Brechin City 1, Stranraer 3
Stranraer surpassed last season’s points tally with more than a third of the season remaining with victory at Glebe Park last weekend.
What looked a tricky proposition turned out to be a stroll in the Angus sunshine as the Blues swept their play-off challenging rivals aside with a fabulous display of attacking football.
Blues manager Stephen Aitken sprung a selection surprise before kick-off, resting top scorer Jamie Longworth and pairing Martin Grehan up front with David McKenna, who would no doubt relish playing against his former club.
The early stages saw Stranraer piling on the pressure with a number of chances.
Brechin did respond when Andy Jackson crossed for Robert Thomson but the young striker was outmuscled by Frank McKeown who headed clear.
Stranraer still looked the more threatening and Andy Stirling in particular caused problems and he drew the booking for Steven Robb as the home side struggled to contain him.
Nevertheless it took a superb last-ditch challenge from Docherty to prevent Barr having a real chance as he burst through on goal and it proved a pivotal moment.
Once David Mitchell had snuffed out the next Brechin attack by diving at Thomson’s feet, Stranraer burst forward at pace. David McKenna played a lovely diagonal pass to Grant Gallagher inside the box. He drew Graeme Smith away from his goal and laid the ball back to mark Docherty. He could have blasted it but showed great composure and left the goalkeeper sprawling before squaring to Martin Grehan who couldn’t miss from three yards.
The Blues were now in free-flowing mood and when Grehan sent Andy Stirling running clear down the left he was pursued by Paul McLean as they entered the penalty area, with some contact made, Stirling went sprawling and the referee awarded a penalty and booked the defender. Martin Grehan made no mistake from the spot as he sent Smith the wrong way.
It should have been three after 40 minutes when Sean Winter made a great break down the right and crossed for McKenna who appeared to have the simplest of chances from six yards but the ball may have taken a bobble just in front of him.
A minute later it was three with a fantastic piece of counter-attacking football. Right from their own box, McKenna picked up the loose ball and drove down the left. Gallagher made another penetrating run and when McKenna picked him out with his pass, Gallagher knocked the ball down perfectly into the path of Grehan who completed his first-half hat-trick by smashing an unstoppable drive past the helpless Smith.
Brechin made a couple of changes and showed a bit more urgency after the break but they still looked unable to break down the Stranraer rearguard. However, just before the hour a momentary lapse by the otherwise excellent Gallagher allowed a loose ball to reach Thomson and he slipped it to Andy Jackson to slot past Mitchell.
The lifeline lasted a mere seven minutes as, moments after being spoken to for fouling Stirling, McLean did it again and received his second caution and a red card.
Stranraer controlled the possession and territory and only some over-elaborate play and stray passes prevented them creating more chances.
Stranraer boss Stephen Aitken thought the first 45 minutes were magnificent. A true reflection of the domination the team had enjoyed in what was probably the best half of football of the season. He was delighted that the team had done such a professional job in a very important game that came at a difficult time sandwiched between big games against Inverness and Rangers and it was great that Stranraer had showed once again how good they can be.
Brechin City: Graeme Smith, Paul McLean, Steven Robb (Derek Carcary 56), Graham Hay, Garry Kenneth, Allan Walker, Ryan Ferguson (Craig Molloy 46), Darren Petrie (Jonathan Brown 46), Andy Jackson, Robert Thomson, Bobby Barr.
Booked: Robb, McLean, Walker, Molloy, Barr
Sent off: McLean
Goal: Jackson 59
Stranraer: David Mitchell, Scott Robertson, Mark Docherty, Scott Rumsby, Frank McKeown, Steven Bell, Sean Winter (Stephen Stirling 72), Grant Gallagher, Martin Grehan (Jamie Longworth 75), David McKenna (Adam Forde 86), Andy Stirling. Subs not used: David MacGregor, Lloyd Kinnaird, Ryan Borris, Chris Fahey.
Goals: Grehan 26, 35 pen, 41
Referee: B Cook