Blues take top spot

Montrose 1, Stranraer 3

Shaun Niven at Links Park

STRANRAER took advantage of title-chasing rivals Alloa Athletic having an idle weekend and picked up the victory required at Montrose that saw them return to the summit of the Third Division.

However, this was not one of the Blues most fluent performances and they rode their luck at times, aided and abetted by some poor finishing by the home team. Stranraer were the beneficiaries of the crucial referring decision in the match, too, and went on to capitalise by running out comfortable winners by the end.

With just three minutes on the clock, this didn’t look likely as Montrose took the lead with their first attack. Jamie Winter was the architect-in-chief and, as some visiting players seemed to hesitate waiting for the award of a free kick for a foul on Stephen Stirling, Winter slid a perfect pass through to Martin Boyle and the Montrose top scorer deftly knocked the ball past the defenceless Ryan Marshall to give the home side the perfect start.

Stranraer had looked the brighter of the two sides but did not create anything of note until good play from Martin Grehan and Craig Malcolm made space for Grant Gallagher to drive a low cross over from the right. Stuart McColm stretched to reach the ball but could only succeed in hitting the side-netting. Sean Winter set McColm up next and when his effort was cleared by Jonathan Smart, Gallagher unleashed a great curling 25-yard shot back at goal that Sandy Wood tipped over the bar.

Then McColm forced the keeper to turn a shot away as Stranraer picked up the gauntlet and took the game to the home side in search of an equaliser.

Montrose still threatened and Winter struck a free kick that stung Marshall’s gloves but he reacted to grab the ball at the second attempt.

MacGregor made a mistake to give the ball to Boyle but Steven Noble bailed him out by robbing Scott Johnston as the striker prepared to shoot.

The Blues continued their pressure and it paid off eight minutes before the interval. Frank McKeown drove forward from defence and found Malcolm who laid the ball off to Sean Winter and he clipped the ball neatly over Wood from an acute angle to tie the score.

Montrose through Terry Masson, who unleashed a ferocious drive from 30 yards, but Marshall seemed confident enough to look on as the ball flashed a few feet wide of the upright. The opening exchanges of the second period had both sides simply cancelling each other out in the midfield exchanges until Stranraer created a great chance when Malcolm made space and delivered for Grehan in the centre but his first-time effort was well blocked by Wood.

Lloyd Young produced a great turn in the Stranraer half and laid the ball into the path of Winter who was unlucky not to score when his scorching 25-yard effort beat Marshall but smacked off the post and returned straight into the grasp of the relieved Blues keeper.

The Montrose keeper was the next in action with an unbelievable point-blank block which denied Grehan from a yard. Stirling got on the end of a nice following move but shot straight at Wood from the edge of the box and the same player fired straight at the keeper again as the Blues began to wonder if this was going to be their day.

Marshall ensured that it could be when he saved well from Boyle after the young striker had connected well with David McGowan’s deep cross. The resulting corner was cleared back to Cameron and his second attempt found Smart at the far post and his downward header was smartly saved by the Blues stopper once again.

Lady luck was smiling on the Wigtownshire XI when Marshall made a fine save from McGowan and Boyle managed to hit the post from the rebound with the goal at his mercy. Johnston played a lovely through ball to Boyle who rounded Marshall but again he couldn’t hit the open target from a tight angle as the home side enjoyed a great spell of play that deserved an end product.

Montrose had the ball in the net with 20 minutes left when Johnston won a tussle with MacGregor and then calmly beat Marshall. This produced the game’s controversial moment when referee Cook awarded the Blues a free kick for a foul by Johnston and disallowed the goal.

The decision looked harsh and was certainly proved pivotal. As is often the case after such an incident, only a couple of minutes later and totally against the run of play, Stranraer marched up the field and snatched the lead. Grehan did the early work on the right and found Craig Malcolm on the edge of the box and he produced a sublime finish that curled round the helpless Wood.

Boyle had a snap-shot that went just wide after some head tennis in the visitor’s box as Stranraer continued to look less composed in defence than in recent weeks, but they battled on bravely under pressure and eventually Stranraer regained control of the possession in the latter stages that became a secure result with seven minutes left when Sean Winter became the first Stranraer player to hit double figures for the season when he latched on to a headed clearance on the edge of the box and lashed a great drive past Wood.

A disappointed Ray Farningham rued the decision that had cost his team the lead and in his view turned the game. However, he admitted that they had chances before that and then defended poorly on occasions so it wasn’t the only decisive factor. Blues boss Keith Knox conceded that Stranraer had been a bit fortunate having had to weather lots of good attacking pressure from Montrose and although Stranraer had not played as well as they can, he would look back on an important three points.

Montrose: Sandy Wood, Jonathan Crawford, Douglas Cameron, Sean Crighton, Jonathan Smart, Terry Masson, Lloyd Young, Jamie Winter, Martin Boyle, Scott Johnston, David McGowan. Subs Not Used: Sean Pierce, Steven McPhee, David Dimilta, Scott Gordon, Michael Andrews 

Stranraer: Ryan Marshall, Grant Gallagher, Steven Noble, David MacGregor, Frank McKeown, John Kane (Angus Cochrane 86), Sean Winter, Stephen Stirling, Craig Malcolm, Martin Grehan (Nathan Shepherd 84), Stuart McColm (Michael Moore 72). Subs Not Used: Dean Agnew, David Mitchell.