STRANRAER roared back into form with a convincing demolition on promotion rivals Berwick with a tremendous performance at Stair Park last weekend.
The six game unbeaten run was consigned to history as well as the miserable month of March and April was warmly welcomed by the Blues. Tormentor in chief for the home side was Stuart McColm who along with Michael Moore terrorised the Berwick defence in a display that all those in Blue shirts could confidently claim pass marks from. McColm was the main threat and amazingly bagged his first league goals since scoring a hat-trick against the same opposition more than 12 months ago. A statistic that would mystify anyone on this performance, none more so that the watching Blues faithful. Berwick on the other hand were a lacklustre outfit. A game that gave them the chance to leapfrog Stranraer in the league table and with the honourable exception of McCaldon in goal they simply didn’t turn up. Indeed, McCaldon was heroic all afternoon and saved his side from a real hammering.
An even opening saw Gray denied by a timely Kennedy tackle and an Agnew free kick tipped over by McCaldon as both sides began cautiously awaiting the first real opening and it was Stranraer who seemed the hungrier once the opening quarter hour had gone. Moore flicked a long clearance back into the path of Agnew who drew another save from McCaldon. Then another through ball for McColm gave him the chance to use his pace and beat McLean and eventually go down under pressure from the defender but the penalty appeals came to nothing as the referee gave McLean the benefit of the decision. Stranraer continued to pressure the visitors and McCaldon again denied McColm who got clear of Ewart and fired a left foot drive that the giant keeper turned away for a corner. He repeated the feat from the corner when Declan Gallagher directed a header bound for the top corner but another top class save deepened the Blues frustration. Minutes later it was a McColm cross from the left that seemed certain to find Winter for a simple tap in but that man McCaldon produced a quite magnificent one handed catch high above his head to thwart the home side once again. Berwick hardly threatened at the other end but a great diagonal ball by Notman was just a fraction too low allowing Kennedy the chance to flick it back to Mitchell or Gribben would have had a free strike at goal. Stranraer continued their almost complete dominance though and Winter headed wide from a Grant Gallagher cross, McColm crossed for Moore that he just failed to reach and McColm found Noble who shot but saw his effort deflected for a corner off Notman as the one way traffic continued. It was only punctuated by a solitary strike from Grant at the other end that went high and wide. Five minutes from the break, Stranraer finally got their reward for their efforts and broke the deadlock. Grant Gallagher played the ball through the middle for Stuart McColm to chase on to and beat McLean for pace before slipping the ball past McCaldon who for once was helpless. Gray and Gribben fashioned a chance in response but Declan Gallagher intercepted to deny the former Blue a chance but again it was Stranraer who should have scored as the interval loomed. Agnew crossed from one of his many corners and Murphy had a free header but put it over the top. Then a move involving half a dozen players ended with McColm shooting from the edge of box only for McCaldon to make yet another fine save low to his left.
On another day Stranraer could have been out of sight by this stage but despite being frustrated by the brilliance of the Berwick keeper they continued to be positive and this was rewarded 7 minutes after the break. Agnew swung a free kick into the box, the defence were nowhere and although Moore couldn’t reach the header, Declan Gallagher rushed in behind him to smash a great volley into the roof of the net. The game had seen Stranraer defend better than in recent matches but they still found time for one comedy moment and it cost them a goal. A routine clearance would have sufficed but between the defence and keeper, who all got dragged out of position no-one completed the job and the ball fell at the feet of substitute Paul Currie and with his first touch he calmly lofted the ball into the empty net from 25 yards. It was a soft goal to concede and a real bonus for Berwick who suddenly had a lifeline in a game that should have been beyond them. Strangely, Berwick failed to capitalise on their opportunity and heartening for Stranraer fans was that the Blues didn’t become affected by the mistake and it their side who maintained the momentum. With just over an hour gone Agnew played another tantalising free kick in from the left and Moore rose to head the ball, looking for all the world, into the far corner. McCaldon wasn’t finished with his days work and his best save of the day, “a worldy” according to Moore afterwards and an outstretched left hand at full length denied the Blues talismanic striker. Berwick, still toiling, created a chance for Gribben, but clearly lacking in belief his effort from outside the box was directed straight at Mitchell. On 67 minutes, Stranraer delivered the killer blow. Noble was the creator this time, winning the ball deep in his own half and striding forward to half way before spotting the run of Stuart McColm. A perfectly weighted pass allowed the local hero the opportunity to continue his torment of McLean and Ewart, skin them for pace and finish with a left foot strike across McCaldon into the bottom corner much to the delight of his new found female fan club who had by this time adopted him as their favourite.
The game fizzled out in the final quarter with Stranraer in absolute command of the game against a well beaten Berwick outfit that looked as if their recent schedule had taken its toll. Gray did have a half chance but shot over the top, Grant fired well wide from 25 yards but neither were allowed near enough to the Blues goal by the defence who coped well all day. On the rare occasion that they were beaten, a finely struck free kick from Lee Currie, Mitchell got down to his left to make a smart save. Stranraer were coasting to victory and the only thing missing was a third goal for McColm. Deep into stoppage time Nicoll slid a pass into his path to give a chance but this time from just inside the box his effort went a yard wide but his man of the match award was already secure.
Berwick boss Jimmy Crease was extremely disappointed conceding that Stranraer had been by far the better side and their pace and power had seen them dominate the game and deserve the victory.
Keith Knox was delighted to have a performance to savour that saw the Blues get a victory that they badly needed and get the push for as high a league position as possible going again. On a day that everyone performed well he hailed it as a great team effort which if repeated gave Stranraer a chance to remain in the title race
Stranraer: David Mitchell, Grant Gallagher, Antons Kurakins, Ryan Kennedy, Declan Gallagher, Scott Agnew, Stuart McColm, Paul Murphy (Danny Mitchell 60), Michael Moore (Armand Oné 77), Sean Winter (Kevin Nicoll 86), Steven Noble. Subs Not Used: Lee Sharp, Ryan Marshall
Goals: McColm 40,67, D Gallagher 52
Berwick Rangers: Ian McCaldon, Steven Notman, Stuart Callaghan, Andy McLean, Jamie Ewart, Ian Little (Paul Currie 53), David Greenhill, Lee Currie, Darren Gribben, Damon Gray (Alan Brazil 75), John Grant.
Subs Not Used: Kevin Gordon, Arran Ponton, Mark Peat.
Goal: P Currie 5
Attendance: 331 Referee: K Clancy