Dunfermline Athletic 3 Stranraer 0 (aet 4-2 On aggregate)Author: Alistair Campbell Date: Sunday, 11th May 2014
The Pars came through a stiff challenge comfortably enough in the end with a double from Geggan and a third goal from El Bakhtaoui. After a goal-less first half, during which Geggan had missed a great chance, hit the bar and then seen another header hit the keeper and spin over the top, the Pars eventually equalised the tie just before the hour mark when Geggan scored from close range. There was no further scoring in normal time, but the Pars scored twice in the first half of extra-time to secure their passage.
This tie was finely balanced after the first leg, with Stranraer defending a one goal lead. The Pars now had home advantage, but given their recent form, confidence was not in abundance.
Jim Jefferies made changes, of course, but although one or two were predicted, perhaps some were a surprise. He opted for a 3-5-2 formation, utilising Whittle and Williamson as wing-backs, but the choice of his 3 central defenders wasn’t so obvious, with Morris being dropped alongside the suspended Page, and Morris and Young both coming in alongside Grainger who moved inside from left-back. Byrne and Spence sat this one out, but Husband came back in, playing just in front of Falkingham and Geggan who had both recovered from injury and Thomson, El Bakhtaoui and goalkeeper Scully retained their places.
Given the first eleven, the Pars bench contained no surprise, with Forbes, Byrne, Smith, Morris, Millen, Spence and Goodfellow all present. Stranraer went with an unchanged team, and hence included the prolific Grehan and Longworth, but didn’t name a full bench, and hence there were one or two question marks about their overall fitness, having to play another tough game in a short period of time.
Andy Geggan again won the toss and decided to shoot the traditional way. The Pars chose a patient strategy, opting to build up slowly from the back, with Scully passing usually to Young in the middle but also to Grainger or Martin as the occasion demanded. Grainger was kept busy, being on long-throws from the left, and corners from both wings, and it was from one such corner in the eleventh minute that the Pars should have taken the lead, when Geggan got a free header but missed the target.
The game came to life midway through the half when first Geggan hit a volley from 25 yards that dipped over the keeper but crashed back off the bar. The El Bakhtaoui was fouled, Falkingham was allowed to take a quick free-kick, but was crunched by a tackle from Bell that was so late the referee didn’t see it. To compound matters, referee Allan was too busy lecturing Robertson who had got involved, that he forgot to allow Kenny Murray onto the pitch to provide treatment.
Dunfermline were on top but were reminded that were still trailing overall when Winter beat Grainger to hit the bye-line and Grehan poked inches wide. There was further concern when El Bakhtaoui robbed Bell then went after his own clearance with a high foot and absolutely clattered into Rumsby. It was a bit dangerous but the referee seemed to put it down to enthusiasm rather than malice. It took El Bakhtaoui a few minutes to recover fully, but he returned to the field after treatment, but still limping heavily.
The Pars continued their pressure winning a succession of corners, with Grainger having to run back and forwards across the pitch to take them. From the third, Geggan missed another chance when his header looked goal-bound again but hit the keeper’s knee before being deflected over the bar. Next it was Falkingham’s turn to spurn a chance Thomson got down the left, bamboozled Robertson with a couple of step-overs before cutting the ball back, but Josh hit the ball into the ground from 12 yards and thence past the post.
So half-time came with plenty of encouragement, but no goals, and time was beginning to run out.
Half time: Pars 0 Blues 0 (1-2 on aggregate)
Stranraer made a switch at the break, bringing on McKenna for Grehan, confirming a suspicion that fitness might become an issue for the part-time team. That and the early attempts to waste time suggested they would try to hold what they had. Meanwhile the Pars came close again – winning a corner which wasn’t cleared, Young flicked it to El Bakhtaoui and his close-range shot came off the post into the arms of Mitchell.
You were beginning to wonder if the Pars would ever score, but it could have been worse: Geggan, who was covering nearly every blade of grass, chased from left to right following the ball, but Longworth got away from him and Scully had to save with his feet.
Forbes came on for Husband, a relatively early switch, before the Pars made the break-through. Whittle was getting some joy down the left; a cross just before the hour mark evaded everyone, but he ball was worked back to him and this time he varied the angle of delivery aiming at the centre-spot, El Bakhtaoui got a shot in which broke for Geggan and this time the Pars’ skipper scored from close range.
Dunfermline Athletic 1 Stranraer 0 (2-2 on aggregate)
So it was game on – could the Pars get another, or could Stranraer recover? The visitors looked to profit from playing a long ball, winning the second ball in midfield and springing Longworth or McKenna, and this nearly worked in 67 minutes but Martin was across with a fine tackle.
The Pars continued to do as they had been doing – Young made an interception, burst forward, and played it to El Bakhtaoui who cut inside and stung Mitchell’s hands with an early shot, but Rumsby beat Forbes to the rebound.
There were still 15 minutes left when Jefferies made his second change, but it was Thomson whom Smith replaced, not El Bakhtaoui who had been booked in over celebrating the goal. Stranraer were visibly tiring and off came Robertson and Longworth to be replaced by Stephen Stirling and Forde.
That looked to reduce the visiting threat further, but Scully did have an anxious moment when Stephen Stirling got on the end of a Docherty cross but the ball looped over him to finish on the roof of the net. Stranraer too