Blues blast back

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Stranraer 5, Elgin City 2

Shaun Niven at Stair Park

Manager Keith Knox reacted to the disappointment of last week’s defeat by making changes to the Stranraer line-up for the visit of Elgin City. Michael Moore and Nathan Shepherd retained their places after coming off the bench against Alloa and they were joined by Scott Taggart who returned on loan from Hibernian during the week, this time for the rest of the season.

The changes took some time to take effect as the early exchanges belonged mostly to the visitors who started brighter and they carved out a decent chance when Paul McMullan found the giant striker Paul Millar who nodded down for Brian Cameron to latch on to but he was denied by the alert Ryan Marshall who smothered at his feet. Almost immediately from a Daniel Moore free kick, Jamie Duff poked out a foot and his effort came back off the post as the Blues got lucky. Stranraer weren’t so fortunate on thirteen minutes when a rare attack broke down and Elgin made them pay with a swift counter. Moore was their architect with a surging break down the left, more than half the length of the pitch before crossing to the far post where Mark Nicolson arrived right on cue to bundle the ball into the Blues net for a deserved lead. Conceding an early goal has tended to fire Stranraer into action in previous matches and it galvanised the Blues again as they finally put together a few passes and gained some possession although it was Moore for Elgin who threatened next but David MacGregor blocked his effort. Marshall then made a save from Millar who had been set up by Cameron’s pass after a run from deep but John Kane had tracked back to put the striker under pressure and made his effort more difficult. Suddenly and very much against the run of play, Stranraer levelled the score. Taggart provided the cross from the right and Michael Moore rose in the middle to provide the finish with a header that looped out of the reach of Zander Clark, the visiting keeper. Moments later Clark produced an incredible reaction save, as good as you will see anywhere, when he denied Sean Winter from point blank range as he connected with another Taggart cross with the Blues beginning to grow in confidence. They survived a scare though as Winter headed off his own goal line to deny Mark Durnan whose header looked bound for the Stranraer net. The half hour had just passed when Stranraer took the lead with a superb move. Originating from a long Marshall clearance, Moore magnificently picked out Shepherd with a cushioned header in midfield. One touch from the diminutive midfielder was enough to send Craig Malcolm on his way although he still had a couple of defenders to beat before calmly slipping the ball under Clark with consummate style. Elgin responded and Moore again was their creator but his left wing cross was turned just wide by Millar who continued to cause no end of problems with his presence up front by winning everything that the visitors played forward in his direction. Just before the interval Elgin equalised and once again it was Millar who won a high ball which he knocked down for Mark Nicolson to control, set himself and with the Blues defence slow to react, he cracked a terrific drive into the roof of the home net from twenty yards and honours even at half-time was a fair reward for both sides efforts.

Elgin created the first chance after the break as MacGregor headed a corner clear as far as Cameron who shot through a ruck of players but Marshall got down well to save. It was to prove a false dawn for Elgin though as Stranraer began to take command of the game assisted by a horrendous misjudgement by Elgin keeper, Clark who charged off his line and flattened Stephen Stirling just inside the penalty area. An easy decision for the referee to point to the spot and the same player picked himself up and sent the keeper the wrong way to put the Blues back in front. Duff headed a Moore free kick over the crossbar and then Frank McKeown intercepted an Archie MacPhee pass bound for Millar as Elgin threatened briefly. Stranraer were defending much better and the combined bravery of Winter and Shepherd hurling themselves in the way of shots prevented Millar hitting the target. It was much to the Blues relief that the big striker was replaced shortly after and Stranraer marched up the park minutes later and doubled their lead. Winter won the ball in midfield and spotted the overlapping Scott Taggart on the right. The full back advanced, cut in onto his left foot and his shot from the edge of the box, aided by a deflection off a defender gave Clark no chance and looked to have the Blues on easy street. Three minutes later and game was well and truly over as a contest as Stranraer netted a fifth goal. Shepherd delivered an in swinging corner towards the back post right on to the distinctive and potent target that is the forehead of Michael Moore and he made no mistake from a few yards out. There were few real opportunities in the remaining part of the game as Stranraer became quite content to consolidate and hold their substantial advantage while Elgin were unable to break down the Blues with their spirit by now broken. Craig Gunn was forced wide by MacGregor and Marshall was able to make a save at the near post, Duff headed a corner over and Nicolson missed a headed opportunity for a hat-trick from a further corner while Martin Grehan had a half chance on target for the Blues that Clark saved easily and Stranraer closed the game out worthy winners having dominated the latter stages of the game.

Ross Jack was unhappy that his side had not taken their chances while having defended poorly on occasions had cost his side over the match as a whole. Despite his side’s decent first half show, conceding goals at vital times had cost them dearly. Their good home form needed to be translated into picking up some points on the road for them to maintain their play-off challenge.

Keith Knox was fairly relieved that Stranraer had managed to get to half time on level terms having not defended particularly well but a change in set-up and tactics after the break had given the Blues the impetus do dominate and entertain the home supporters with a crucial victory to get another good run of form started.

Stranraer: Ryan Marshall, Scott Taggart, Steven Noble, David MacGregor, Frank McKeown, John Kane, Sean Winter, Stephen Stirling (Chris Aitken 79), Michael Moore (Martin Grehan 75), Craig Malcolm (Stuart McColm 81), Nathan Shepherd. Subs Not Used: Grant Gallagher, David Mitchell 

Booked: None

Goals: Moore 22, 71, Malcolm 33, Stirling 53pen, Taggart 68