Stenhousemuir 1 Stranraer 1
Games between the Warriors and the Blues have a tendency to be tight affairs with little to choose between the sides and the weekend’s clash at Ochilview was no different.
There was plenty of endeavour from both sides but clear chances were few and the supporters had to wait until the final five minutes of the match for a flurry of activity.
In attendance were John Hughes and Russell Latapy, the management team at Inverness Caledonian Thistle, to run the rule over Stranraer in advance of the Scottish Cup clash at Stair Park on Saturday (February 8).
Stranraer created the first opening when Martin Grehan chested a floated cross from Mark Docherty into the path of David McKenna but he dragged his shot from 20 yards just wide of the target.
The home side responded on the quarter-hour with a couple of chances in rapid succession.
Grehan was able to get a header on target but under pressure from Stewart Greacen it lacked the power required to trouble Chris Smith.
Andy Stirling burst into action for the first time on the half-hour with a great counter-attacking break and he found Grehan who managed to cut inside Nicky Devlin but his shot was comfortably gathered by Smith.
Sean Lynch looked a threat going forward for the home side but was denied by a finely-timed tackle by Scott Rumsby and moments later the same defender deflected a Sean Dickson effort wide for a corner before Lynch again had a chance but curled a shot wide as the Warriors finished the first half on top.
The second half began slowly until McKenna took centre stage six minutes after the restart. His first shot was blocked by Greacen and he was even more unfortunate when the ball fell kindly for him at the edge of the box as his second effort crashed back off the bar with Smith well beaten.
David Mitchell was finally called into action and made an excellent save to stop Smith’s shot from 12 yards.
Both benches tried to ring the changes in the hope that the deadlock could be broken as the feelings grew that the first goal would be enough to claim the points.
There was little sign of any inspiration until the game’s moment of brilliance arrived with just two minutes left. Stranraer began a flowing move down the right and Sean Winter played the ball forward to Grehan. The big striker freed himself of the attentions of Ross McMillan and laid the ball off perfectly into the path of Andy Stirling, who delightfully curled the ball round Smith into the bottom corner to maintain the Blues’ record of consecutive scoring matches, now at 27, and also ensure that the Wigtownshire side have scored at every ground they have visited this season.
From their post-match reaction, the Blues management certainly expected that they should have been able to hold on for the win but it was not to be. Winter had an opportunity to run down the clock by going to the corner but as the ball was cleared to Steven Bell he inexplicably tried an unnecessary long-range crossfield ball which never got near its target and Nicky Devlin intercepted and charged forward. His cross earned a corner that Scott Robertson should easily have prevented. With three minutes of stoppage time played and three opportunities to keep the ball declined, it was almost inevitable that number three, Eddie Malone, would provide the game’s finale by heading Higgins’s corner past Mitchell for a very late equaliser.
Stephen Aitken agreed that a draw was a fair result but was extremely disappointed that having played quite well and then grabbed the late goal, Stranraer had failed to see out the final five minutes without conceding. The focus would now turn to Premiership opposition in the shape of Inverness in the Scottish Cup and a great chance to show what the team can do against a top side once again.
Stenhousemuir: Chris Smith, Nicky Devlin, Eddie Malone, Ross McMillan, Stewart Greacen, Bryan Hodge, Sean Lynch (Ross McNeil 70), David Rowson, Sean Higgins, Darren Smith (Errol Douglas 86), Sean Dickson.
Goal: Malone 90+3
Stranraer: David Mitchell, Scott Robertson, Mark Docherty, Scott Rumsby, Frank McKeown, Stephen Stirling (Steven Bell 79), David McKenna (Sean Winter 65), Grant Gallagher, Martin Grehan, Jamie Longworth (Adam Forde 76), Andy Stirling. Subs not used: David MacGregor, Lloyd Kinnaird, Ryan Borris, Chris Fahey.
Goal: A Stirling 88
Referee: K Graham