Stirling Albion made a huge step towards confirming their play-off spot with a convincing 1-0 win at Edinburgh City on Saturday.
Dylan Mackin got on the end of an Andy Ryan cut-back to stroke home what turned out to be the winning goal on the brink of half-time, giving Albion a goal advantage from what was a fairly contested opening 45.
Any questions of the blasting heat having an impact on the pace of the game were largely washed away in the opening stages. Inside five minutes Stirling had a header cleared off the line, whilst Sam Newman’s effort came back off the post at the other. Even though little else came in the way of clear-cut chances in the first-half the Binos would say they deserved their lead on the overall balance of play.
In the 20 minutes after the interval Edinburgh City started working their way back into the game. First Conrad Balatoni volleyed a Craig Thomson corner well-over from close range, before an impressive series of last ditch blocks from the Albion defence kept out a number of Citizen efforts in quick succession. At this point it felt an equaliser might have been inevitable.
From then on Stirling made the game their own. Andy Ryan on any other day could easily have had two or three, with one diving header in particular being kept out spectacularly by City goalkeeper Calum Antell. Even with Edinburgh bringing on a cavalry of attackers, Stirling Albion dominated the rest of the play, and if a second goal had to be scored it would more than likely have been for the visitors.
The win put Stirling Albion level on 35 points with today’s opponents, and took them to within touching reach of securing play-off football. Here are three things we learned from the game!
Edinburgh’s change in approach didn’t work out
Despite the midweek win at Forthbank using their primary 4-4-2, Gary Naysmith set his team in an almost 3-4-3 and made four personnel changes to the starting lineup.
This of course is close to mirroring that which Stirling Albion utilise. Clearly the emphasis was to have wing-backs Raffa De Vita and Sam Newman stop their Albion counterparts from getting forward and having an influence, which in all fairness did turn out to be the case for most of the game.
Allan and McGeachie were pinned back, and if they got forward they were tracked all the way, which along with Andrew Black man-marking Jack Leitch did keep Stirling Albion fairly quiet in the first-half. That being said, Andy Ryan breaking an offside trap and setting up the opening goal definitely put a dampener on the home side’s plans.
Going forward the only real output Edinburgh got was from Ouzy See’s aerial presence, and even that only caused a handful of problems to the Binos’ back three in the first-half. The joint most prolific team in the division really struggled to create anything. Perhaps they would have been better sticking with their bread and butter…
Every man in purple played their part
In Kevin Rutkiewicz’s post-match interview he stated: “to a man the players were outstanding – every single one of them”. By watching the effort and determination his side put into their performance it’s hard to disagree.
The returning Blair Currie commanded his area well, with distribution consistently finding the head of Ross McGeachie on the right. The back five as a unit worked together and all-in-all kept the Edinburgh attack quiet. Their clean sheet was the first any side had recorded against the Citizens since November, which is a fair reflection of the effective defensive work the away side put in.
In midfield Hamilton sat deep, whilst Kurtis Roberts was handed a more box-to-box role. The latter’s well-weighted through ball set up the goal but him and Jack Leitch helped outnumber and cause issues for Andy Black and Danny Jardine all game long. Ryan was a threat throughout and was immensely unlucky not to find the net, whilst Mackin scored what turned out to be the winner.
It was simply one of those days where every Stirling Albion player played their role and contributed to the overall performance. It’s clear to see why their manager was thrilled with his players’ improved collective performance.
Split football is excellent
Scottish football’s split system might have a fair amount of critics but today demonstrated why it’s more than a worthy feature to include in the league season.
Currently League Two has Edinburgh City sitting in second place with 35 points from 19 games, only ahead of today’s opponents Stirling Albion in third by a goal difference of one. Behind them we have Stranraer on 34, whilst Elgin City lag just beyond in 5th with 29 and a game in hand. Currently the highland club are the only team out the four who will miss the chance to gain promotion through the play-offs, but who do they play on Tuesday you ask? Stranraer! Meaning they’ll have the chance to cut the deficit to two already.
Had Edinburgh beaten Stirling Albion today they would have been just one win from confirming their spot. However, because these teams are now all facing off against each other there’s an incredibly open conclusion to the campaign, with what feels like a massive game almost every other day at the top end of the table.
Thanks to the split the league two play-off race is looking like it could go either way. Edinburgh City might have the points advantage, but with champions Queens Park still to play, don’t be surprised if there’s another twist in this tale…
Featured image credit: Spartans Festival