Craig is the hat-trick hero

Craig Malcolm had bagged a hat-trick once previously for the Blues in a comfortable Scottish Cup victory over Galloway neighbours St Cuthbert Wanderers but Saturday’s treble gave him much more satisfaction.

It was also much more significant for the Blues as it capped a magnificent comeback victory and lifted Stranraer above East Fife and out of the relegation places for the first time since September.

Albion Rovers had arrived full of confidence on the back of a morale-boosting midweek success against Stenhousemuir and wasted no time in showing they meant business.

Stranraer carved an half-chance only for Rovers to burst up the field and snatch an early lead. Some careless defending allowed Chris Dallas to win the ball and he picked out David Crawford in acres of space on the right from where the talented midfielder picked his spot and drilled a low shot past David Mitchell.

Stranraer responded and forced a corner which Mick Dunlop won and knocked the ball down for Grant Gallagher who struck a sweetly-timed shot. However, Ryan Scully was equal to it and turned the ball away.

Malcolm then led a break with Sean Winter and Darren Gribben but in taking the wrong option and not passing to either of his team-mates he allowed Ciaran Donnelly to get in a great tackle to break up the momentum of the attack.

Rovers countered again with Gary Phillips showing his dribbling skill and outwitting two defenders before squaring to the edge of the box where Alan Reid, fresh from scoring his first goal in more than 200 games during the week, returned to normal service by screwing his shot wide.

Rovers continued to look impressive and when Dunlop played Mark Staunton into trouble the latter was forced to chop down Crawford and concede a free kick in a dangerous position. Scott Sally delivered the ball towards the near post where Pat Walker rose unmarked and rammed his header into the back of the net to put the visitors in a commanding position.

Phillips caused more problems for the Blues with a delightful ball that Dallas attacked and beat Staunton to the challenge. The ball fell perfectly at the feet of Walker and, making a decent connection, he hit the target but Mitchell produced his best moment of the afternoon to ensure the score remained the same.

Stranraer needed inspiration to turn their efforts into something tangible to give them an avenue back into the game – and five minutes before the interval that pivotal moment arrived.

Gribben and ex-Rover Robert Love served the initial warning but Scully saved from Gribben and the visitors cleared. The second-phase attack saw Lloyd Kinnaird deliver a low cross in to Craig Malcolm and the Blues’ top scorer took a touch and spun before blasting right-footed past Scully through a ruck of players to declare the contest back on.

A great move down the right involving Love, Gallagher and then Kinnaird, who crossed for Gribben, created another wonderful opportunity for the striker, who connected perfectly but he could only watch as Scully dived full length to his left and beat the ball away once again. Clearly inspired by the dressing room exchanges, the Blues produced a tremendous second-half performance that saw them have the ball in the net four times. An early effort from Malcolm after being set up by Staunton and Gribben was chalked off but the Blues were not to be deterred. A foul on Chris Aitken looked a great shout for a penalty but the officials said no and the Blues had to battle on. Eventually, from a corner that was cleared, Kinnaird did well to win a challenge on the right and he found Love in space outside him. A pinpoint cross picked out Craig Malcolm who this time secured the equaliser with a neat header down low and out of the reach of Scully.

Almost immediately the Blues were thwarted by the linesman’s flag again as Malcolm knocked a Kinnaird free kick down for Gallagher, who smashed the ball home but it appeared Gribben was the player offside.

The Blues now dominated the game and continued their relentless pursuit of a winner.

With 20 minutes left, the task for Rovers to hang on became more difficult as Kevin Green brought Gribben down on the edge of the box and picked up a second caution that saw him dispatched for an early bath.

Five minutes later Stranraer completed the turnaround and it was Malcolm who finished the job by securing a perfect hat-trick, a left-footed finish to complete the set. Aitken delivered the ball to Gribben who knocked it down for his strike partner to run on to and he smashed it past the helpless Scully and the points looked to be staying in Galloway.

Stephen Aitken was obviously delighted at the response from Stranraer in the second half.

Stranraer: David Mitchell, Lloyd Kinnaird, Mark Staunton, Frank McKeown, Mick Dunlop, Chris Aitken (Jamie Campbell 90), Sean Winter, Grant Gallagher, Darren Gribben (Michael Moore 88), Craig Malcolm, Robert Love (Ryan Borris 76). Subs not used: Armand Oné, Russell Cadwell