Caledonian Stadium this coming week.

Inverness boss Hughes was sincere in his praise for Stranraer and insisted that all the credit should go to the Wigtownshire side. Admitting that he thoroughly enjoyed the game, he was delighted that his side dug deep and made sure they stayed in the game.

Stephen Aitken reflected on how far Stranraer have progressed this season when there is a feeling of disappointment at not being able to hold out against a Premiership team. Nevertheless a draw was about fair and he was proud that Stranraer had matched a very good team for 90 minutes and they would look forward to the trip to Inverness for another crack but not before an important league match against Arbroath this weekend.

Stranraer: David Mitchell, Scott Robertson, Mark Docherty, Scott Rumsby, Frank McKeown, Steven Bell, Sean Winter, Grant Gallagher, Martin Grehan, Jamie Longworth (Adam Forde 86), Andy Stirling (David McKenna 82). Subs not used: David MacGregor, Lloyd Kinnaird, Ryan Borris, Chris Fahey.

Booked: None

Goals: Grehan 45 Pen, Longworth 72

Inverness Caledonian Thistle: Dean Brill, David Raven, Graeme Shinnie, Gary Warren, Josh Meekings, Marley Watkins (Richie Foran 58), Ross Draper, James Vincent, Greg Tansey, Aaron Doran (Danny Williams 68), Billy McKay. Subs not used: Nick Ross, Danny Devine, Carl Tremarco, Liam Polworth, Ryan Esson.

Booked: Shinnie, Tansey, Foran

Goals: Doran 40, McKay 74

Attendance: 722

Referee: K Clancy