Stirling Albion could push for the play-offs after campaign turnaround

Stirling Albion midfielder Kieran McAnespie.
Kieran McAnespie has led the charge as Stirling Albion have lifted themselves up the Third Division table.SNS Group

Stirling Albion have had a remarkable rise in league form since the turn of the year, with their 9-1 destruction of East Stirlingshire on Saturday epitomising the powerful turnaround in the fortunes at Forthbank.

A horrific start to the season warranted 10 losses in their first 13 league games. Some serious New Year resolutions were in order at Stirling Albion, and player-manager Greig McDonald made sure that after the bells had sounded on December 31st it was the changes that were rung within his team.

As bad as it was then has been mirrored by how good it is now, as since the turn of the year the club have risen from the bottom of the league, where they had been rooted for some time, to secure a mid-table position that puts them right back in the hunt for the play-off positions.

This table climbing has come on the back of a nine game spell which yielded five victories and just once loss, a rapturous improvement from their early season form. Prime among the reasons for this progression are the new faces brought in by McDonald during the January transfer window.

The defensive unit at Stirling has seen particular improvements, with the recently forged back four blend of Jamie McCunnie, Ross Forsyth, Jamie Bishop and Brian Allison cutting out the panic and plethora of errors previously being made in the Binos box.

Forsyth and Bishop were the two new additions in January, although considering Forsyth spent six years with the club starting in 2005 and Bishop was previously on loan at Forthbank, it feels wrong to call them new faces.

After a previous spell in the Stirling ranks on loan from Forfar, McDonald quickly snapped up Jamie Bishop after he was released from the Station Park outfit. Since becoming a regular Albion man, Bishop has established a bold partnership with Brian Allison, and has become a fans favourite as he asserts his strong aerial presence alongside the club captain.

Forsyth, meanwhile, has brought an element of experience to Forthbank, and displays the calm nature and footballing nous that was often non-existent in the early days of the club’s season. It is also worth noting that, while not known for his goals, Forsyth was the man to net Albion’s equaliser in their recent 1-1 home draw with Ally McCoist’s Rangers side.

Undeniably, this Light Blues stalemate was a massive boost for Stirling in general, with the team given the perfect stage to show their progression. In the sides' previous meeting at Forthbank, Stirling were accused of battering Rangers off the pitch, however successfully, but this time around the home side defended with a resilient prowess, passing the ball out from the back after making neat challenges and clearing high balls with ease.

In the middle of the park against the Gers, Kieran McAnespie was the ever-present highlight in the Stirling attack, causing persistent concerns for McCoist with his dipping crosses, smart passing and troublesome free-kicks, which would eventually lead to Forsyth’s equaliser.

Ex-Fulham man McAnespie has only been allowed to move forward from defence thanks to the improvements made at the back, and his impact has been clear and consistent, adding an extra element of class to the Binos’ core.

While McAnespie is often deployed either on the wing or in central midfield, a classy centre-mid partnership of David McClune and Mark Ferry has been shining in recent games, with McClune’s defensive ideology proving a perfect contrast to Ferry’s attacking mindset, and with Phil Johnston, another new man, playing regular defence-splitting through balls on the other wing, the team really is beginning to take shape.

As anybody who was up to date with the Stirlingshire derby last weekend will know though, the majority of goals at the club continue to come from Jordan White, who signed up for Stirling after being released from Falkirk. White netted four at East Stirlingshire to bring his tally to 14 for the season, and the star striker’s ability to hold the ball up as well as his keen eye for goal has been key in the advances up top.

An abundance of improvements have been made at Stirling Albion, and an idiosyncratic run has put the club right back in the mix for the play-off spots.

Currently five points behind the fourth-placed Berwick Rangers, there is still a lot of work to do for Albion if they are to chase down a chance at promotion, but whatever way you look at it, the club have now transformed themselves into a formidable force in the Third Division.

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