DCSIMG

League One play-off: East Fife 0-2 Stirling Albion

Stirling goalscorers Jordan White, left, and Sandy Cunningham celebrate. Picture: SNS

Stirling goalscorers Jordan White, left, and Sandy Cunningham celebrate. Picture: SNS

  • by ALAN TEMPLE AT BAYVIEW STADIUM
 

One of the smallest men in Scottish football, Sandy Cunningham, scored the biggest goal of his fledgling career to earn Stirling Albion a place in League 1 and condemn a distraught Gary Naysmith to the first relegation of his career.

Scorers: Stirling Albion - White (73), Cunningham (81)

Stirling Albion win 3-2 on aggregate

The 5ft 6in playmaker, 19, came on for the injured David Weatherston after 70 minutes to give renewed vigour to the visitors, who subsequently restored parity in the tie through Jordan White mere minutes later.

Cunningham himself secured Albion’s return to the third tier after two years in the bottom division of Scottish football with a sumptuous late volley, sparking wild scenes of celebration in a sold-out away section at Bayview.

Having lost the home leg 2-1, Stirling were overwhelming underdogs against the men from Methil.

But neither his side’s comeback nor Cunningham’s impact from the bench surprised manager Greig McDonald, who said: “Sandy can come on and light up a game from nothing. That is what he brings to the party.

“I’m delighted for all the players. We never stopped believing we could do this and they went to the very end. Stirling Albion have had lean years, with a couple of relegations, but we have things sorted off the park now and working well. We are going in the right direction.”

In the first action of a largely attritional first half, East Fife’s Nathan Austin latched on to a lovely reverse pass by Johnny Stewart, but his low drive was saved by Albion goalkeeper David Crawford.

However, Crawford was a mere spectator midway through the half as Pat Clarke’s 20-yard free kick struck the base of the post and bounced to safety.

With their promotion hopes on the line, Stirling dominated the encounter after the break and could eventually celebrate the breakthrough after 73 minutes.

Predictably it was White – who already had a hat-trick against Annan to his name in these play-offs – who found the net, reacting quickest to a hopeful lob into the box and defying a prohibitive angle to flick the the ball into the net.

Four minutes later, Cunningham picked up a raking pass from Craig Comrie at the angle of the box and drilled home a superb left-footed finish past the sprawling Dylan Rooney.

Former Scotland international Naysmith – who enjoyed the heights of the English top flight as a player with Everton – was brutally candid in his assessment of the afternoon – and his first six months as a manager at East Fife.

He suggested his own job would hinge on a meeting with chairman Lee Murray and compared the feeling of relegation to a bereavement.

“I carry the can, I put the team on the pitch, and I’ll be remembered as the man who got East Fife relegated,” he said.

“The only way I can describe it is like losing someone close to you – that horrible feeling in the pit of your stomach.

“The players will now find out who is being released and kept on Tuesday, but before that the board will need to decide if they want to keep me as manager.”

East Fife: Rooney, Cowan, Thom, Campbell, Johnstone, Barr, Stewart (Brown 65), McBride (Durie 53), K Smith (Buchanan 70), Clarke, Austin. Subs not used: Paterson, Mbu, McKenzie, Inkango.

Stirling Albion: Crawford, Hamilton, McLune, C Smith, Forsyth, Johnston (Ferry 90), D Smith, Comrie (Bishop 89), Weir, Weatherston (Cunningham 70), White. Subs not used: Reidford, Fulton, McGeachie, O’Byrne.

 

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