In a preview to the Image Printers Cup final on the 24th March, Stirling University welcomed Gretna 2008 to the Gannochy on a night where temperatures dipped below freezing.
Stirling warmed their loyal supporters up though as they took the lead early on with Paul Sludden continuing to fill the gap left by top scorer Chris Geddes’ move to Australia. Sludden finished neatly inside the area to put the pressure immediately on their relegation threatened opponents.
The game was slipping away from the former Scottish cup finalists after just 17 minutes when full back Jack Nixon fired home the second. After breaking up an attack Nixon found Jacob Arnold-Smith down the right hand side and continued his run. The former Gillingham frontman cross set up Nixon perfectly as the students looked like running away with the game.
The home side continued their dominance with despite an overdue rally from the away side. Nixon cleared Gretna’s best effort away from right in front of goal while Kevin Walker caught an audacious overhead kick with relative ease as a stubborn Stirling defence stood firm.
It was three before half-time as Sludden added his second of the game with a well struck free-kick. Chris McKee’s driven pass was taken on by Arnold-Smith and he was fouled on the edge of the area. Sludden’s shot beat the goalkeeper at the near post as the game looked to be sown up.
Nixon continued his form from the first half as he tried to force home from close range the away side scrambled the ball away for a corner which came to nothing.
Gretna belatedly began to gain some possession as the half wore on but they failed to break down a Stirling defence who have looked increasingly compact as the season wears on. Walker is called into action twice but it is food and drink for a keeper of his standard, with his focus being more on keeping warm than facing the opposition.
McKee and Arnold-Smith linked up well again with the latter’s header setting up McKee for a wicked left foot strike which goes just a yard wide of the far post.
Gretna almost grabbed a lifeline as Walker was beaten for the first time in the match but centre half stalwart James Drummond was on hand to clear off the line and keep the clean sheet intact.
With his job looking complete Sludden was replaced by Blair McWhirter and it was the substitute who came closest to altering the scoreline before the end; McKee’s ball in behind left McWhirter in a foot race with the defence. Seeing the keeper coming out he took an early shot and it went agonisingly wide of the post as the game was to remain 3-0 to the end.
The game was closed out with Gretna having the red mist descend and after yet another foul on Arnold Smith the man in the middle had enough. Two Gretna players were sent off for foul and abusive language as the game took a nasty turn, with the two-man advantage allowing Stirling to see the game out comfortably.
Another three points secured in the race to catch Spartans at the top of the table, Stirling now turn their attentions to Saturdays (2nd March) game with Edinburgh City in the King Cup 1st round with a 2:30pm kick off.
Stirling University: Walker, Nixon, Sutherland, Atkins, Drummond, Nichol, McKee, Pearson (Dale), Mason, Sludden (McWhirter), Arnold-Smith.