As in two previous seasons, Stranraer found themselves just four games away from promotion.
All involved with the club were hoping that the Blues could clear the first playoff hurdle, something that they had failed to do in 2014 and 2015.
In previous seasons The Blues had finished in third and second place, setting up meetings with rivals from their division (Dunfermline and Forfar). In 2016, the 4th place finish set up a tie with Livingston from the Championship.
Reaction was mixed. Some felt that this made the task harder, some felt it made the task easier. Many refused to proffer predictions, genuinely unsure of what to expect.
Stranraer were the form side going in to the playoffs. Their remarkable run of form in 2016 saw them second in the League 1 form table, ahead of potential playoff opponents Ayr United and Peterhead and in better form than a faltering Livingston side.
Despite this, Stranraer were considered the underdogs.
Stranraer v Livingston (Playoff Semi-Final 1st Leg)
Although few wanted to predict a winner for this tie, all that did predicted a cagey, tense affair. A draw or a narrow win either way was the expectation.
What happened on that evening was remarkable. It wasn’t cagey or tense and it wasn’t to be a narrow win or draw.
The game started as many felt it would, with Livingston creating chances. In the 10th minute, they took the lead. 1-0 Livingston.
At that point, a lesser team may have folded. Having gone on such a tremendous run of form, to fall behind so early in a game where few were willing to back them it was going to take tremendous mental fortitude to fight back.
Regulars at Stair Park in the season knew there was no need to worry. They knew this side had character.
Just four minutes later, they proved it.
Mark McGuigan produced a volleyed strike and watched as it trickled past the despairing Marc McCallum in the Livi goal.
The cheers from around the ground confirmed the importance of this goal. They conveyed enthusiasm, joy and relief.
Minutes later, Andrew Stirling produced one of his trademark moments of magic. On his supposedly weaker left foot he hit a rasping shot from outside the box that was simply unstoppable. Stranraer had taken an unexpected lead, 2-1.
Never one to be outdone, the prodigious Willie Gibson curled in a low free kick from almost the same position. At 3-1, The Blues truly were in dreamland.
As the dust settled on the first half, the Stair Park faithful were purring. 3-1 up against full-time opposition. Many were pinching themselves.
Livingston would begin the second half strongly. In the 68th minute they pulled a goal back. 3-2.
However, once again Stranraer showed great strength as McGuigan scored his second of the game, tapping in a rebound from a Craig Malcolm shot. 4-2 Stranraer.
The fifth and final goal for The Blues came late on as yet more sterling work by Gibson left Livi defender Darren Cole unable to do anything other than knock the ball past his own goalkeeper.
It was another famous night under the floodlights at Stair Park.
The home side were rampant and it was generally felt that the winning margin could have been greater.
Stranraer took a 5-2 lead to Livingston.
Livingston v Stranraer (Playoff Semi-Final 2nd Leg)
A large and expectant Blues support made the trip to the Tony Macaroni Arena.
At the third attempt, the team were going to clear the first hurdle. As kick off approached, some may have begun to feel nervous. However tough it was going to be, the lead allowed for a degree of confidence.
Twenty minutes in, Livingston took the lead. 5-3 on aggregate.
As half time approached a pass back led to an indirect free kick in the box. Goal. 5-4.
The nerves in the stand at half time were palpable.
The second half was reminiscent of a boxing match. Two heavyweights trading blows. Exhausting, devastating and at times brutal. Both sides, at various points, would sacrifice defence, chasing the knockout blow.
As the momentum was with Livingston though, Stranraer landed a shot of their own.
Paul Cairney found himself chasing a ball down. He masterfully struck the ball on the half volley, sending it soaring over the outstretched frame of the giant McCallum in the Livingston goal.
This sparked wild celebrations from players and fans alike. A moment of relief perhaps, momentum halted. Livingston were once again on the ropes.
However, like a wounded animal, Livingston were dangerous.
As the clock wound down, the Stranraer fans were jubilant. Singing, celebrating.
However, in the space of five minutes at the death, The Lions scored a devastating double.
This set up extra time and the by now tiring teams faced a season defining 30 minutes.
Having surrendered a three goal lead, it would have been understandable if morale was low.
Stranraer found something extraordinary. Energy and belief. They weren’t going to accept penalties. They were going to win it in extra time.
Goals from the marauding Liam Dick and the dependable Longworth saw the Blues come out on top. A bruising encounter. 8-6 on aggregate. Once again, players and fans celebrated as one.
This was a remarkable tie and a remarkable performance from Brian Reid’s men. The disappointment of the first half of the season was long forgotten. The joys of the second half of the season were being surpassed.
Ayr United were all that lay between Stranraer and the Championship.