Referee: J McKendrick
ALBION Rovers players and fans partied on the Galabank pitch yesterday as they earned promotion to the Second Division following an enthralling play-off final second leg in which the Coatbridge side had to withstand an almighty second-half scare.
Rovers looked home and hosed as a Ciaran Donnelly goal meant they led Annan 4-1 on aggregate at half time. But Annan were stirred from their slumber after the interval and, led by Bryan Gilfillan, who delivered an inspirational two-goal display before being ordered off in stoppage time, they took the tie to the wire but were unable to force the goal that would have taken it into extra-time.
Rovers will now play their football outside Scotland's lowest tier for the first time since 1990, much to the delight of manager Paul Martin. "This is the ultimate high for me in football," he said. "Annan made us work for our money, but Albion Rovers don't do things the easy way. The players deserve great credit because you could see they were nervous, but they managed to hold on."
Trailing 3-1 from the first leg, the expected early onslaught from Annan failed to materialise, with Rovers asserting their authority from the outset. John Gemmell had the first effort on goal when he pinged a powerful free-kick just past after three minutes. At the other end, Gilfillan tried to get the hosts going, but he headed wide after 13 minutes before lashing a 20-yard effort just past a minute later. Rovers always looked the more likely to score, however, and they extended their aggregate advantage to three when Donnelly bulleted home a close-range header from Steven Canning's corner after 25 minutes.
The goal had a visibly deflating effect on the hosts and they spent the remainder of the first half on the back foot. But, with their promotion hopes hanging by a thread, Annan emerged a different animal after the interval and within, six minutes of the restart, Gilfillan levelled the match with a powerful strike from the edge of the box.
The same player then cut the overall deficit to just one in 64 minutes when he nodded home from close range after a high ball into the box had sparked a goalmouth stage. Despite some relentless late pressure, the hosts were unable to fashion the clearcut chance they needed, with Gilfillan's late red card for an off-the-ball altercation with Donnelly capping a day of despair for the SFL's most recent additions.