Victory marks boss’s ‘proudest moment’

Chris Aitken stops a Stenhousemuir attack.
Chris Aitken stops a Stenhousemuir attack.

Stenhousemuir 1 Stranraer 2

Stranraer manager Stephen Aitken declared Saturday’s result his proudest moment in 20 years in the game.

Second division status – and all the benefits that brings for next season – was secured with a terrific all-round performance.

Aitken said: “There had been bad days along the way but the tremendous spirit in the dressing room ensured that Stranraer had proved many people wrong this season by achieving the success of staying up. Now we can look forward with great anticipation to trips to places like Ibrox next season.”

The Blues were cheered on by a vociferous couple of hundred who has made the journey north to make plenty of noise for the Wigtownshire side.

From the start the home keeper, Chris Smith, had reason to be perturbed. As early as the fourth minute, he presented Stranraer with a gift of a chance.

With Darren Gribben having been caught offside, Smith tried to play a simple clearance to Greg Ross but his mis-hit effort was pounced upon by Craig Malcolm, who stepped forward a few yards before driving the ball into the empty net to give the Blues a dream start.

Great football from Sean Winter, Grant Gallagher and Lloyd Kinnaird dissected the home defence and gave Malcolm another chance but this time his low effort from a tight angle fizzed across the goal.

Stranraer looked to capitalise on having the benefit of the wind at their backs in the early stages.

However, John Gemmell was proving a handful for the Blues defence and had a couple of half chances.

Gemmell then earned a free kick out wide and, as the ball came in from the right, the referee saw a foul that no-one else in the ground spotted, and awarded Stenhousemuir a penalty. Gemmell stepped up to take it and although Mitchell demonstrated his great record at penalties with a decent save, the ball fell kindly for the striker and he popped the rebound into the net.

But Stranraer roared back and Frank McKeown missed narrowly with a header. Borris then had a crack from distance that Smith dived full length to hold on to and Mitchell made a save from Darren Smith as the game flowed.

Jamie Reid brought another save from Mitchell as his shot from the edge of the box ended the next passage of play as this tremendously entertaining game surged from end to end.

With the interval approaching, Stranraer turned up the pressure. Gribben made space on the left and crossed for Winter who made Smith make a decent save from his header but the next attack saw the deadlock broken.

McMillan fouled Gribben in the penalty area and while contact looked as minimal as at the other end earlier, the referee pointed to the spot. Up stepped Craig Malcolm who smashed the ball into the top corner to tumultuous acclaim from the Stranraer faithful who were ready to get the party started.

The second half saw the elements favour the home side and, while they enjoyed a greater proportion of the territory and possession, they met with one of the best defensive halves that Stranraer had mustered all season.

Superbly marshalled in the centre by McKeown and David MacGregor, with Mitchell producing a superb display, the defensive unit led the way home after the attacking play of the first half had completed their side of the bargain.

The biggest cheer of the second half came 14 minutes from time with the news from Methil that Brechin City had taken the lead against East Fife and the Stranraer support made sure that message was received by the players and the knowledge that, come what may, a place in the second division had been secured.

Stenhousemuir: Chris Smith, Nicky Devlin, Greg Ross, Kevin McKinlay, Ross McMillan, Bryan Hodge, Jamie Reid (Iain Thomson 89), David Rowson (Stewart Kean 64), John Gemmell, Darren Smith (Salim Kouider-Aissa 76), Sean Dickson. Subs not used: Mark Corcoran, Dean Shaw.

Booked: Ross, Kouider-Aissa

Sent Off: Ross

Goal: Gemmell 22

Stranraer: David Mitchell, Lloyd Kinnaird, Mark Staunton, Frank McKeown, David MacGregor, Chris Aitken, Sean Winter (Robert Love 71), Grant Gallagher, Darren Gribben (Michael Moore 73), Craig Malcolm (Armand Oné 88), Ryan Borris. Subs not used: Adam Forde, Russell Cadwell

Booked: MacGregor, McKeown

Goals: Malcolm 4, 43 Pen

Attendance: 818

Referee: S O’Reilly