Stranraer finally ended their recent winless run by putting Forfar to the sword last weekend and in doing so cemented their play-off place and ensured they would finish third, behind the two full-time clubs and justifiably claim to be the best of the rest.
It also meant that their play-off semi-final challenge would be a two-legged clash with the team that finished just above them, Dunfermline Athletic.
As the teams were announced Stranraer were without the suspended Grant Gallagher but had received a boost during the week that Steven Bell could resume playing and he was recalled for a place on the bench. Stranraer created an early break and earned a corner but then conceded a goal in comedic fashion from the Loons first attack. Darren Hill launched the ball forward and the Blues central defenders got themselves in an awful tangle. Getting in each other’s way Scott Rumsby headed the ball against Frank McKeown and the ball broke to Gavin Swankie who found himself with only David Mitchell to beat from the edge of the box which he did with aplomb. Stranraer produced a great response with a move down the right. A throw in landed at the feet of David McKenna who turned a fired a left footed shot that had Hill well beaten but unluckily hit the inside of the post and it bounced across goal and away to safety. Swankie continued to cause problems for Stranraer’s nervous looking defence and got on the end of another long pass but couldn’t get it under control as he raced clear. McKenna combined with Sean Winter to get a cross in to the Forfar box that required a combination of Hill and Stuart Malcolm to eventually clear from the feet of Andy Stirling as Stranraer pressed forward again and enjoyed the bulk of the attacking play. Stirling then jinked past a couple of defenders and appeared to be brought down but the referee waved play to continue. Stranraer did and the upshot was a Ryan Borris cross that Winter turned high over the bar. Having already been denied by the post, McKenna was then denied by the crossbar. Stirling delivered a corner that McKeown headed towards goal and as McKenna nipped in with a touch, Hill was beaten but rescued by the woodwork. The ensuing melee saw another corner and the delivery broke to Rumsby who saw his drive from the edge of the box was cleared off the line by Ross Campbell. Having been a little unfortunate to still be behind, the Blues almost contrived to concede another. Swankie was the creator and his cross found Omar Kader in the penalty area. He had 3 bites at the cherry and should have scored but the combined efforts of McKeown and Rumsby were enough to block all his efforts. At the end a poor finish this time from Winter after a lovely through ball from Mark Docherty saw another chance wasted and the Blues fans were beginning to wonder if it was going to be one of those days. With 5 minutes to the break, the Forfar defence was finally breached. McKenna started the move and found Stirling wide on the left. His cross was deep and turned back at the far post by Borris into the path of Sean Winter who swept the ball past Hill and brought the home side back on to level terms. They almost turned the game around completely before the whistle but McKenna headed Docherty’s cross straight at Hill but by this time the Blues were in complete control.
The second half began without much to report in the way of attacking threat at either end until 9 minutes after the restart when the Blues took the lead. Gavin Malin brought down Andy Stirling 35 yards from goal and gave Stranraer the opportunity to get the big guys forward. Stirling delivered the free kick himself and found Scott Rumsby at the back post who beat Hill with his downward header and claimed his first senior goal. The Blues attacked again and Borris and McKenna were only just unable to create a chance for Jamie Longworth due to a late but timely intervention from Darren Dods. Forfar ventured forward and earned a free kick that was swung into the danger area by Iain Campbell but Mitchell rose to the occasion and punched the ball clear under pressure. The Blues swagger and confidence had returned by now with the knowledge that scores elsewhere meant their top 4 place was assured and a lovely sequence of passes through the team created another chance for Docherty. His long range drive was beautifully struck but Hill managed to reach it and tipped the ball over for a corner. Although that came to nothing there was more good news for the Blues fans when Bell came off the bench for the last 22 minutes and gives the squad a boost for the games to come. Longworth and McKenna got themselves clear with a break upfield and they beat Dods, the last defender. McKenna prepared to shoot but Kader came from nowhere with a superb challenge that denied the Blues striker. The chances kept coming and Andy Stirling shot just wide at the end of a trademark jinking run but it wouldn’t be long before the crowd were celebrating once again. Docherty earned a corner with a great run and cross that Marvin Andrews did well to cut out. Stirling delivered the corner kick and Frank McKeown out muscled everyone to get on the end of it to power an unstoppable header past Hill to effectively wrap up the victory and give the youngsters behind the goal the perfect opportunity to try out their very own “Poznan” celebration. Stirling had done enough and was replaced by Adam Forde who showed in his 20 minute run out that he is every bit a part of the squad now and he caused Malcolm and then Hill a moment each of uncertainty that could have resulted in chances with a bit of good fortune. Stephen Stirling then started and almost finished a move involving McKenna and Longworth but his right footed shot from the edge of the box was well saved by Hill who touched it round the post. Borris shot straight at Hill with a chance before Martyn Fotheringham missed a free header at the other end and then Borris almost capped the afternoon after a lung bursting run forward but he skied his effort over the bar.
It made no difference and the Blues could begin to prepare for a home and away double header with Dunfermline to follow.
Loons boss Dick Campbell was delighted for Stranraer, commenting that they had not only deserved their victory on the day but had thoroughly deserved their success over the season which had been a tremendous effort and he heaped praise on Stephen Aitken and the team. From his own point of view he was unhappy with the set piece defending by his team although they had achieved their objective of staying safely in this league for next season.
Stephen Aitken was delighted that the Blues had got over the line on their own merit. They had always believed that they could get there and he looked forward to giving it their best shot in the forthcoming play-off matches.
Stranraer: David Mitchell, Scott Robertson, Mark Docherty, Scott Rumsby, Frank McKeown, Stephen Stirling, Sean Winter (Steven Bell 68), Ryan Borris, Martin Grehan (Jamie Longworth 46), David McKenna, Andy Stirling (Adam Forde 72). Subs Not Used: David MacGregor, Lloyd Kinnaird, Chris Fahey.
Booked: Robertson, S Stirling, Docherty
Goals: Winter 40, Rumsby 54, McKeown 71
Forfar Athletic: Darren Hill, Stuart Malcolm, Iain Campbell, Marvin Andrews, Darren Dods, Jamie McCluskey (Martyn Fotheringham 61), Omar Kader, Gavin Malin (James Dale 61), Chris Templeman, Gavin Swankie (Liam Keiller 65), Ross Campbell. Subs not Used: Paul McLellan, Chris Duggan, Keith Gibson, Rab Douglas.
Goal: Swankie 5
Attendance: 501 Referee: A Dallas