Blues have to settle for draw

Stranraer 1, Arbroath 1

Shaun Niven at Stair Park

Waiting a week seemed like an eternity for Blues fans to get the opportunity to see Stranraer exorcise the memory of last week’s thrashing.

There was little doubt that Keith Knox and Stephen Aitken had the same determination instilled into the players as the league campaign began in satisfactory fashion with a performance against Arbroath that could easily have brought more reward than the draw.

The biggest disappointment was the poor attendance of just 290. Those who stayed away lost out as they missed an entertaining game.

Arbroath got off to a good start and a couple of dangerous crosses from the left were dealt with competently by Mick Dunlop and then David Mitchell. Michael Moore was restored to the home starting 11 to provide a presence up field, and his first involvement was an attempted header on goal that lacked power.

Stranraer looked much more confident and retained possession for a spell, creating another chance that Sean Winter headed wide before the Blues went even closer. Chris Aitken crossed to the far post and Craig Malcolm flicked it on for Moore at the back who beat Darren Hill but defender Michael Travis was covering and hooked the ball off the line.

Travis was immediately involved at the other end when he tried to get on the end of a Paul Currie corner and did enough to knock it down for Lee Sibanda but he pulled his shot high. Currie then flicked a cross into the path of Darren Gribben, who volleyed a fine effort goalwards from the edge of the box that needed the fingertips of Mitchell to divert it over the crossbar.

Steven Doris then glanced the crossbar himself as the Red Lichties threatened again and advancing on Mitchell he lofted over the Blues keeper but just missed.

Winter and Robert Love carved out a response for Aitken but his shot was blocked by Brian Kerr before Hill could be put under any pressure. Winter delivered the next telling cross that Alex Keddie, appearing against his former club, headed clear under pressure from Moore but only as far as Aitken who struck a fierce volley that was well blocked by the maroon-clad rearguard.

The Blues pressure paid its dividend in 22 minutes with a goal created on the training ground. Set-piece rehearsal was a success as a corner from Aitken was met squarely by Michael Moore at the far post and his unstoppable header opened the scoring.

A half chance for Love was blocked and Moore then headed a Mark Staunton cross on to the roof of the net as Stranraer tried to press home their early advantage, and Moore went agonisingly close when heading an Aitken free kick a yard wide.

Arbroath did well to take the sting out of the play for a period leading up to the interval but it was Hill who had to look lively as a Malcolm rose to head at goal but the visitors’ keeper clawed the ball away.

Arbroath served notice of their prowess as Gribben set up Currie for a chance but Mitchell had his angles worked out and he denied the former Berwick midfielder. There was nothing Mitchell could do about the next effort as Doris connected sweetly from the edge of the box but his rasping shot rattled the crossbar and bounced down and out, much to the relief of the Blues faithful.

A third chance in quick succession followed when Sibanda made a good run down the left and swung in a fine cross that gave Currie a free header but it proved too hot for him and he wasted the chance by putting the ball wide.

The warning signs posted before the interval by Arbroath proved worthy of heed within a minute of the restart as the Lichties equalised. Paul Sheerin crossed from the left and it seemed innocuous until Dunlop misjudged the bounce and failed to find Mitchell with his header. Despite the best efforts of Frank McKeown, Darren Gribben latched on to the ball, took aim and despatched a stinging left-foot drive into the far corner.

This put the former Blue in the mood for more and a free kick just outside the box was his next effort and he curled the ball over the wall but also a couple of feet wide of the post.

Stranraer had struggled for 10-15 minutes but, just as the visitors had done after conceding, they fought back into the game and eventually created another good chance as Malcolm headed down into space for Moore who dragged his 20-yard shot wide. Minutes later a Grant Gallagher centre found Moore on the edge of the box and he hit the target this time but Hill was waiting.

Arbroath carved out a terrific opportunity when Keddie found Currie on the edge of the box but he turned and shot wide. The Blues counter-attacked and Malcolm found Winter 20 yards out. His effort was deflected over off Travis, but had he spotted Moore to his right the pass would have been the better option.

Gribben then found himself in a similar position at the other end but when shooting would have been the right option he tried to find Derek Holmes and Staunton stepped in to clear the danger.

Arbroath patiently tried to create an opening and Doris was so close to finding space but a great interception by Gallagher ensured the Blues could clear any danger and the Blues defence stood firm against the visitors’ pressure. In fact the best chance late in the game was created by Dean Agnew for Stranraer as his run down the right and cross was met by Malcolm at the near post and he beat Hill with the flick but the ball drifted the wrong side of the upright.

Stranraer coach Keith Knox was upbeat and very satisfied with the response and reaction his side gave from the previous game. The character of the side was evident, and the passing, movement and work rate had returned so there was plenty of pride to be taken. While there were chances to win the game, a point on the board is a decent start.

Arbroath boss Paul Sheerin wasn’t too disappointed with a share of the points. His side had created enough chances but the finishing had not been quite up to standard on the day. He agreed there had been little to choose between the teams in an even game that could have gone either way.

Stranraer: David Mitchell, Mark Staunton, Michael Dunlop (Lloyd Kinnaird 54), Robert Love, Frank McKeown, Chris Aitken, Sean Winter, Grant Gallagher, Michael Moore (Adam Forde 84), Craig Malcolm, Ryan Borris (Dean Agnew 77).

Subs not used: Blair Dougan, Russell Cadwell. 

Booked: Love

Goal: Moore 22

Arbroath: Darren Hill, Mark Baxter, Kieran Brennan, Brian Kerr (David Banjo 75), Michael Travis, Alex Keddie, Lee Sibanda (Derek Holmes 68), Paul Currie, Steven Doris, Darren Gribben (Jake Mair 81), Paul Sheerin.

Subs not used: Joe Prince-Wright, Tony Bullock.

Goal: Gribben 46

Attendance: 290

Referee: E Anderson