Mar 2 2012 by Donald Morton, Stirling Observer Friday
STIRLING Albion clinched the Second Division title on their previous visit to this venue almost two years ago.
There was no silverware in sight on Tuesday but the precious three points gathered could be vital in the Binos’ battle to avoid relegation.
The result, which ended an eight-match winless sequence, means they go into the crucial clash with Albion Rovers level on points with the Coatbridge club. They trail Forfar, who come to town on Tuesday, by only three points and are five adrift of Airdrie with a game in hand.
Suddenly there is hope for an Albion team who appeared to be sliding towards Division Three after picking up two points from a possible 24, stacking up suspensions and shipping goals into the bargain, but this could act as a springboard for the fixtures to come.
Brechin had triumphed 3-2 at the Doubletree Dunblane Stadium last month and another win would have lifted them into the promotion play-offs on a night when the two teams above them, Stenhousemuir and East Fife, both lost, but it was Stirling who prevailed on a balmy night in Angus.
It was warmer than when Allan Moore’s men secured silverware in May 2010 but the small band of travelling fans probably expected the heat to be on their side after a run of four away defeats.
Brechin certainly had their chances and Callum Reidford, so impressive since returning from injury in the autumn, made some important stops before and after Stirling broke the deadlock but the visitors defended stoutly and were always a threat going forward.
Alan Cook and Mark Ferry both netted in the closing minutes of the first half and defender Gary Thom contributed the third before City top scorer Paul McManus pulled one back.
Worried Albion fans might have feared a repeat of the calamitous 4-3 collapse to Cowdenbeath a year ago this weekend but their team were never under siege and saw the game out comfortably.
With Brian Allison and Scott Davidson both suspended, boss Greig McDonald made two changes to the team beaten 4-1 at Dumbarton on Saturday. Smith and Cook were restored to the starting XI in a 4-5-1 formation that saw Graham Weir as the lone striker as Kevin Kelbie dropped to the bench.
The hosts had some good opportunities in the first half. Bryan Hodge fired over when he should have done better and Reidford made a smart save from ex-Bino Craig Molloy while on-loan Kilmarnock striker Rory McKenzie also came close.
Stirling had a penalty appeal turned down by referee Stevie O’Reilly when Gary Fusco appeared to handle but took the lead in 42 minutes. Weir, who put in a power of work, earned a soft free kick 25 yards out and Daly McSorley touched the ball to Cook, who smashed a low shot beyond Craig Nelson for his fifth goal of the season.
Even better was to follow. Just two minutes later Ferry swept the ball high into the net from close range after Smith’s shot was blocked as Brechin were punished for slack defending.
It was the fourth game in a row that Stirling had been ahead at half-time and they had failed to win any of the previous three, losing late on to Brechin, drawing with Cowdenbeath and enduring a nightmare second period at Dumbarton. There was to be no slip-up this time.
Albion increased their advantage in 62 minutes when the outstanding Thom headed home from a superbly-delivered John Crawley corner but McManus found the top corner with a header 60 seconds later to give City some hope with his 11th goal of the season.
The pre-season title favourites caused a few anxious moments, mainly from corners, but the Binos defended well and were always a threat on the break. They almost added a fourth goal when ex-Albion stopper Scott Buist sliced a cross narrowly over his own bar in the closing stages.
The only disappointment on a memorable night were injuries to Shaun Dillon, who went over on his ankle, and Smith, who received a nasty gash on his foot. McDonald will hope they are fit sooner rather than later, with that crucial home double header against Albion Rovers and Forfar looming.
BRECHIN CITY: Nelson, Fusco, Lindsay (McKenna 71), Dunlop, Buist, Grady, Crawford, Molloy, McKenzie, McManus (King 87), Hodge. Subs not used: McLauchlan, Webster, Scott.
STIRLING ALBION: Reidford, Fagan, Crawley, McSorley, Thom, Dillon (Jacobs 17), Smith (Flood 46), Ferry, Weir, Cook (Kelbie 79), McLeish. Subs not used: Macpherson, Filler GK.
Referee: Stevie O’Reilly