2015/16 Season Review - Part 2
We left Part 1 with Stranraer in 9th, with form best described as patchy.
In their final game of 2015 they humbled Stenhousemuir with a thrilling attacking performace.
Fans eagerly awaited the turn of the year as they wondered whether The Blues had turned a corner, or if the result at Ochilview was yet another false dawn.
We pick up the story with Stranraer two points above bottom placed Brechin and 11 points off the promotion playoff positions.
2016 started as 2015 had ended, with a victory. Jamie Longworth grabbing the only goal in a tense game at Stair Park against Ayr United.
As a cup tie with Celtic approached, Stranraer re-signed creative winger Willie Gibson from Dumbarton, with his signing captured by Sky cameras.
The cup tie would end with a 3-0 defeat in front of 4000 fans packed in to Stair Park, with many more watching on TV. With that, cup business for the season was concluded, and attention turned to the league.
The optimism that followed the first league win in 2016 was, again, short lived. The visit of Peterhead ended in a 5-1 thrashing. Craig Malcolm scoring the only goal against the dominant, and impressive Blue Toon.
Two 2-0 wins followed as Stranraer began to gather form. A second away win at Cowdenbeath was followed up by an important win against lowly Brechin City. The returning Willie Gibson scored a picture-perfect free kick in both games as he picked up where he left off, in impressive form.
January also saw the arrival of goalkeeper Cameron Belford on loan from Wrexham AFC.
February started with a third consecutive 2-0 win away to Albion Rovers. Craig Malcolm and Andy Stirling scored within minutes of each other to seal the victory as, remarkably, Brian Reid's men found themselves only one point adrift of fourth placed Airdrieonians.
As the Blues had made up ten points in the space of a month, there was a new found belief at Stair Park, and suddenly the impossible dream of the playoff seemed possible.
The crucial winning run was halted by draws with Forfar, Albion Rovers and Airdrieonians in consecutive games.
A tricky trip to champions-elect Dunfermline saw February end with a disappointing 6-1 defeat against a strong Pars side.
As the month ended, Stranraer found themselves three points adrift of fourth place, having played two games more than their rivals for that position. The prospect of the playoffs seemed distant.
A special month for The Blues kicked off with a 1-0 win at home to struggling Forfar. Craig Pettigrew was the unlikely goalscorer as he bagged his first, and only, goal of the season.
An away trip to Albion Rovers finished with a second win of the season at Cliftonhill. A solitary strike from Longworth was enough to elevate The Blues to the 38 point mark, level with closest challengers for fourth, Albion Rovers and Airdrieonians.
Next up, Stranraer faced a long midweek trip to high-flying Peterhead. On a cold and dark night beset by floodlight issues, the team fought hard for every ball. A battling performance delivered a crucial, and unexpected point to the season’s total.
Stenhousemuir provided the next test for the now confident Blues, and a ruthless first half goal fest saw the Blues cruising at 3-0. A Jason Scotland consolation from the spot would not be enough to dampen the full-time celebrations, as Stranraer made fourth place their own, pulling four points clear of Airdrieonians.
The month would end with a 2-1 defeat in a tricky fixture away to Ayr United.
The Blues played some marvellous football in March, following on from an impressive February. Suddenly there was a newfound sense of confidence in the Stranraer camp as supporters and players alike began to not only hope, but believe that the playoffs were a possibility.
Stranraer began the final month of the regular season three points clear in fourth, having played one more game than nearest rivals Airdrieonians.
A thrilling end to the season awaited, and as fate would have it, Stranraer began the month with what appeared to be a playoff shootout at home to Airdrieonians. The importance of the game was clearly understood by fans and players alike as a large crowd watched what many would later argue was the Blues performance of the season.
The attacking duo of Stirling and Gibson on the wings were simply unstoppable, and it was generally felt that the 4-0 margin of victory could have been greater. The attacking pair chipped in with a goal apiece, along with Malcolm and young Kyle Turner, who notched his first goal of the season with a stunning strike.
Stranraer next avenged their earlier thumping at the hands of Dunfermline with a dominant 4-1 win at home to the then Champions.
It was clear then, that Stranraer needed three points from their final two games to secure their place in the playoffs for a third consecutive season.
An away trip to Brechin, scrapping for their life at the bottom of the league, ended in disappointment and set up a final day of drama at Stair Park.
On the final weekend Cowdenbeath made the long trip from Fife, themselves looking for the win they required to avoid the relegation playoff. Stranraer knew that a win would be enough to secure their own playoff. On a nervy day Mark McGuigan was the hero, with his solitary goal enough to confirm a playoff place for the club.
Having amassed only 17 points up to the turn of the year, to finish on 51 points was a remarkable achievement.
The turnaround was remarkable and fans, players and staff alike were delighted with the stunning form in 2016.
The Blues faced a third consecutive attempt at the promotion playoffs, with Livingston the first hurdle they would try to overcome.
Part 3 to follow…