Stranraer dig deep for victory

Albion Rovers 2, Stranraer 3

Shaun Niven at Cliftonhill

It was a Happy New Year for Stranraer on Wednesday as the Blues brought the points back to Wigtownshire in a crucial basement battle against Albion Rovers at Coatbridge. If there can really be such a thing as a six-pointer then this was it and it once again gives Stranraer a cushion over their hosts and brings them back into close contact with the three teams directly above them in the league table.

Rovers began brightly and in the opening minutes both Tony Stevenson and Steven Howarth had chances but both saw their efforts blocked by the visiting defence and as Stranraer ventured forward they gained a corner but Frank McKeown headed the ball over the top. Stranraer had quickly worked out that an aerial attack was going to profitable and in the 13th minute profit they did.

The award of a free kick gave McKeown the chance to deliver a high ball into the Rovers area. The central defenders made a complete hash of trying to deal with and ultimately failed to do so allowing Craig Malcolm to challenge the goalkeeper who could only knock the ball into the path of Chris Aitken who smashed the ball into the vacant net.

The home side gained a corner as they tried to respond but when the clearance from Mick Dunlop reached David Crawford he tried an ambitious drive from twenty yards and sliced it wide of the target. Stranraer’s business-like approach continued and within minutes they had doubled their advantage in similar style to the opener.

An Aitken free kick was won in the air by McKeown and the loose ball dropped for Ryan Borris to rifle an unstoppable shot into the roof of the Rovers net to give Stephen Aitken’s men the perfect start.

Rovers had to respond and they broke at pace through trialist, Chris Dallas down the left. He made ground to the edge of the box before looking up and picking out Chris Boyle with a perfectly weighted lay-off. Boyle will wonder how he didn’t score as he connected beautifully but a simply stunning save from Mitchell, diving full length to the left to get his hand on it kept Stranraer in the ascendency. Mitchell was being ably assisted by McKeown and Dunlop who both looked rock solid in defence and with Moore terrorising the home defenders and winning header after header, Stranraer were worthy of their lead as half-time approached.

Rovers enjoyed some possession but good defending and in particular a fine challenge from McKeown limited Rovers to scraps as Gary Phillips shooting from 30 yards illustrated. Tony Stevenson delivered a neat free kick that reached Ciaran Donnelly at the far post who volleyed the ball across the face of goal but with no takers, the solace of the dressing room would be sought with Stranraer well on top but not until a fine break from Sean Winter set up Borris for chance that he blasted high and wide.

Rovers enjoyed early pressure after the restart but it was the visitors who carved out the first chance. Lloyd Kinnaird and Grant Gallagher linked up down the right and when the former crossed, Aitken had the ball at his feet but delayed his shot too long and the chance was gone.

The home side punished Stranraer for that ten minutes into the half by pulling a goal back through a solo effort from Steven Howarth. Jinking his way through the defence he picked his spot and lashed a left footed drive into the top corner and all of a sudden the contest was back on.

With confidence restored, Boyle tried a bit of fleet footed trickery himself on the edge of the penalty area and worked a chance for himself only to be denied by Gallagher who deflected the ball away to safety. A poor clearance by Borris presented a chance to Phillips but again good defensive cover, this time a block by David MacGregor kept Rovers out.

Stranraer countered again with the long ball from Mitchell to Moore and his flick had Winter about to race clear only for a last ditch challenge from Barry Russell to prevent a great opportunity arising.

Stranraer wrested the initiative back from Rovers and were comfortably holding on to their solitary goal advantage. Borris had a chance to double it again but shot over the bar while in the process taking a heavy challenge from Reid.

A free kick resulted and as Aitken fired it goalwards, Russell flicked it away with a hand and the referee and his assistant in unison awarded a penalty with the inevitable red card following. Chris Aitken calmly stepped up and despatched the spot kick to the keepers’ right and the two goal lead was restored. Not for long though as Tony Stevenson halved it again within minutes with a superb free-kick from fully 25 yards that rocketed into the top corner.

Substitute Dean Agnew got a cameo at the end and should have wrapped up the points. Stephen Aitken was delighted with the way Stranraer had played, starting well with a terrific first half that did the damage.

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Albion Rovers: Matt McGinley, Alan Reid, Barry Russell, Tony Stevenson, Simon Marriott, Ciaran Donnelly, David Crawford, Chris Boyle, Chris Dallas, Steven Howarth (Jason Crooks 71), Gary Phillips. Subs not Used: Ryan Tiffney, Connor Stevenson, Peter Innes, Ryan McWilliams. 

Stranraer: David Mitchell, Lloyd Kinnaird, David MacGregor, Frank McKeown, Mick Dunlop, Chris Aitken (Mark Staunton 90), Sean Winter, Grant Gallagher, Michael Moore, Craig Malcolm (Robert Love 81), Ryan Borris (Dean Agnew 88).