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Stranraer 3-1 East Kilbride (AET)

  • Post published:18 May 2024

(Stranraer win 5-3 on aggregate)

Scorers: Stranraer – Gallagher (43), Ross (117) and Gilmartin (120+1); East Kilbride – Samson (76)

Words will struggle to capture the emotion at Stair Park as Stranraer held off East Kilbride to maintain their League Two status.

A 2-2 draw in the first leg at K Park set the tie up perfectly for a winner-takes-all showdown in Wigtownshire.

A stunning opener by Grant Gallagher was cancelled out by former Stranraer man Keir Samson, which forced the game into extra time.

Then, with 117 minutes on the clock, Craig Ross rose highest to put the home side back in front before Aiden Gilmartin picked the best time to score his first goal for the club and kill off the game.

Both managers made two changes for the game as Ben Armour and Matty Grant came in for Tom Orr and Kyle Fleming while Nathan Flanagan and Liam Brown replaced Calvin McGrory and ex-Blue Andy Stirling.

It was the visitors who carved out the first chance when a ball out wide found Flanagan.

Stair Park saw one of its most emotional days in history

He brought the ball down and got the shot away but pulled it across the target and wide of the right post.

At the other end, it was not until almost the half hour mark that Stranraer called Chris Truesdale into action.

Deryn Lang, an early replacement for the injured James Dolan, managed to find a bit of space and get his shot away but it was straight at the goalkeeper.

Six minutes before the break and the visiting number one should have been called into action again.

Lang linked up brilliantly with Finn Ecrepont before the ball was squared to Dean Hawkshaw, who was rushing into the box.

The midfielder managed to get to the ball but on the stretch could only lift it over the crossbar.

Stranraer were finishing the first half on top and the opener came in spectacular fashion.

Dylan Forrest’s corner was cleared only as far as Grant, who hooked it back out to his team mate.

The cross was again cleared but only as far as Gallagher, whose volley flew past Truesdale to send the bumper home crowd wild.

The entire ground came unglued as Grant Gallagher blasted home a brilliant opening goal

It was a goal that inspired Stranraer and rocked their visitors, who all of a sudden were holding on for the half time whistle.

Sean McIntosh saw a diving header blocked at close range and Gallagher could only fire over from just outside the six-yard box.

Stranraer started the second half in much the same fashion as they had finished the first.

Ecrepont, winner of goal of the season after his memorable strike against Clyde, very almost had another contender when his cross nearly caught out Truesdale but landed on the roof of the net just seconds after the restart.

Minutes later and Lang created space in the box but then lifted his shot over the bar from Hawkshaw’s cutback.

The former Kilmarnock midfielder was proving a real thorn in the side of the Scottish Lowland Football League champions and created another chance.

This time, he pulled the ball back to Orr, on for Armour, but his drive was blocked in the box.

McIntosh then drove over the bar and perhaps there were concerns creeping in that failing to take these chances would come back to haunt the hosts.

Sure enough, 14 minutes from time, East Kilbride levelled with their first shot on target.

John Robertson (left) was a familiar threat for the visitors

John Robertson wriggled his way through and Stranraer could not get the ball clear as Samson nodded in from close range.

All of a sudden, momentum was with the visitors, who could have sealed the game and Scottish Professional Football League status over the remaining quarter of an hour.

A rare defensive slip up saw a cross reach Joao Balde but he failed to make meaningful contact and Lewis Budinauckas gathered.

Into extra time and both sides had chances to win it.

First, Flanagan found himself almost clean through on goal but rather than shoot he tried to find Balde and Chris McQueen cut the ball out with a great last ditch challenge.

Then, Budinauckas kept his side in it with a brilliant save from Robert Thomson.

One hundred minutes were on the clock when Gilmartin got on the end of Forrest’s free-kick and blasted at goal – only for Truesdale to block with his legs.

Two minutes before the half time break and Truesdale was again on hand to make the save from Lang.

On-loan Rangers goalkeeper Lewis Budinauckas continued his formidable form for Stranraer

Into the second half of extra time and Budinauckas pulled off arguably the save of the game as he got across his goal to get a fingertip to a curling effort from outside the box.

Five minutes from penalties and East Kilbride had the chance to win it.

Flanagan’s low cross from the left found Balde unmarked at the back post but he put it back across goal and wide of the target.

Finally, the moment came that Stranraer fans had been waiting for.

Cammy Williamson’s corner to the back post was met by a towering header from Ross to spark jubilant scenes.

Four minutes now stood between Stranraer and retaining their League Two status but any nerves were calmed going into injury time.

Lang attempted to take the ball into the corner but it broke to Gilmartin, who had one thing on his mind and that was curling home a decisive third to send the home fans into ecstasy.

The Blues struck twice in a dramatic second period of extra time

In the dying seconds, the visitors were reduced to 10 men as Lewis Spence was shown two quickfire yellow cards.

Referee Craig Napier blew the final whistle as the Stranraer fans poured onto the park after a rollercoaster and draining afternoon for everyone involved with both clubs.

Stranraer: Budinauckas, McIntosh, Ecrepont (Williamson 96), Forrest, Ross, McQueen, Grant (Gilmartin 73), Gallagher, Armour (Orr 51), Hawkshaw (Edgar 97), Dolan (Lang 14).
Not used: Girvan, Fleming and Downie.

East Kilbride: Truesdale, MacDonald, Lockie (McDonald 67), Spence, Fagan (Samson 68), Ferguson, Robertson, Brown (Montagu 56), Thomson, Balde, Flanagan.
Not used: Daramola, Biggar, McGrory, Stirling, Arnott and Avci.

Referee: Craig Napier
HT: 1-0
Attendance: 1871

Photos: Bill McCandlish