Blues hold on for draw

Peterhead 1, Stranraer 1

Shaun Niven at Balmoor Stadium

Stranraer manager Keith Knox decided to ring the changes for the long trip north and made four alterations to the starting line-up that had failed to beat East Stirlingshire last weekend. He brought back David Mitchell, Chris Aitken, Martin Grehan and Grant Gallagher.

Things could hardly have started better for the Blues with a goal inside the first minute with a tremendous move. David MacGregor initiated things with a long ball forward that Grehan nodded deftly into the path of Stephen Stirling. A perfectly waited through ball to Craig Malcolm gave the Blues top scorer and clear sight of goal and he confidently stroked the ball past Paul Jarvie to give Stranraer an early lead. It also became apparent that Stranraer had changed formation and were employing three central defenders with Scott Taggart and Steven Noble taking on the wing backs role for the afternoon and the Blues looked comfortable with this as a defensive set up as Peterhead made some forward progress without getting the chance to threaten Mitchell in the visitors’ goal.

MacGregor was called into action as Peterhead and he denied the experienced Martin Bavidge the chance to add to his impressive personal tally against the Blues with a decisive challenge. Bavidge was involved again with a neat flick on for Rory McAllister to chase but the dangerous striker was forced wide and Mitchell dealt with his cross comfortably. His compatriot, Jarvie, at the other end was the home sides hero in the twelfth minute with a stunning save to deny Noble who latched on to a Grehan touch to force the keeper into a great block and then he stood up to superbly block the follow up effort from Grehan too.

Stranraer were on top by now and Gallagher hit the target with a well struck low drive that Jarvie again saved well, this time low to his left but Peterhead still made ground when they could but couldn’t find that final pass to threaten. McAllister was the target in the penalty area for a deep cross but could only head back into the danger area where no-one reacted giving Mitchell an easy take and same player made space for a shot shortly afterwards but sliced wide having been afforded far too much space by the Blues defence. The home sides’ next effort was a speculative Bryan Deasley shot from the edge of the box that hit the target this time but Mitchell didn’t have to work too hard to make the stop.

Stranraer were looking the much more dangerous side and created another fantastic opportunity that required another superb Jarvie save to deny them. A fantastic move between Grehan and Malcolm send Stirling clear inside the box but the home keeper was more than equal to the task and had done enough in the opening half hour that would ultimately claim the home sponsors bubbly come the final whistle. Scott Ross played a long diagonal ball through for McAllister to chase and looking suspiciously offside to gallop clear of MacGregor, the big striker homed in on goal but couldn’t beat Mitchell who stood tall to block his fierce drive. Three minutes from the interval the home side got a perfect opportunity to equalise when the fussy match official obliged by awarding a penalty when Graeme Sharp tumbled over Scott Taggart’s outstretched leg despite the lack of claims by the home side or their supporters. This mattered not to the league’s top scorer, Rory McAllister who sent Mitchell to his left and stoked the penalty straight down the middle.

This would turn out to be a classic game of two halves, to borrow an old football cliché, because where Stranraer had dominated the opening half, Peterhead were very much in the ascendency after the break. A good piece of defending by John Kane to hassle McAllister into mis-controlling the ball saw a chance disappear and a stale ten minutes where little of any note happened was ended with an excellent Peterhead effort. Sharp did the hard work with a fine jinking run and crossed from left for Bavidge who met the cross with a good header that flew just a couple of inches too high.

Stranraer remained an occasional attacking force, however, and it required a precise tackle from Roy McBain to prevent Stirling waltzing through the home defence and then the linesman’s flag to deny Malcolm who finished calmly from Noble’s long pass but from an offside position. McAllister turned creator with a delicate chip into the box that Deasley looked favourite to win until a great intervention from Gallagher ensured that a corner would be the maximum reward. McAllister was the focus of most of the home sides play and his pass to David Donald gave the full back a chance to advance and hammer a low cross across the face of goal that Bavidge only just failed to connect with.

The Blue Toon continued to dominate and MacGregor had to be lively to block Deasley’s effort while Stranraer responded with a move that ended with a poor effort from Aitken that went well wide of the target. With twenty minutes remaining McAllister let Stranraer off the hook with an uncharacteristic miss. Having done all the difficult stuff by rounding Frank McKeown and then skipping past Mitchell he hit the post from a tight angle with the goal at his mercy. Mitchell recovered quickly to save the follow up effort from Jamie Redman to ensure that parity was retained. Bavidge had an effort on target from the resulting corner that Mitchell again appeared to get the faintest of touches to ensure the ball went over as Peterhead looked certain to claim a winner. Kane delivered a ball into the area and Michael Moore won the header and as Jarvie bravely dived at the feet of Noble he took a sufficiently significant knock to ensure he would need to be replaced a few minutes later.

Raymond Jellema proved to be a very competent deputy and with his one contribution dived full length to keep Moore out after his turn and left footed strike looked to be heading for the far corner after Gallagher had made a surging run to create the opening. There was still time for Dennis Wyness to miss the target from a great position at the edge of the box and Mitchell to punch clear a Donald cross as Stranraer managed to hold on for a creditable point.

Both managers agreed that the result was about fair with each side having had the upper hand in half of the game. Jim McInally was pleased at the progress his team are making having been totally outplayed by Stranraer in the last meeting at Balmoor. He felt that his team were unlucky not to have won an entertaining game but conceded that but for his goalkeeper they could have been three down after half an hour and they will be keeping up their outside bid for a play-off place.

Keith Knox was very happy with the way Stranraer started and felt that the second goal would have been significant had they managed to get it. Peterhead changed their style to counteract Stranraer and made things more difficult and he agreed looked the more likely to win towards the end of the game. Although content with the point, the second half performance was a little disappointing but Stranraer are still very much in the chase for the line in May.

Peterhead: Paul Jarvie (Raymond Jellema 85), David Donald, Roy McBain, Scott Ross, Callum Macdonald, Ryan Strachan, Bryan Deasley (Dennis Wyness 72), Jamie Redman, Rory McAllister, Martin Bavidge, Graeme Sharp (David Ross 76). Subs Not Used: Lewis Davidson, Ross Smith 

Booked: Macdonald, Redman, Strachan

Goal: McAllister 42 Pen

Stranraer: David Mitchell, John Kane, Steven Noble, David MacGregor, Frank McKeown, Chris Aitken (Sean Winter 59), Scott Taggart, Stephen Stirling, Craig Malcolm (Stuart McColm 77), Martin Grehan (Michael Moore 77), Grant Gallagher. Subs Not Used: Nathan Shepherd, Ryan Marshall Booked: Aitken

Goal: Malcolm 1

Attendance: 435

Referee: S Finnie