2015/16 Season Review - Part 1
It was in equal parts frustrating, fascinating and ultimately, heart-breaking.
The season was the definition of a rollercoaster, with a perilous dip followed by an incredible high. The proverbial season of two halves.
Brian Reid, tasked with carrying on the stellar work of Stevie Aitken, faced a great challenge as he sought to mould the team in his own style. Culminating in a day of drama worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy, the season will not be easily forgotten.
Here, we take a look back at all the highs and lows of an incredible year.
With much of Aitken’s squad, which came so close to the title, having signed on for the following season, Reid spent pre-season seeking players that would add to the quality pool already at his disposal.
The signings of Dale Keenan and Paul Cairney, both with top flight experience, were to be his first captures as manager.
A promising pre-season saw the club secure wins over Morpeth Town, Dumbarton and Portadown, a draw at Stirling and a solitary defeat coming in an away fixture with Ballyclare Comrades.
The season proper started on the 25th of July with a trip to rivals Queen of the South in the first round of the Petrofac Cup. The Blues endured a frustrating day, and would lose the game 2-0.
Stranraer’s fate improved in the League Cup on the 1st of August. A potentially tricky visit from fellow League 1 outfit Stenhousemuir ended with Craig Malcolm on the score sheet twice, setting up a trip to Easter road to face Championship side Hibernian.
The league campaign started with a challenging visit to Cowdenbeath, relegated from the division above at the end of the previous season. Ryan Thomson and a late Malcolm penalty secured a dramatic opening day three points for the side in their bright orange away top.
Despite the promising start, August was to be a challenging month with three tricky fixtures at home to Peterhead and Ayr and away to Dunfermline ending with a total of zero points, nine goals conceded and two scored.
Spirits were raised with a plucky performance at Easter Road, as the Blues were unfortunate to lose 1-0, an equaliser thwarted only by heroics from the Hibs goalie.
The former St Mirren defender David Barron and Raith Rovers goalkeeper David McGurn were signed in August.
September started brightly. A first home league win of the season was delivered with Jamie Longworth scoring in a 1-0 victory over Brechin City.
Two narrow 1-0 defeats away to Stenhousemuir and Albion Rovers followed. However the month ended positively, just as it had begun, with an unexpected away win in Forfar. Mark McGuigan and Chris Aitken scoring to secure the three points as the team put on a classic counter attacking performance.
October was again a rather unhappy month for the Blues. Despite following up the win in Forfar with an away win at Airdrieonians, courtesy of a Ryan Thomson goal, the month did not go to plan.
Three challenging fixtures, two at home against the Fife pair of Dunfermline and Cowdenbeath and a trip to Ayr ended in three defeats.
The club would pick up three points in October with nine goals conceded and two scored.
November brought with it a flurry of transfer activity. Liam Dick and Jamie McCluskey arrived at the club. They were joined by Luciano Nequecaur, a six foot Argentinian striker with top flight experience in his homeland.
This signing would bring the club national attention, and piqued the curiosity of fans desperate to see how the ‘Necky Cow’ (as his name is pronounced) would perform. The fans would have to wait for him to have an impact, with just two points gained in November.
A narrow defeat at Stenhousemuir was followed up with hard fought draws in Peterhead and at home to Forfar. The Scottish Cup brought a welcome victory for the club.
Facing a potential banana skin at home to Buckie Thistle, a professional performance ensured a 3-1 victory and cup progression. This game, the last in November, also saw the first and only goal for Luciano Nequecaur in a Stranraer kit.
Early December saw a further downturn in form. A crushing 3-1 defeat at home to Airdrieonians was followed up with a desperately disappointing 2-0 defeat away to Brechin on the 19th of December.
This ensured that Santa delivered exactly what the Stranraer fans did not want: bottom of the league at Christmas.
Fans began to question the role of the manager, in light of what they viewed as a disastrous turn of events that saw the club that only months prior had finished second in the division, in such a lowly position.
The club took the step of reaffirming their support for the then embattled manager in the local newspaper.
Santa did eventually arrive, a day late, as the Blues produced a dominant performance in dismantling Stenhousemuir on Boxing Day. 5-1 was the score, and frankly, it could have been more. A Malcolm hat-trick,a Jamie Longworth strike and a double nutmeg from promising youngster Sam McCloskey secured the points as Stranraer put on a scintillating attacking performance.
The Blues would finish 2015 in 9th position, just 2 points ahead of bottom placed Brechin. At that stage in the season, many felt the club should be looking down, rather than up. Fans argued that merely avoiding relegation would be a success. With the club 11 points adrift of the playoff positions even the most optimistic of Stranraer fans were struggling to think positively about the second half of the season.
However, what follows is one of the most remarkable turnarounds in the history of this great wee football club. Nobody could have predicted the joy, drama and heartache to come.
Part two to follow…