Peterhead 1 Stranraer 3
Stranraer completed the first quarter of the season a last weekend when they took their unbeaten run on the long road North to play a surprisingly stuttering Peterhead outfit who had failed so far to live up to their pre-season billing. Good form or not the Blues record at Balmoor had been poor with only one win to boast at the Buchan venue and the performance produced that doubled that tally delighted the handful of far travelled supporters and sent them homewards down the A90 in good cheer.
The home side began full of hope having installed Jim McInally as their new manager with John Sheran having been dismissed after their last disappointing defeat but the visitors looked determined early on to prey on their fragile state by pressing for an early goal and a couple of early attacks showed promise without providing a clear cut opportunity. Peterhead responded and a Rory McAllister link with David Donald ended with a cross that David Mitchell grabbed to ensure no further threat. Brian Deasley weaved his way into the penalty area on the next attack and a great intervention by John Kane ensured that his shot was a tame deflected effort but the opener was only a few minutes away and it was Stranraer who grabbed it.
A corner on the right delivered by Chris Aitken was met by the run of Frank McKeown at the back post and his header gave Paul Jarvie no chance and the Blues defender notched his first goal for the club. Hardly surprisingly, Stranraer grew in confidence while Peterhead’s fragile state was rocked and their disgruntled supporters began to fear the worst. Craig Malcolm and Sean Winter combined with a move down the left and Winter got a cross over for Grant Gallagher to meet but his effort flew just wide from the edge of the box. McAllister had a long range effort deflected wide for a corner but it was a poor response by the home side that looked devoid of ideas and as they looked ripe for the picking Stranraer needed to capitalise. Kane and McKeown combined to thwart a break from McAllister and Deasley; then Martin Bavidge got ahead of the visitors defence but crossed harmlessly as the Blue Toon couldn’t find anything to test the Stranraer keeper. Peterhead in possession didn’t have any cutting edge and Scott Taggart and Steven Noble were able to deny McAllister again when he had a chance to run at goal but isolated from his midfielders he surrendered possession. Without creating any real opportunities since the goal Stranraer had looked comfortable with the lead and probed forward when possible with Aitken pulling the strings and Martin Grehan combining well with Malcolm in a new look front pairing. Six minutes from the break Stranraer went two ahead. A move down the left allowed Malcolm to have an effort from wide that was only partially cleared to Stephen Stirling on the edge of the box. With time to take a touch he set himself for a dipping left foot shot that eluded Jarvie’s outstretched hand and found the bottom corner to become the second first time scorer of the afternoon. Jarvie was back in action minutes later as the break approached and Stranraer by now were in full flight a punched clearance from Mitchell found Aitken in midfield. Striding forward he spotted Malcolm on the left and found him with a diagonal pass. Malcolm cut in past Donald and was only denied by a fine diving save by the home stopper who did enough to ensure his team retained some hope for the second period.
To their credit, the half time discussion did reinvigorate the home side and they upped their commitment levels straight away when a crude challenge from Bavidge earned the first of seven second half yellow cards as a more combative approach was applied. Stranraer continued to look the more dangerous side and Grehan and Gallagher worked their way into the penalty area only to be denied by a terrific Paul Watson tackle. Deasley caused some concern in the visitors goalmouth but his cross was eventually hooked away by Winter as the home side started to look more competitive and when Aitken had to go off injured they took the initiative for a spell although a Winter shot from a Stirling corner required a timely Callum McDonald block to stop his goal bound effort. With a three pronged attack in place having added Dennis Wyness to the mix, Peterhead finally got on the score sheet and it was their main man, Rory McAllister who did the damage heading home a corner from Deasley at the back post. It may have been expected that the home side would launch a cavalry charge at Mitchell’s goal but Stranraer defended stoutly as a team and limited their opportunities very well. Indeed, Winter almost created a chance for Michael Moore but his deep cross was only just headed wide by the Blues striker. Mitchell did have to move smartly to rush out and clear from the onrushing McAllister as he chased a huge McDonald punt and the striker was then denied by McKeown and Kane who combined to clear the danger. The home side’s best chance to equalise came when Bavidge turned and chipped the ball over the visitors defence for Deasley to run in on from the left but with a free header he put the ball across goal and wide.
Stranraer took over for the final quarter hour and there was no need for nerves to get frayed, in fact the remaining chances fell to Keith Knox’s men. Danny Mitchell was denied by a block tackle by Alan Rattray before the next attack from Gallagher found Moore and his turn and low shot brought a fantastic save from Jarvie. The same duo would not be denied however, and in the final minute Gallagher crossed from the right and Michael Moore sealed the points with a header back across the helpless Jarvie to finish off the contest.
Jim McInally reflected on the magnitude of his task to lift his struggling side and bemoaned their lack of confidence and presence in the heat of combat and had no complaints about the result.
Blues manager Keith Knox was pleased at yet another victory and the continuation of the clubs current winning run, citing himself to be more than satisfied with the return from the first round of matches. Knox admitted that the concentration on league matters required that any attention on the forthcoming Scottish Cup tie with neighbours Wigtown & Bladnoch this weekend would not begin until the week before the match itself. The former Wigtown boss looked forward to the tie which would provide a welcome distraction from the bread and butter of league duty but wasn’t drawn on making any predictions about how things might go against Micky Dougan’s South of Scotland side.