Stranraer 4, Forfar Athletic 1
Shaun Niven at Stair Park
Stranraer were in need of some feelgood factor and it duly came with a fine victory over Forfar.
It was the signal for Stephen Aitken to make a mark with a few changes to the line-up and formation as he sought to exert his influence over the game.
Things could not have started better for the Blues with a goal within the first three minutes. The Blues attacked with a break from Mark Staunton down the right. He found Craig Malcolm in the middle and, following an exchange of passes with Ryan Borris and Michael Moore, the chance fell to Craig Malcolm.
It required a couple of attempts but when the ball fell to the striker’s feet, he eventually had an angle to get wide of Derek Soutar and poke the ball past him into the net.
With Stranraer dominating, Moore linked up again to find Staunton wide on the right and he cut inside and let fly, his effort brining a fine save from Soutar. Forfar hadn’t come just to make up the numbers, though, and they were unfortunate not to equalise when Chris Templeman hit the post.
Forfar kept the pressure on and Danny Denholm got into the penalty area only to be crudely scythed by Mick Dunlop, giving the referee the simplest of decisions to award the visitors a spot kick. Iain Campbell stepped up to shoot but David Mitchell dived to his right to make a terrific save.
Denholm was causing problems for Stranraer, who had to replace the injured Borris with Max Wright, and the tricky midfielder eluded Dunlop but was forced wide by Mitchell. Still they looked dangerous in attack and a deep cross from Malcolm was bound for Chris Aitken at the far post only for a great defensive header from Craigen to deny him a goal.
Templeman was a handful for the defence and his header from a Campbell cross bounced clear off the top off the crossbar as Forfar continued to look the better side and it was not a surprise when they equalised. A corner from Craigen reached Denholm at the far the far post and, unmarked, he headed the ball into the Stranraer net.
Seconds later Denholm hit the side netting when he should have put the visitors in front after McKeown and Mitchell hesitated.
Stranraer eventually regained their self-belief and chances from Malcolm, who shot wide, and Wright, whose effort was saved by Soutar, restored confidence.
Stranraer went close when Moore flashed a ball across the face of goal that Malcolm narrowly failed to reach.
Five minutes before the interval the breakthrough came and, crucially for Stranraer, it was Malcolm who was the architect. Winning the ball near halfway, he set off towards goal. Held up just outside the box he spotted the overlap by Aitken to his right and the midfielder picked up the pass and smashed the ball past Soutar from a tight angle and ensured his brother’s half-time team talk would be a little easier.
The first minute of the second half saw Wright outstrip Mark McCulloch down the left and unleash a tremendous shot that beat Soutar but cannoned to safety off the crossbar. It told the tale of what was to come.
With 70 minutes on the clock, Moore had the ball in the net but the referee had spotted an infringement so it didn’t count.
But It didn’t take Stranraer long to recover from that disappointment as within minutes Malcolm had doubled the advantage. Starkly similar to his earlier strike, the Forfar defence had a couple of chances to clear but failed to do so and the Blues’ top scorer was rewarded for his persistence when the opportunity finally came to fire the ball into the net.
A familiar figure returned with 12 minutes left when the sizeable frame of Armand Oné, currently training with club and featuring as a triallist, was given an outing in place of the excellent Moore, whose efforts up front had only been overshadowed slightly by the man of the match performance from his strike partner, Malcolm, who almost straight away was denied a hat-trick by a fine save from Soutar after Winter had created the opening.
A bad day for the visitors still had time to get worse with injury time beckoning as Craigen needlessly lunged in on Aitken on halfway and picked up a straight red card for his trouble. Stranraer produced the final throw of the dice with the final move of the game that eventually brought a fourth goal. Robert Love squared a pass perfectly into the path of Malcolm, who met it sweetly only to be thwarted by a magnificent save from Soutar at the expense of a corner. Aitken delivered from the right and Frank McKeown completed the job by heading home at back post.
Stephen Aitken admitted to a nerve-wracking 90 minutes, which was understandable, given recent form and events but scoring goals at crucial times had given a platform for success which had been cemented with a great performance in the second half and a fully deserved victory.
Stranraer: David Mitchell, Mark Staunton, Lloyd Kinnaird, Frank McKeown, Mick Dunlop, Grant Gallagher, Sean Winter (Robert Love 88), Chris Aitken, Michael Moore (Armand Oné 78), Craig Malcolm, Ryan Borris (Max Wright 14). Subs not used: Dean Agnew, Russell Cadwell.
Booked: Kinnaird, Staunton, Moore
Goals: Malcolm 3, 73, Aitken 40, McKeown 90+3
Forfar Athletic: Derek Soutar, Mark McCulloch, Iain Campbell (Connor Gray 86), Michael Bolochoweckyj, Michael Dunlop, Kevin Motion, Ross Campbell (Steven Tulloch 74), James Craigen, Chris Templeman, Danny Denholm, Omar Kader (Liam Keillor 86). Subs not used: Jamie Bishop, David Scott.
Booked: Denholm, I Campbell, Gray
Sent Off: Craigen
Goal: Denholm 28
Referee: P Robertson