Annan Athletic became the latest side to feel the force of the Shire recovery in the second quarter of the season. It’s now six games without defeat for the Firs Parkers who have improved their league position, and now sit just a couple of points off the play-off positions.
The final scoreline of 2-1 makes it seem like a close game. But Shire will argue they should have secured the victory long before Brian Graham gave them a 72nd minute lead.
Chance after chance came and went and after Lee Hoolickin had given Annan the lead against the run of play on 40 minutes some wondered if Shire’s luck was out.
But an equaliser from Colin Cramb settled the nerves and that created an atmosphere which made Graham’s goal not only possible, but highly likely.
Jim McInally named the same starting eleven that had won so impressively at Forfar at the weekend. That meant Derek Ure, suspended for the trip to Station Park, had to make do with a place on the substitutes bench.
Shire, hoping to extend their unbeaten run to six matches, were keen to make the early running and after 11 minutes Craig Donaldson cracked in a 20 yard drive which flew just wide of the keepers’ left-hand post.
Nine minutes later Andy Rodgers made some space for a shot just inside the box but he lofted it high over the bar. The homesters continued the pressure but their aim left a lot to be desired. After 23 minutes a Donaldson corner caused chaos in the Annan box but Rodgers couldn’t direct his header anywhere nears goal.
Shire then had a lucky escape at the other end when Annan’s Graham Bell broke clear but his shot was too close to Jamie Barclay who held onto it well. And still Shire piled forward in search of the opening goal.
Gary Kelly will feel he should have done better with a shot from the edge of the box which Summersgill in the Annan goal saved but couldn’t hold. The Shire strikers will also reflect on the fact that they hadn’t followed up the fumble.
But the most glaring miss came on 37 minutes. David Dunn’s delightfully-flighted free-kick was matched by Cramb’s run which beat the offside trap and left him with a free header on goal. Unfortunately, his effort was thwarted by a fine sprawling save from Simmersgill.
All the possession and chances but no goals left Shire vulnerable to the sucker punch, and that happened on 40 minutes. Craig Tully fouled Bell outside the box and Lee Hoolickin struck the resulting free-kick brilliantly past Barclay.
Shire changed things by taking off Dunn and bringing on Ure a minute before the interval, and ten minutes after the break there were two more substitutions with Hay and Kelly making way for Marc McKenzie and Brian Graham giving them extra fire power.
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And the substitutions paid dividends within a minute. With 56 minutes on the clock Rodgers collected the ball out wide and played it into the box. It was helped on its way by McKenzie to Cramb who was able to side foot it into the back of the net from six yards out.
By that stage Shire were well on top and should have made their superiority tell after 63 minutes when Rodgers played Cramb clean through on goal. Unfortunately, the striker failed to connect properly and the chance was gone.
Graham was also starting to have an influence on the game. A minute after Cramb’s chance he was played in on goal but his attempt to lob the ball over Summersgill wasn’t high enough and the Annan keeper could bat the ball away to safety with his hand.
Annan were still capable of reminding Shire that they were still in the match and Bell did that effectively with a thunderous shot from long-range that Barclay did very well to tip over the bar for a fruitless corner kick.
The home nerves were eased after 72 minutes. Barclay’s long clearance from hand was flicked into Rodgers’ path by Cramb, and he in turn played a great ball through for Graham. The substitute drew Summersgill in the Annan goal before rolling the ball past him from ten yards into the net.
Annan, to their credit, kept trying to get back into the match and threw players forward in an attempt to retrieve things. Shire had to endure more than a few nervy moments as the game came to a conclusion but they were not to be denied a valuable three points.
SHIRE : Barclay, Hay(Graham 56), Dunn(Ure 45), Forrest, Bolochoweckyj, Tully, Donaldson, Kelly(McKenzie 56), Cramb, Richardson, Rodgers.
ANNAN ATHLETIC : Summersgill, Brown, Inglis, Townsley, Neilson, Jack, Sloan, Jardine(Cameron 76), Bell, Dunbar(Watson 56), Hoolickin(Johnstone 83).
REFEREE : Colin Brown
ATTENDANCE : 343.