Stirling Albion v Annan
Stirling has never been a happy hunting ground for Annan and there was to be no change in Annan’s fortunes in this match after Stirling inflicted Annan’s second defeat in 14 games and maintained Stirling’s own excellent record which pushes Stirling up to the top half of the table only four points within striking distance of top of the table Annan. It was the first time this season that Annan have failed to score in a match where scoring opportunities were few and far between with the game being decided by substitute Phil Johnston’s 76th minute goal.
Annan were more or less at full strength apart from Bryan Gilfillan who is nursing a calf injury and Steven Sloan who was injured in the mid week game up at Montrose. Josh Todd made a welcome return to the starting eleven after a 4 week lay off and on loan Motherwell player David Ferguson slotted into the midfield berth to take up the position vacated by Sloan.
The home team started brightly playing with a stiff breeze in their favour and Hart had to deal with Darren Smith’s opening minute strike. Todd replied for Annan with a snap shot which never really tested keeper Wallace. The opening ten minutes were evenly contested with both defences on top. Weatherson created space for a shot when he turned his marker to finish with a low shot from the edge of the box which slipped past the keepers left hand post. Albion replied immediately when Darren Smith blasted over the bar from 15 yards. Mark Lamont came close with a great 20 yard effort which flashed past the upright.
Stirling won their first corner in the 15th minute but Lamont and Dickson made a mess of the opportunity. Annan won a free kick on the edge of the 18 yard box but Ryan Finnie’s cross ball was defended well. With 32 minutes gone the Annan defence were caught after a long punt sent Dickson in on goal but the finish was poor and an opportunity was sqaundered. Flynn went close in the 40th minute when his low shot from the edge of the box swept past the post. As the clock ticked towards half time Steven Dorris was denied a goal when his header from Mark Lamont cross struck the cross bar, it was the nearest either team came to scoring in an entertaining first half.
The second half started with the home team on the offensive and in the 54th minute Mark Lamont hit a ferocious shot which hit the side netting. Minutes later Flynn went close with a well struck shot from 25 yards which went narrowly past the post. This was followed by a Todd effort with the Annan striker’s shot confidently saved by Wallace. Minutes later Annan’s best chance of the match fell to Flynn who made a fine run down the left and as he cut in towards the keeper he elected to cut the ball back rather than take on the shot himself from a very promising position. Annan were looking dangerous particularly down the right and Stuart McColm had only been on the pitch minutes when he was presented with a clear cut chance after he broke clear and homed in on keeper Wallace but his low shot flashed past the post when the more lucrative option would have been to drive further forward into the space in front of the keeper.
The defining moment in the game arrived 2 minutes later, Dickson created the goal down the left skipping past the challenge of Watson to send in a low cross to the near post and the ball appeared to deflect off Hart and McNiff and substitute Phil Johnston prodded the loose ball home from 2 yards. Hart then pulled off a good save to deny Dickson as the home team tried to double their advantage.
Annan pushed forward in the final 5 minutes and a miss understanding between McNiff and Weatherson on the edge of the 6 yard box ended with McNiff’s weak effort being saved by Wallace. Swinglehurst’s header went narrowly past as Annan pushed forward and in the last few minutes Phil Johnston broke clear only to be thwarted by a timely Swinglehurst challenge.
The victory pushed Stirling nearer the top and within striking distance of the top, Annan despite the defeat still retain the top spot although their lead has now been cut to 2 points after closest challengers Queens Park and Elgin shared the points in a goalless draw at Elgin, and Clyde squandered the opportunity to close the gap at the top after they were defeated 2-0 at home by Arbroath. It all adds up to a festive cracker when Annan entertain Clyde on Boxing Day .
ANNAN ATHLETIC: Jordan Hart, Steven Black, Steven Swinglehurst, Martin McNiff, Peter Watson (Smart Osadolor 78 min) , David Ferguson ,Ryan Finnie, Mathew Flynn, Peter Weatherson , Josh Todd ( Liam Park 78 min) , Rabin Omar (Stuart McColm 71 min). SUBS NOT USED: Blair Currie, Ryan McStay, Jamie Watson, Scott Norman.
STITLING ALBION :Smith Wallace, David Verlaque, Kevin McKinlay, Ross McGeachie, Ross Smith, Aurelien Mazel, Mark Lamont ( Phil Johnston 70 min), William Robertson, Steven Doris, Darren Smith (Scot Davidson 85 min), Sean Dickson (Lee Hamilton 88 min). SUBS NOT USED: Craig Comrie, Sandy Cunningham, Cammy Binnie GK, Salim Kouider-Aissa.
Stirling Albion Goals – Johnston (76)
REFEREE: David Lowe, Assistants Graeme Leslie and Thomas Clark.