Stirling UNIVERSITY had central defender Jack Nixon to thank as his two headed goals in the opening half-hour fired the students into the lead against Civil Service Strollers after they had fallen behind to a Charlie Brigain goal.
The surface at Gannochy was in excellent condition and, with their nearest rivals Spartans and Whitehill Welfare idle, Stirling moved ominously into second position in the Central Taxis Premier Division in their bid to retain the championship flag.
However, they were given a shock in only the eighth minute when the impressive Ross Aitchison galloped down the right flank and his accurate low cross was poked into the net from 12 yards by the alert Brigain. The Strollers lead was short-lived, however, as only three minutes later a Paul Sludden shot won the students a corner and Chris McKee floated a left-foot flag kick to the back post where Nixon had the simplest of tasks to head the ball into the net.
The game was evenly contested with both sides determined to play passing football. Stirling won a free kick some 30 yards out near the touchline and again McKee found the head of the unmarked Nixon who nodded the ball home from an almost identical position. There was more bad news for the Strollers only one minute later when a misunderstanding saw defender Daniel McAleavy pass the ball back behind his goalkeeper Bruce Callan and Craig Mason nipped in to nudge the ball over the line. The Strollers immediately responded when Scott Lister scurried down the right wing and his low cross was again fired behind Kevin Walker by Brigain.
On the hour mark Stirling increased their advantage when another free kick, on this occasion taken by Sludden, was headed in by Jacob Arnold-Smith. Callan, in the visitors goal, had a series of excellent saves before James Dale finished off a neat passing move then Arnold-Smith completed the scoring after being set up by Sludden.
Goalscorer Nixon said: “That was a very good win for us. I thought that we were better than them in all areas although we were caught off guard a bit early on. We came back and the second half was pretty straightforward. For my two goals Chris put in good balls and I just checked and ran towards the back post and nodded the ball in both times. That’s nine goals I’ve scored this season and hopefully I’ll get into double figures before the end of the season.
“That was a very valuable three points and we have games in hand which hopefully we can win and take the league race right to the wire.”
Eddie May, the former Hibs player who is head coach of Stirling, said: “In the end it was a very comfortable win although in the first half we made a couple of mistakes and they capitalised on them. We are very fortunate that we have players who can deliver set piece balls into good areas. Jack [Nixon] maintains that he is fantastic in the air and he scores a lot of goals although we have several players who come into that category. We also felt that our fitness could be important and our players are certainly fit. The three points closes the gap on Spartans.”
Chic McAleavy, the Strollers manager, said: “We gave them three goals before we even started thinking about the game. Against a good team you cannot give three headers away and that’s just down to bad defending at set plays.
“Our boys dug in and kept going and I thought that our play, especially in the first half, was quite good. The first half took a lot out of us and there were spells in the second half when we could not get the ball. Coming to Stirling and scoring two goals you would expect to get something from the game.”
Stirling University: Walker, Sutherland, Sheridan, Drummond, Nixon, Robertson, McKee (Pentland 76), Dale, Mason (Arnold-Smith 46), Sludden, Monguel (Burns 35). Subs: McWhirter, Marshall.
Civil Service Strollers: Callan, Aird, D McAleavy, Lister, Young, C McAleavy, Aitchison, Brigain, Wague, O’Neill, Somerville. Subs: Ross-Kerr, Raynham, Badelli.
Referee: Ruairdh Kilgour