Stranraer 1, Alloa Athletic 2
Shaun Niven at Stair Park
A disappointing performance from Stranraer against play-off chasing Alloa Athletic ensured a fruitless afternoon for the Stair Park side.
The visitors controlled the game almost entirely from start to finish and returned home with all of the points and a semblance of revenge for their surprise defeat in the corresponding fixture just before Christmas.
The opening few minutes were a clear indication of the afternoon that was to follow for the Blues. A poor clearance from Jamie Campbell that hit Martin Grehan fell perfectly for Calum Elliot to strike at goal but David Mitchell was able to get down to make a fine save.
The Blues’ keeper was in action again almost immediately, diving low to his left to keep out a Kevin Moon shot from the right side of the penalty area. Stranraer were stuttering badly and had failed to get into gear with only a couple of token passages into the Alloa half.
The Wasps looked set to sting the Blues with every attack and Michael Doyle had a shot blocked by Mick Dunlop before Michael Moore produced a superb piece of defending to clear an Elliot shot off the line.
It had taken 20 minutes but finally the Blues had an effort on target but Frank McKeown could only head a corner from Chris Aitken tamely into the gloves of Scott Bain. The Blues were denied shortly after as a cross from the left was flicked on by Moore towards the back post and, with Sean Winter poised to shoot, a desperate piece of defending from Graeme Holmes poked it away to safety.
Alloa burst straight up the park and Holmes turned predator but his shot was blocked by Craig Malcolm as the Blues showed that defending is most certainly done from the front.
Seven minutes from the interval, Grehan was played clean through after a mistake by McKeown, who had been dispossessed but the former Blues striker, when faced with only Mitchell to beat, managed to put his effort wide.
The other ex-Blues striker in the Wasps’ ranks, Kevin Cawley, also had a chance just before the interval but brought a save from Mitchell and, as the teams changed ends, the Blues could be happy with their defensive effort that ensured they remained on level terms.
The Blues had tried a formation of three up front and boss Stephen Aitken decided to change that at half-time to try to inspire Stranraer to gain more possession and cause more of a threat to Alloa so Moore was sacrificed in favour of Ryan Borris and another change followed shortly after when Winter, who had taken a knock, was replaced by Robert Love.
Borris created an opportunity for Aitken as the Blues pressed but his curling shot from outside the box was comfortably held under the crossbar by Bain.
Alloa decided on a tactical shift too and Grehan was replaced by Ryan McCord, a switch that was to have an almost instant impact. McCord and Doyle combined to deliver into the area where the loose ball fell to Graeme Holmes. The former Morton man turned and blasted a shot past the helpless Mitchell and confirmed his status as the Blues’ nemesis for the season, notching his fifth goal against Stranraer (out of a total of seven) and completing the set of scoring in all four clashes this campaign.
The goal gave the visitors the belief that it was destined to be their day and they began to stroke the ball around with more purpose. Stephen Simmons was next to benefit but his shot was saved by Mitchell.
Elliot burst into the box but was halted by Dunlop so he was forced to look for support which came in the shape of McCord, who fired over.
Love and Malcolm then both had shots from outside the box but both were blocked by the resolute Alloa defence as the Blues vainly tried to generate some momentum from a game that continued to lack inspiration and left the atmosphere strangely flat and tense.
This was cemented just after the mid-point in the half as Holmes turned creator by bursting past Lloyd Kinnaird into the penalty area. As he reached the bye line and looked up, he spotted McCord in space and his perfect pass was drilled home by the flame-haired midfielder.
McCord forced Mitchell into a fine save and Kinnaird was alert to clear from Cawley waiting to pounce on the rebound, before Cawley and Elliot were denied by Mitchell and Dunlop as Alloa looked to be strolling to victory.
Football can be a strange game, though, and with time running out the Blues suddenly created a few chances. Darren Gribben, who had worked hard for little reward, found some space for a shot that Ben Gordon did well to block and deflect wide and Borris shot wide from the resulting corner.
The next attack saw Gordon deny Malcolm at the expense of a corner from which the Blues grabbed a consolation strike with a few minutes left. Gribben slid a pass towards Robert Love in the six-yard box and he had enough time to deftly poke the ball past Bain.
Mitchell concluded his fine afternoon with a great double save to deny Elliot and then substitute Edward Ferns to ensure Alloa had an edgy final few minutes but they managed to hold on for a victory they fully deserved.
Paul Hartley was quick to praise the efforts of his side, describing it as an excellent performance where they should have possibly won by a more convincing margin given the possession they had enjoyed.
Blues boss Stephen Aitken was bitterly disappointed with the display from Stranraer, which had been flat from the start and there had been a spark missing in a performance that was uncharacteristically poor.
No complaints about the result but the opportunity returns next weekend to bounce back in another important home game when Brechin City come to visit.
Stranraer: David Mitchell, Lloyd Kinnaird, Jamie Campbell (Armand Oné 75), Frank McKeown, Mick Dunlop, Chris Aitken, Sean Winter (Robert Love 51), Grant Gallagher, Michael Moore (Ryan Borris 46), Craig Malcolm, Darren Gribben. Subs not used: Dean Agnew, Russell Cadwell.
Goal: Love 87
Alloa Athletic: Scott Bain, Michael Doyle, Daryll Meggatt, Ben Gordon, Jason Marr, Stephen Simmons, Kevin Moon (Edward Ferns 69), Calum Elliot, Martin Grehan (Ryan McCord 54), Graeme Holmes, Kevin Cawley. Subs not used: Jonathan Tiffoney, Mark Docherty, Craig McDowall.
Booked: Cawley, Simmons, Holmes
Goals: Holmes 55 McCord 68
Referee: D Roache