Penalty secures Blues win

Stranraer 1 Stenhousemuir 0

by Shaun Niven

Scottish Professional Football League – League One

Stair Park – Saturday 19th October 2013, 15:00 KO

Moving into the second quarter of the season gave Stranraer the opportunity to atone for a defeat and a poor performance at Ochilview in the season’s curtain raiser when Stenhousemuir were the visitors to Wigtownshire for the afternoon. As it turned out, the match panned out exactly that way and another confidence boosting result, a fourth victory contained within an unbeaten run in the league stretching to five matches proved to be enough to hoist Stranraer to the lofty heights of a place in the top half of the league table for the first time a many a long day.

On the back of the momentum gained in recent Stair park performances, Stranraer attacked right from the kick off and within seconds, Grant Gallagher had burst through from midfield and although his strike wasn’t the finest, Chris Smith in the visiting goal almost allowed it to deceive him, finally touching it wide unconvincingly. Stenhousemuir were quick with a reply and breaking down the left, Bryan Hodge squared the ball to Ross McNeil who let fly but couldn’t keep the ball down and failed to find the target. The Blues though, even at this early stage, looked resolute in their determination to get a good result and after forcing a succession of corners that the Warriors defence managed to get clear they eventually produced at nice series of passes that reached Jamie Longworth on the edge of the box but with the ball slightly behind him, he couldn’t muster the power behind his shot to seriously trouble Smith who this time looked fully alert.

Chris Aitken, on the Blues next attacking foray bent a right footed shot in from wide that Smith once again dealt with while sandwiched in between those two efforts Sean Higgins eased into the box to shoot but a well-timed intervention from David MacGregor blocked his path to goal. That early flurry of activity was followed in turn by a quarter hour or thereabouts of relative inactivity as a midfield slog ensued with both sides trying to gain the initiative. Indeed it was Higgins who had an effort on target that David Mitchell gathered which would launch the move to break the deadlock. A huge howitzer of a clearance from Mitchell deceived Eddie Malone whose mistake allowed Martin Grehan space in behind to chase the loose ball. Getting there slightly ahead of Ross Smith proved significant as the Warriors defenders challenge was deemed to be a foul and the referee immediately pointed to the spot. Penalties have become a frequent factor for the Blues this season and generally been a fertile source of success and with his customary authority, Chris Aitken stepped up and blasted his sixth successful penalty (from seven) of the season and his ninth strike in total high past the helpless Smith to put the Blues on the road to victory and also move himself to the head of the club’s goal scorers chart. Clearly boosted by this the home side commanded the lion’s share of territory and possession as they sought to drive home their advantage. They almost capitalised when Mark Docherty, Andy Stirling, Gallagher and Longworth linked up to almost create a chance that required a last ditch tackle from Nicky Devlin to avert the danger. However, just to serve as a reminder that one goal can never be considered enough, the Warriors caused alarm with a fizzing Sean Dickson cross that hurtled across the face of goal and required the faintest touch by Frank McKeown to ensure that the waiting predatory figure of the Warriors top scorer, John Gemmell would be denied the opportunity to repeat his goal scoring heroics that decided the August fixture between the clubs. The fact that a near miss had been the closest the visitors had come to scoring during the opening period outlined the Blues supremacy and they still had time for Grehan to sting the gloves of Smith before retreating to the sanctity of the dressing room at the break.

The interval certainly didn’t disrupt the home side’s momentum and with the crowd still returning to their seats they had the ball in the net for a second time. Aitken delivered from a free kick and as McKeown beat Kevin McKinlay to the cross and forced the ball home, a flag to indicate a foul dampened the cheers of the home support. Another glorious chance following soon after, Docherty the architect with a cross from the left and with Longworth being enough of a nuisance to distract the Warriors centre-backs, the ball reached Aitken who controlled and fired in a shot that McKinlay managed to block. With Steven Bell making a welcome return to football after a lengthy injury layoff making up the final part of the Blues midfield, the home side enjoyed the bulk of the play and the ex-Dunfermline star lasted over an hour before earning his respite as he was withdrawn for Mark Corcoran, keen to torment his former employers. It took until the final quarter for Mitchell to be seriously tested by the visitors but even then Sean Dickson fired his shot directly into the arms of the Blues custodian. Stranraer always looked the likelier to add to the score and Stirling, also playing against his former club unlocked the defence with a cute flick that saw Longworth narrowly beaten to the ball by Smith who cleared under pressure from the Blues striker. Stirling then had a chance to score himself as he latched on to a long Gallagher pass and beat McKinlay before firing a shot directly at Smith. With the Warriors expected to launch a desperate effort to claim something from the game, it didn’t materialise due to their own off colour performance but also due to the hustle and bustle of the Stranraer side who never allowed them to settle into a rhythm at all. Indeed the Blues continued to create the bulk of the chances, Aitken driving across goal towards Grehan only for Ferguson to get a vital touch, McKeown forcing Smith to tip his header over the top and Corcoran twisting and turning to bamboozle a bemused Hodge before narrowly failing to pick out Aitken who would have had a great chance but for the presence of Dickson who brought the ball away. Grehan picked up a MacGregor pass and was denied by a Smith save as the pattern of play continued while the Warriors only crumb of comfort was a move that saw Hodge shoot from distance but Mitchell was down early and saved, while a mistimed Gemmell effort was mopped up by MacGregor leaving only a stoppage time corner to defend, which the Blues did to ensure a clean sheet and wrap up the points.

Stenhousemuir boss Martyn Corrigan, frustrated at the performance of his side offered no excuses after the game, admitting that Stranraer were deserving of their victory. Too many poor decisions and too many players not at their best had ensured an uncharacteristically poor performance on the day.

Stephen Aitken was chuffed with the result and pleased that the team had shown some nice variety in play with different attacking options while also keeping good shape and ensuring their defensive duties were covered also resulting in a much coveted clean sheet. The present run of good results was great reward for a succession of excellent performances and with confidence high, the team remained fully focussed on keeping the unbeaten run going as long as possible.

Stranraer: David Mitchell, David MacGregor, Mark Docherty, Scott Robertson, Frank McKeown, Chris Aitken, Steven Bell, (Mark Corcoran 67), Grant Gallagher, Martin Grehan, Jamie Longworth (David McKenna 84), Andy Stirling (Ryan Borris 90).

Subs Not Used: Lloyd Kinnaird, Chris Fahey

Booked: Bell

Goal: Aitken 32 Pen

Stenhousemuir: Chris Smith, Nicky Devlin, Kevin McKinlay, Ross Smith, Eddie Malone (Brown Ferguson 74), Bryan Hodge, Sean Dickson, Sean Lynch (Errol Douglas 58), John Gemmell, Sean Higgins, Ross McNeil (Darren Smith 46).

Subs not Used: Josh Watt, Ross Brash, Daniel Nimmo, Dean Shaw. 

Booked: Higgins, Malone, Ferguson, Hodge

Attendance: 326 Referee: K Graham