A superbly entertaining game ebbed and flowed at Stair Park on Wednesday night but it was Stephen Aitken’s Blues that will take a slender lead into the 2nd Leg at East End Park on Saturday after a late winner from former Dunfermline midfielder Steven Bell capped a magnificent performance from the Blues captain for the evening. Stranraer started the game brightly and began taking the game to their full-time opponent’s right from start with Andy Stirling the first to try his luck, shooting over from long range. A couple of corners quickly followed and Bell had a chance to open the scoring but headed Stirling’s corner wide at the near post. The Pars responded eventually with a chance of their own. Created in midfield by youngster Lewis Spence he found Shaun Byrne on the right and his low shot was well blocked by David Mitchell and then grabbed at the second attempt. Ryan Scully then reciprocated with a fine save at the other end as a Martin Grehan knockdown fell to Sean Winter who tested the keeper with his shot. In the 12th minute it was Mitchell who started the move that saw the Blues deservedly take the lead. His long clearance wasn’t dealt with by Callum Morris and having also lost sight of Jamie Longworth, the Blues top scorer nipped in and lifted the ball over Ryan Scully in the Pars goal. As the ball headed for goal, Martin Grehan chased it and made sure it reached its target by nodding into the empty net from close range. Dunfermline quickly moved upfield and Faissal El Bakhtaoui crossed and found Andy Geggan whose shot on the turn never threatened the Blues goal. Mitchell was troubled by the next attack as Ross Millen drilled a low cross into the danger area but the keeper dealt with it expertly with a comfortable take. The Blues launched an attack and a superb exchange of passes between Stirling, Grehan and Grant Gallagher so nearly released the latter but a despairing challenge saw the ball diverted away. From that corner Grehan should have doubled the Blues lead but failed to connect with the cross from only a couple of yards out. As the half hour mark came, the visitors began to assert themselves on the game a bit more. Bell had to be alert on a couple of occasions and his good positioning gave him two defensive headers that again kept the Pars at bay. Gallagher and Grehan set up Stirling for a chance but he shot wide and then a great Scott Rumsby challenge denied El Bakhtaoui in full flight as the end to end pattern continued. Mark Docherty chipped a pass forward that was agonisingly out of the reach of Grehan as he burst clear but it was clear there were more goals to come and it looked like it would be from Stranraer as this time Longworth teed up Winter but the midfielder struck his volley just wide. Dunfermline though were certainly more in the game and when David MacGregor brought down Ryan Thomson just outside the box, Millen took the free kick but his effort failed to find the target. However the respite was short lived. Josh Falkingham opened up the Blues defence with a great pass for the onrushing Faissal El Bakhtaoui to run on to and he lifted the ball over the advancing Mitchell and brought the scores level and the first handed ended without any further incident.
Only seconds were on the clock after the restart when the Blues almost regained their lead. Stirling and Grehan combined to find Winter who blasted at goal but Danny Grainger got the vital block on the shot to ensure it went out for a corner. A succession of flag-kicks followed but ultimately the Blues could not take advantage of them. Ross Forbes was looking dangerous but shot over from 20 yards at one end before another crisp Blues move between Docherty and Stirling was thwarted by a terrific challenge from Jonathan Page. Spence was next to clear as he ended a Stranraer move by clearing after a goalmouth scramble. As both teams took turns at pressing forward, the visitor’s Moroccan striker had a snap shot that he couldn’t keep on target although it was difficult for him to keep the ball under control. Falkingham was replaced by Stephen Husband with twenty minutes remaining and his first touch was tidy touch and shot which Mitchell did really well to stand up to and beat the ball away to safety. The desperate defending continued as a Ross Forbes cross caused uncertainty but agonisingly failed to find a touch from the Pars hitmen as it flashed across goal. They went closer moments later as El Bakhtaoui shot through a ruck of players but Docherty had retreated to the post and headed the ball away from the danger area. A desperate goal mouth defensive effort from the Blues once again kept the Pars at bay as a couple of efforts were once again kept out by the Blues rearguard. The spell of Dunfermline pressure didn’t last though and Stranraer moved forward again and when Longworth got the wrong side of Morris it looked as though he had been fouled as he tried to get a shot away but the referee failed to spot the infringement that many of the home fans thought they had spotted. Ryan Borris had come on for the last piece of the game and Page was forced to stop him with a robust challenge that was perhaps fortunate to only see a yellow card but from the next attack the same player, Borris did well to muscle the ball away from Millen but turned a curled a shot just over the bar that had Scully well beaten. The Blues by now were dominating the play and Page was drawn into another foul. Longworth burst through on goal and was chopped to the ground another yellow card for the central defender ended his involvement in the tie early as he received his marching orders. Piling on the pressure Stranraer earned a free kick wide on the right as substitute David McKenna was upended by Grainger. McKenna took the kick himself and swung the ball across goal where Steven Bell rounded off an outstanding performance by heading the Blues into the lead and secure an advantage to take with them to Dunfermline at the weekend.
Jim Jefferies was pleased with some of his teams play, particularly in the second but bemoaned the poor defending at times that had contributed to their downfall. At the halfway stage in the tie, they still had everything to play for.
Stephen Aitken on the other hand was delighted to have secured an advantage to take to East End Park for the second leg. He was extremely proud of the efforts of his team that had once again propelled them to another great result that gave them a great chance of reaching the final.
Stranraer: David Mitchell, Scott Robertson, Mark Docherty, Scott Rumsby, David MacGregor, Steven Bell (Stephen Stirling 90), Sean Winter (Ryan Borris 78), Grant Gallagher, Martin Grehan (David McKenna 61), Jamie Longworth, Andy Stirling. Subs Not Used: Lloyd Kinnaird, Adam Forde, Chris Fahey
Booked: Gallagher, Bell, S Stirling
Goals: Grehan 12, Bell 88
Dunfermline Athletic: Ryan Scully, Ross Millen, Danny Grainger, Jonathan Page, Callum Morris, Andy Geggan (Ross Forbes 42), Shaun Byrne, Lewis Spence, Faissal El Bakhtaoui, Josh Falkingham (Stephen Husband 70), Ryan Thomson (Lewis Martin 85). Subs not Used: Allan Smith, Alex Whittle, Ryan Williamson, Ryan Goodfellow.
Booked: Falkingham, Page Sent Off: Page
Goal: El Bakhtaoui 41
Attendance: 867 Referee: B Madden