Blues bounce back

Stranraer 1, Stenhousemuir 1

Shaun Niven at Stair Park

Stranraer bounced back in some style from last week’s heavy defeat at Forfar to restore their pride.

THis was a fine performance against a Stenhousemuir side that just missed out on the promotion play-offs last season and are expected to go one better this time. In fact, on Stranraer’s second-half showing they could consider themselves unfortunate not to have collected all three points. Indeed, Blues boss Keith Knox was the happier of the two managers.

Stranraer threatened from the kick-off and a surge from Craig Malcolm resulted in a mis-hit Chris Aitken shot being deflected wide for a corner which he delivered himself and Frank McKeown headed just over. This drew an immediate response from the Warriors and they were unlucky not to take the lead. Craig Anderson made a break down the left and his cross was deflected so McKeown could only clear as far as the edge of the box where John Gemmell was lurking and his volley was well struck but passed the outside of the post.

The end to end action continued with only a marginal offside decision denying Sean Winter a clear run at goal from a pass from Grant Gallagher, while Gemmell had another effort on target for the visitors but not as cleanly struck and Mitchell saved.

From a Warriors corner, Stewart Kean had a chance to turn and shoot but was blocked by Gallagher and a long clearance for Malcolm saw the striker gain a yard on the defenders but Sean Dickson and Greg Ross combined well to ensure the Blues’ lone striker was isolated.

Another attack instigated by Robert Love found Winter on the right and his cross was bound for Malcolm before Scot Buist cleared. With chances at both ends, Stenhousemuir had enjoyed the more clear-cut opportunities and it was they who took the lead in the 19th minute. A stinging free kick from Bryan Hodge forced Mitchell to beat the ball away. Kean picked it up and, from a tight angle, found Mitchell in place to block again from point blank range but the ball dropped perfectly for Ross McMillan to smash it into the net from 10 yards.

Stranraer responded positively and had a strong claim for penalty denied by the referee as McMillan tangled with Winter. However, Stenhousemuir had gained the upper hand and Stranraer were forced to dig deep to stay in the contest. With lessons learned from the dreadful collapse of last weekend, the Blues remained compact and organised.

Good defending by Mark Staunton denied Anderson at the expense of a corner. Gemmell chipped a ball into the middle for Anderson to run on to but he headed wide. Stranraer countered as Mick Dunlop linked with Love to find Gallagher 20 yards out but his shot was blocked by Hodge.

Callum Reidford was called into action by diving bravely at the feet of Winter as he surged into the box again and the keeper had to react quickly to save the follow-up from Malcolm. Stenhousemuir looked dangerous again as Dickson advanced down the left and crossed. Staunton stretched and partially cleared but Gemmell, again finding space for a volley at the edge of the area, couldn’t find the target from a good position.

A cagey second half opening period started with Stranraer trying to be more adventurous with Love further forward in support of Malcolm and this served to give the Blues a little more of the play and consequently the momentum. The Blues looked much more comfortable defensively with McKeown dominating the exchanges with the visiting forwards.

With 13 minutes of endeavour and effort Stranraer finally created the first opening and it resulted in a deserved equaliser. Created down the right by Winter and Lloyd Kinnaird, Malcolm got a header to the cross but Ross cleared to the edge of the box where Ryan Borris drilled an unstoppable low drive to open his account for the Blues.

Stranraer took confidence from this and almost grabbed another minutes later. A couple of corners in quick succession from Aitken caused problems and only a desperate clearance from Hodge prevented McKeown from heading the Blues in front.

Gallagher chipped a ball down the right for Love to chase and he beat Dickson but couldn’t squeeze the ball past the advancing Reidford. Stenhousemuir retaliated and Ross produced a superb pass for Kean to latch on to and he did enough to evade McKeown put couldn’t direct his shot anywhere but at Mitchell. Then Rodgers tried to take on Kinnaird but the young fullback stayed strong and kept out the former Ayr man.

Ross was proving to be a danger for the visitors and he delivered from the right as the Warriors threatened. Although Kinnaird cleared initially, he crossed again for Gemmell but the striker was having an off day and missed the target. Stranraer countered with a fine run by Gallagher setting up Winter and then Borris to feed Malcolm but the striker shot wide.

Max Wright, making his home debut, spotted Reidford off his line and his idea to chip the keeper from 40 yards was good but the execution failed. Stranraer forced a corner when Wright forced Buist to hook away from under the crossbar and, as the cross came over, Malcolm hooked the ball at goal. Everyone except the officials saw the ball strike the raised hands of a Warriors defender so another penalty claim was denied.

Gemmell shot wide and then a dangerous cross from Brown Ferguson needed an intervention from McKeown as the Warriors countered. Malcolm nearly sneaked the win with a late effort for the Blues but the points remained shared.

Blues boss Keith Knox was pleased with the reaction from the squad after the previous game. Despite losing an early goal the players had responded well and dominated the second half and were rewarded for working hard to set the standard that needs to be maintained in the weeks to come.

Stranraer: David Mitchell, Lloyd Kinnaird, Michael Dunlop, Mark Staunton, Frank McKeown, Chris Aitken, Sean Winter, Grant Gallagher, Craig Malcolm, Robert Love (Max Wright 75), Ryan Borris (Dean Agnew 89). Subs Not Used: Adam Forde, Ross Lundie, Russell Cadwell. 

Booked: Malcolm, Borris, McKeown

Goal: Borris 58

Stenhousemuir: Callum Reidford, Greg Ross, Sean Dickson, Scot Buist, Ross McMillan (Brown Ferguson 66), Bryan Hodge, Andy Rodgers (Ross Brash 80), Iain Thomson, John Gemmell, Stewart Kean, Craig Anderson. Subs not Used: Alan Lawson, Stuart Love, Dean Shaw. 

Booked: Gemmell, Hodge

Goal: McMillan 19

Attendance: 290 Referee: K Graham