SPFL Play Off Semi STRANRAER 2 DUNFERMLINE 1 : Date 07/05/14
The road was long and very wet in stages but that has been the story of the season, not just this trip to Stranraer. This semi final first leg Championship play off at Stair Park saw Jim Jefferies make nine changes from the side that held League One champions, Rangers to a 1-1 draw on Saturday.
The Dunfermline side was the eleven as started against Arbroath ten days ago but with Shaun Byrne and Lewis Spence starting at the expense of Stephen Husband and Ross Forbes. Stranraer brought in David McGregor, Steven Bell, Jamie Longworth and Grant Gallagher in place of Frank McKeown, David McKenna, Ryan Borris and Stephen Stirling.
Jordan Moore t shirts were worn by the Dunfermline squad for the warm up showing their best wishes for their team mate following his recent surgery. A sizeable travelling support, given the 125 miles, welcomed Andy Geggan and the team on to the soggy playing surface led out by two young pipers.
The teams changed ends before the hosts kicked off attacking the goal at the east end. They had the first attempt at goal in four minutes when Bell met Mark Docherty's inswinging corner from the right but the former Par powered his header wide right.
Dunfermline's first chance was a really good one and it came as a result of a strong run by Spence. He made ground through the centre and released the ball to his right for Faissal El Bakhtaoui who then laid the ball on further for Byrne to thrash a low shot on target that David Mitchell did well to save.
At the other end Gallagher got the break of the ball to send Sean Winter in on the right but Ryan Scully was well out. The Pars keeper then had a good save from Winter as the home crowd anticipated the strike hitting the net. They only had to wait until 12th minute however when Martin GREHAN notched his twentieth goal of the season. It was a bit of a comic cut with the defence stationary on the edge of the box as Stranraer got the break that allowed the striker to send the ball over the advancing keeper. 1-0
Geggan hit a shot over the top but still play was mainly towards the Fifers goal. Scully held a Stephen Stirling effort and then when Millen gave away a wild corner Geggan headed clear. Stranraer did not give Dunfermline much time on the ball but in turn Dunfermline moved the ball quickly so the game continued at a frantic pace.
A low Millen cross was held by Mitchell on 22 minutes before at the other end Callum Morris was nearly caught out by Gallagher, conceding a corner that flew through the six yard box when played in from the left. Then at the other end Mitchell skied his attempted clearance of a pass back. The corner didn't make an impact but play dwelt on the edge of the Stranraer box.
Spence was taken down by Gallagher earning himself the first yellow card of the night and from the free kick Millen created danger in front of goal. The ball was cleared only as far as El Bakhtaoui but his shot was well closed down and Mitchell grabbed the ball as it spun off his defender.
At the other end the Fifers lived dangerously as Jamie Longmuir cut back from the left byeline for Winter and Scully was relieved to see the 31st minute shot from 18 yards go out wide left. The Pars had a good opportunity after Falkingham was taken down as he raced down the right. The free kick allowed Millen to pump the ball into the Stranraer six yard box but the inrushing Danny Grainger just failed to get the header in that would have hit the net.
In 37 minutes McGregor was deemed to have cut down Byrne 25 yards out but Millen hit the free kick over the wall and over the bar. The 41st minute looked bad for the Pars as captain Andy Geggan was forced to give up his battle after sustaining a kick earlier in the back and after the physio's verdict he hobbled off. The ten men however were alert to break after the stoppage. EL BAKHTAOUI ran on to a through ball from Falkingham; took it left and chipped the ball over the advancing keeper. 1-1
Forbes then came on for Geggan and his shot just before half time was well blocked. For the fifth time in the five matches between Stranraer and Dunfermline the Galloway side had scored first. The question at half time was whether Dunfermline could go on to win for the fourth time.
Half time: Stranraer 1 Dunfermline 1
Stranraer came out of the blocks the most forcefully earning a corner within 25 seconds and pumping several early balls into the Pars box. Forbes got in the Pars first effort of the second half but Mitchell held the 40 yards shot.
The hosts were again closing Dunfermline down quickly and they found themselves going backwards on more than one occasion as they found it hard to play the ball up the park. The home crowd were shouting for a penalty on 55 minutes when Docherty burst down the left channel. Spence took the ball cleanly as the full back tumbled and Bobby Madden was not interested in the appeals.
A McGregor free kick was sent high into the Pars box and the defence scrambled the ball away from Grehan as he tried to wriggle his way through. Stranraer piled on the pressure with Morris blocking a shot from Longworth and then Millen clipping the ball away from substitute David McKenna. Falkingham picked up a needless yellow card in 62 minutes that might have consequences in subsequent games.
Four minutes later there was a glorious chance for the Fifers when Thomson switched the ball on to the right where El Bakhtaoui had evaded the offside trap but sent his shot drastically wide right.
Stephen Husband then replaced Josh Falkingham and within a minute he made Mitchell pull off an important save. The sub injected a degree of urgency and Dunfermline pressed the Stranraer goal for a spell. In 75 minutes he took the ball off Byrne to cleverly set up a real blooter of a shot that an opponent blocked.
A Dunfermline corner was then defended out as far as El Bakhtaoui and his well struck low shot was saved by the all red kitted keeper. Hubby then had another driven shot stopped and El Bakhtaoui was just too slow to hit the loose ball and his effort was blocked.
At the other end Bell drove wide and Longworth looked to be in but scooped his chance away to the right. In 82 minutes Page picked up a yellow for a robust tackle on half way and when sub Ryan Borris robbed Millen on the right edge of the box the Fifers were relieved to see the shot sent over the top.
There were six minutes remaining when Page had to stop his man going through the middle and his second yellow saw him sent off. Lewis Martin came on for Ryan Thomson before the free kick was taken and Scully had to dive to his right to keep the shot out.
Stranraer's hopes were raised with the Pars going down to ten and smelling a chance, they piled on the pressure. A free kick in from the right fell perfectly for BELL who turned it past Scully 2-1.
The following minute and four added changed nothing and Stranraer will take a one goal up to East End Park. Although Stranraer manager admitted his team had their noses in front he was very aware that the semi final is only at half time. This had been a match played at a fantastic pace and Saturday is assured to be another thriller!
STRANRAER: David Mitchell, Scott Robertson, David McGregor, Scott Rumsby, Mark Docherty, Grant Gallagher, Andrew Stirling, Steven Bell (c)(Stephen Stirling 90), Sean Winter (Ryan Borris 78), Jamie Longworth, Martin Grehan (David McKenna 61).
SUBS NOT USED: Adam Forde, Lloyd Kinnaird, Chris Fahey.
SCORERS: Grehan (12), Bell (88)
YELLOW CARD: Gallacher (27), Bell (45), Page (82)
DUNFERMLINE: Ryan Scully; Ross Millen, Callum Morris, Jonathan Page, Danny Grainger; Shaun Byrne, Lewis Spence, Josh Falkingham (Stephen Husband 70), Andy Geggan (c)(Ross Forbes 42); Faissal El Bakhtaoui, Ryan Thomson (Lewis Martin 86).
SUBS NOT USED: Ryan Goodfellow (GK), Ryan Williamson, Alex Whittle, Allan Smith.
SCORER: El Bakhtaoui (41)
YELLOW CARD: Falkingham (62), Page (82)
RED CARD: Page (84)
NEXT MATCH: SPFL Championship Play Off Semi Final v Stranraer
Saturday 10th May, kick off 3.00pm
- www: WEB ALBUM
Ladbrokes Championship: Saturday 22nd April, Dunfermline v Falkirk kick off 3.00pm