Blues hit top form

Craig Malcolm chases the ball into E F goalmounth
Craig Malcolm chases the ball into E F goalmounth
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Stranraer 3, East Fife 1

Shaun Niven at Stair Park

Stranraer had unfinished business with their visitors from Fife, having turned in their worst performance of the season on the men from Methil’s last visit to Stair Park in September.

The Blues responded in fine style with arguably their best performance this term and a convincing victory over the same opposition in a game that Stranraer dominated from start to finish, the only real disappointment of the day was that the winning margin wasn’t greater. But complaining about that would certainly be a little churlish.

Stephen Aitken unveiled a new signing, with Darren Gribben, who had half a season at Stair Park in early 2008, returning to the club after being released by Arbroath and immediately installed as strike partner for Craig Malcolm.

The first chance of the game was a shot from distance from Collin Samuel that David Mitchell turned comfortably away for a corner that Samuel himself headed over the top but that was about as good as it got for the visitors.

Sean Winter broke down the right and created a chance for Malcolm to shoot but a timely block from Darren McCormack ensured an easy save for Calum Antell and the striker had a similar half chance moments later that produced the same result. Stranraer piled on the pressure and only a great block by Craig Johnstone on the goal-line prevented Mick Dunlop from heading the resulting corner home at the front post.

Chris Aitken delivered the next corner to the back post where Frank McKeown met it but couldn’t get enough contact and Darren Gribben recovered the ball wide on the left. He passed back to Grant Gallagher on the edge of the box and ghosted back into the box where Gallagher, looked up and picked him out again with an exquisite pass to his feet that had him one on one with Antell and the debut striker had taken less than 10 minutes to open his account as he calmly slotted the ball under the helpless goalkeeper.

The Blues gave a half chance to Paul McManus almost immediately but he failed to get his shot from long range on target but it was Stranraer who continued to look threatening. Ryan Borris linked up with Malcolm, who found Winter and, as he cut in off the right, his left-foot shot was deflected wide of Antell’s goal. Gallagher nodded Aitken’s corner back to the feet of Dunlop and although stretching he got an effort on target but Antell was able to make the save.

East Fife had a rare moment of attacking intent through Johnstone who made a jinking run through the midfield before being unceremoniously chopped down by Dunlop outside the box from where Paul Willis fired the free kick a yard too high. Stranraer though looked dangerous every time they ventured forward and doubled their lead on the half hour.

Lloyd Kinnaird linked up with Winter who made a great run to the goal line and drove a cross in from the right where Darren Gribben reacted quickest to reach the ball first and bundle it home at the near post at the second attempt. Malcolm and Winter won the ball and when the former found Gribben in some space he had a go from twenty yards but his great strike fizzed just a few inches over the crossbar with Antell clutching at thin air.

The Blues defence had rarely been tested but when Willis and McManus attacked, first McKeown and then David MacGregor ensured that a corner was the only reward from a promising break. It only fired another Blues counter-attack and Winter was again the catalyst with a rampaging run down the right flank. He found Malcolm in the middle and his first touch and shot were both well executed but a fantastic last ditch block by David White prevented the Blues top scorer from adding to his tally and when Borris crossed for Malcolm moments later, an Antell save kept his header out to deny him once more and the interval arrived with the Blues in command of the game against an opponent that had barely laid a glove on them and been made to look distinctly lacklustre.

Stranraer had created a great opportunity where a run and shot from Winter had Antell scrambling to save at the second attempt under pressure from Malcolm and Aitken but East Fife made a couple of rare forays up the park and created firstly a half chance for McManus that Mitchell gathered comfortably. The second was a long distance shot from Paul Willis that looked to be a fairly easy save for Mitchell but the normally reliable Blues custodian was deceived on this occasion and he allowed the ball to evade him and nestle in the net behind him much to his obvious displeasure.

It hasn’t often been the case that Mitchell has looked to his outfield colleagues to bail him out this season but it took them only five minutes to deliver another strike that restored the two-goal advantage. After a brief flurry of visitors’ pressure, Stranraer grabbed the initiative with a quick counter attack from a long Mitchell punt that Malcolm latched on to but Antell made a great save to thwart him but immediately Aitken found Gribben on the left and as he raced into the area he crossed for Sean Winter at the far post to finish it off by knocking the ball past Antell with the help of the post. This certainly knocked any resistance out of the visitors who were a well beaten outfit well before the final whistle sounded and indeed there were still a few chances that Stranraer might have taken that could have made the winning margin greater. Borris was probably the most unlucky when he cut in from the left and from twenty yards set himself perfectly and curled a delightful right footed shot round the keeper only to see it rebound back off the inside of the post where Winter was just unable to capitalise and then Malcolm had a shot that went wide. David Muir had an opportunity presented to him by a slack pass that went astray but Mitchell was alert to save his effort on the goal line. Michael Moore went close with a difficult header at the near post from a corner but he put the ball straight at Antell and then had an even better chance when put through one on one to chase a Jamie Campbell pass that he reached but he lifted the ball just over the bar but an excellent performance by Stranraer delivered a comfortable win in the end.

Fife boss Billy Brown had little to say and couldn’t hide his disgust with the performance of his side which he described as shocking. His team had been well beaten by Stranraer who had showed the most desire to win the game deservedly.

Stephen Aitken was delighted with the overall performance of his team and felt Stranraer well by far the better team and could have won by more. The tempo was good and the movement and passing was of a really high standard. It was also good to see that when Stranraer lost a goal they quickly regained the momentum and finished the game off in a professional manner.

Stranraer: David Mitchell, Lloyd Kinnaird, David MacGregor, (Jamie Campbell 69), Frank McKeown, Mick Dunlop, Chris Aitken, Sean Winter (Robert Love 85), Grant Gallagher, Darren Gribben (Michael Moore 72), Craig Malcolm, Ryan Borris.

Subs not used: Armand Oné, Russell Cadwell

Booked: Dunlop

Goals: Gribben 9, 30 Winter 58

East Fife: Calum Antell, Scott Durie, Craig Johnstone (Robert Sloan 31), Darren McCormack, David White (David Muir 68), Steven Campbell, Bobby Barr, Paul Willis, Collin Samuel (Sean Jamieson 64), Paul McManus, Dale Keenan. Subs not Used: Scott McBride, Michael Brown. 

Booked: McManus

Goal: Willis 53

Attendance: 254

Referee: B Colvin