Stranraer 3, Airdrieonians 1
Stranraer made it four wins on the spin with a commanding performance against bottom of the table Airdrieonians in one of their most comfortable victories of the season.
The result sees the Blues propelled into the top four and a promotion play-off place for the first time this season, a scenario that would have been beyond the dreams of many Blues fans back in the summer.
Perhaps more poignantly, the result opens up a 15-point gap between the Blues and the Diamonds with almost half the season gone.
The Blues suddenly exploded into life after a slow start and took the lead. Mark Docherty instigated the move, bursting forward and linking with Chris Aitken before delicately chipping Martin Hardie.
As the ball dropped, he smashed it towards goal and although Scott Gallagher was well positioned he spilled the ball and presented Martin Grehan with a simple chance to nod the ball past him from a couple of yards out which he gratefully accepted.
New loan signing Caolan McAleer, on debut and a rare gem in the Diamonds line-up, burst forward and crossed from the right. Lewis Coult helped it into the path of Jim Lister who must have been certain he was about to score but a fantastic challenge from Frank McKeown saved the day.
As the game moved into the second quarter, the Blues upped the ante and took the match by the scruff of the neck with a spell of scintillating attacking play. Airdrie only threatened occasionally but David Mitchell was alert when they did so.
The home side cranked up the pressure and bombarded the visitors’ goal and it was the mercurial Andy Stirling who was at the heart of most attacks. Stirling was also creator with a glorious pass to pick out a well-timed Jamie Longworth run and with the striker’s recent form it was unthinkable that he could miss but he shot straight at Gallagher.
It only delayed the inevitable and on the stroke of half-time Stranraer doubled their advantage. Aitken’s cross from the left fell to Stirling who drove the ball back into the crowded goalmouth. Although blocked, the quickest reaction came from Sean Winter and he swivelled and drilled the ball into the bottom corner.
Stranraer started the second half as they left off and they began to look unstoppable. However, completely against the run of play, a speculative ball into the box from Paddy Boyle found Hardie just outside the box and he managed to bundle his way through with the assistance of a helpful ricochet and slotted the ball away from the outstretched reach of Mitchell.
Stranraer were stunned back into action. Winter won a corner but McKeown headed it over and then Winter forced another corner when Gallagher touched his shot round the post. Aitken delivered it once again but this time David McGregor met the cross but with the same result as the previous one.
The Blues went further ahead when Aitken played a free kick down the left to Stirling. He breezed past Jamie Bain and from a seemingly impossible angle smashed a shot towards the near post where Gallagher who made a hash of dealing with it and could only manage to help it into the net. But Stirling was in no doubt the goal was his and his account for the club was finally opened.
Stranraer were in control and closed out the game the stronger side as they had been for long periods.
Recently appointed Airdrieonians boss Gary Bollan summed up the magnitude of the task ahead of him as he contemplated how difficult the weeks ahead might be as he tries to instil some confidence back into his side. However, he was certain that the willingness was there and an improvement would surely come.
Stephen Aitken felt Stranraer thoroughly deserved the win and was only disappointed that the margin hadn’t been greater after what he described as a great performance to watch. The look of the league table and the continuation of the side’s good form both gave some real satisfaction but the hard work would begin again straight away for the important cup clash next weekend against Clyde.
Stranraer: David Mitchell, David MacGregor, Mark Docherty, Scott Robertson, Frank McKeown, Chris Aitken (Steven Bell 86), Sean Winter (Ryan Borris 77), Grant Gallagher, Martin Grehan (David McKenna 77), Jamie Longworth, Andy Stirling. Subs not used: Lloyd Kinnaird, Mark Corcoran, Chris Fahey
Goals: Grehan 7, Winter 44, Stirling 58
Airdrieonians: Scott Gallagher, Gregor Buchanan, Paddy Boyle, Mick O’Byrne (Jamie Bain 52), Darren McCormack, Martin Hardie, Caolan McAleer, Nathan Blockley, Jim Lister (David Sinclair 82), Lewis Coult, Nicky Cadden (Liam Coogans 72). Subs not used: Liam Watt, Jamie Pollock, Willie McLaren, Andrew Duncan.
Goal: Hardie 51
Referee: G Salmond