Stranraer 2, Arbroath 0
Shaun Niven at Stair Park
Stranraer quickly erased the disappointment of last weekend’s derby defeat with a morale-boosting victory.
The win over Arbroath under the Stair Park lights that saw the Blues increase their advantage over bottom club Albion Rovers to 11 points and bring themselves to within a single point of the two clubs immediately above them in the table, East Fife and Ayr United.
The late arrival of the visitors necessitated a delay to the kick-off but even that additional 15 minutes had no effect on the crowd figure, which was disappointingly poor. Ultimately, it was those who stayed away who missed out.
The Blues revealed a selection surprise in the absence of the suspended David Mitchell by unveiling Colin Stewart between the sticks as a trialist. The vastly experienced ex-Kilmarnock and Morton stopper was drafted in to add some strength to the defence.
The opening 10 minutes was a cagey affair with neither side really threatening until Craig Malcolm raced through on to a Chris Aitken pass but sliced his shot wide after outpacing the Arbroath defence. When the visitors did respond they lacked any cutting edge and although Mark Baxter crossed into a dangerous area, Graham Bayne headed tamely at Stewart. Ross Chisholm did some good work again on the left and it needed an outstretched leg from Mick Dunlop to touch the ball away from Bayne to deny the Red Lichties a chance.
Stranraer probed forward and with the most innocuous of attacks took the lead. Sean Winter gathered the ball wide on the right and delivered a looping cross that came out of the night sky for Scott Morrison to catch unchallenged. Inexplicably, the keeper had one of those nightmare moments and he dropped the ball over his shoulder and into the back of his own net to a stunned silence until realisation from players and supporters alike.
While a personal disaster for Morrison, it was a huge boost to the home side and gave Stranraer the chance to settle into a rhythm and gain much more control.
Even under pressure the Blues defensive set up was excellent and they limited Arbroath to fleeting glimpses at the target like the effort that Brian Kerr that was blocked by the ever alert Frank McKeown.
Aitken found Winter in the box as the Blues attacked but he shot high and wide on the turn before they missed an even better chance on the half-hour. A great pass from Mark Staunton found Malcolm on the edge of the box. He turned his marker and had a free shot at goal and in going for the bottom corner he was a foot wide.
Malcolm turned provider next as he won the ball in midfield for Winter to loft a pass over the top for Darren Gribben to latch on to. Skipping inside Baxter, he lashed a left-footed volley narrowly wide as Stranraer piled on the pressure. Morrison had to clear and Dunlop powerfully headed the ball 40 yards into the path of Malcolm who beat Alex Keddie to the chase and the Blues top scorer hit the target this time but also hit the goalkeeper.
Good challenges from McKeown and then from Lloyd Kinnaird ensured that first Paul Sheerin and then Chisholm were denied entry to the penalty area as the Blues back line held firm and ensured an advantage at the interval.
Stranraer quickly re-established control after the break. Only a few minutes earlier the introduction of Robert Love had given some new energy to the Blues and what an inspired substitution it turned out to be as he doubled the Blues lead within three minutes. It was Malcolm who was the creator, bursting into the Arbroath box and when he got to the goal line and squared the ball back across the face of goal, Love was perfectly positioned to bundle the ball past a despairing Morrison.
Arbroath freshed things up with a couple of changes and a session of head tennis in the Blues box ended with a Michael Travis effort which Stewart was able to save comfortably.
The Blues had three chances in quick succession as Love and Gribben had shots blocked before Ryan Borris had a drive from 20 yards that flew narrowly over the crossbar. The Blues were content to play out time without really having to create much more and, allowing Arbroath possession, the defence, again superbly marshalled by Dunlop and McKeown, rarely looked troubled and had a fine evening nullifying the visitors’ attacking options.
Indeed, it took a flying save from Morrison, throwing himself full length to tip a Jamie Campbell shot over the bar, to keep the deficit at two and Stranraer played out time for a vital and deserved three points that gives them the opportunity for advancement up the league table if the momentum can be continued into this coming weekend’s home match against Stenhousemuir.
Paul Sheerin was disappointed that his team’s recent trait of not looking like scoring goals had continued and that while he felt Arbroath had enjoyed a good share of territory and possession they had not capitalised on that by working the opposition goalkeeper enough and Stranraer had made it difficult for them and probably were worthy of the win.
Stephen Aitken was happy to reveal that he knew he would get a good reaction from his players after the defeat at the weekend. He has delighted with the way the team had played going forward with some good passing and movement coupled with an excellent well-organised defensive performance and a very satisfactory clean sheet. “The key to our season is our home form and we can’t wait to get ourselves ready to go again against Stenhousemuir on Saturday,” he said.
Stranraer: Colin Stewart, Lloyd Kinnaird, Mark Staunton, Frank McKeown, Mick Dunlop, Chris Aitken, Sean Winter (Robert Love 55), Grant Gallagher (Jamie Campbell 27), Darren Gribben (Michael Moore 71), Craig Malcolm, Ryan Borris. Subs not used: Armand Oné, Russell Cadwell
Booked: Staunton, Dunlop
Goals: Morrison 21og, Love 58
Arbroath: Scott Morrison, Mark Baxter, Colin Hamilton, Brian Kerr, Michael Travis (Euan Smith 78), Alex Keddie, Ross Chisholm, Scott Robertson (Lee Sibanda 66), Steven Doris, Graham Bayne (Daniel Rennie 66), Paul Sheerin. Subs not used: Derek Holmes, Josh Gray.
Referee: G Aitken