May 2 2012 by David Ogilvie, Stirling Observer Wednesday
Late goals relegate Stirling
Stirling Albion 1 Dumbarton 2
STIRLING Albion will play Third Division football next season for the first time since 2003-04 after Dumbarton came from behind to secure a promotion play-off place.
Greig McDonald’s men went into the game five points behind Forfar and six adrift of Albion Rovers but the Loons’ 4-0 victory meant a last-day showdown against Rovers at Cliftonhill was on the cards until a nightmare final 13 minutes plunged the Binos into the basement.
This was a heartbreaking afternoon for the hosts but highlighted the deficiencies that have plagued them all season. Ahead through Scott Davidson’s ninth goal of the season early in the second period, Stirling were unable to see the game out.
They conceded a bizarre own goal, were denied what looked like a certain penalty with two minutes remaining then allowed substitute Craig Dargo to head the winner from a corner as Dumbarton set up a play-off semi-final with Arbroath.
The Sons’ 300-strong travelling support were in celebratory mood but this was a bleak day for Albion. A second successive relegation has been looming for a few weeks but it was all the more painful that they could not take advantage of the perfect result at Station Park.
Saturday’s trip to Coatbridge is now meaningless from a Stirling perspective. Ironically, they have beaten Paul Martin’s men twice in 2012 so there goes the cliche about how important it is to defeat the teams around you. It was Stirling’s failings elsewhere that cost them.
Albion have played some better football since McDonald replaced Jocky Scott midway through the campaign and January signings Mark Ferry, Jamie McCunnie and Graham Weir have undoubtedly enhanced the squad but consistent results have remained elusive.
Just when it mattered most, the Binos were unable to dig out a couple of grubby victories. One goal is never enough and when the full-time whistle sounded on Saturday it marked a third straight home loss and a fifth reverse in six outings. That is relegation form.
There has been a softness to this Stirling side that needs to be remedied for next term and an unerring ability to concede late goals has also been monumentally damaging.
They have suffered from the occasional refereeing blunder but who has not? That said, it was hard to understand how Frank McDermott could book Darren Smith for a dive in the closing minutes when he was tripped by James Creaney as he prepared to shoot.
The ex-Motherwell man was guilty of delaying too long but he was caught and the outcome should have been a red card and a penalty. Given that Albion had missed their last two, there was no guarantee of a successful outcome but it was a huge moment in the season.
Both teams lacked conviction in a first half that saw a couple of chances at either end and anything of note happened in the second period.
Stirling hit the front in 57 minutes when Smith cut the ball back from the right and Davidson took a touch before sweeping an angled shot high past Stephen Grindlay.
At that stage the Binos knew a 1-0 win against Albion Rovers this weekend would be enough to stave off immediate relegation and earn a place in the play-offs against Elgin but the suffering Stirling fans were again put through the mill in a cruel manner.
With 13 minutes left full-back Devon Jacobs headed the ball high in the air as he tried to clear a cross from the right. It should have been dealt with by keeper Callum Reidford but as the ball dropped he seemed to realise the danger too late, got his position wrong and his catch was over the line.
It was a horrible moment but appeared unrelated to the injury he was carrying. The ex-Rangers man had been restored with Sam Filler ruled out due to a broken thumb.
Stirling simply had to win to have any chance of avoiding the drop and in 88 minutes a perfect pass from substitute Josh Flood released Smith behind the Sons defence. Perhaps lacking confidence after a haul of just four league goals, the 24-year-old allowed Creaney to make a challenge.
It looked illegal but the officials thought otherwise and Smith was booked.
Dargo was then left unmarked to nod a stoppage-time winner from Scott Agnew’s corner as Dumbarton sealed their second win here this season to leave Stirling looking at trips to the likes of Montrose, Berwick and Peterhead when the 2012-13 fixtures are published on June 18.
STIRLING ALBION: Reidford, Jacobs, Crawley, McCunnie (Dillon 87), Thom, Allison, Smith, Ferry, Davidson (Flood 75), Weir (Kelbie 80), Cook. Subs not used: McLeish, Cleland.
DUMBARTON: Grindlay, Nugent, Creaney, Lithgow, McNiff, Gilhaney, Graham (Mpata 73), Nicoll (Wallace 55), Prunty, Agnew, Walker (Dargo 60). Subs not used: Kennedy, Gastal.
Referee: Frank McDermott