Three days after lifting the British Universities Premier League North title, Stirling University maintained their Lowland League bid with a 3-2 win against Preston Athletic in a rain-soaked game.
The students led at the break only for Preston to rally with two goals in two second-half minutes, and it took a goal from substitute Chris McKee in the 89th minute to secure all three points for the title chasers.
“Winning the Universities League on Wednesday was a great feat, and in terms of performance I don’t think we were able to reach those same heights,” said Stirling’s head coach Eddie May. “We take the win but we take no satisfaction from the performance.”
Stirling could easily have scored four or five goals in the first half but for Preston goalkeeper John Gilbertson who was called into action as early as the second minute to divert a Khan Williams-Mitchell strike around the post.
He went on to make a string of outstanding saves to deny Stirling an opener and it took a thunderous Ryan Millar strike from the edge of the area to give Stirling the lead ten minutes before the break.
“We were quite comfortable in the first half despite only scoring one goal, but even then I thought the standard of our play was short of what we’d expect,” said May. “Preston then came back into it with two goals that we probably should have done better with, and that gave them a lift to go and chase a result.”
The second half had still to settle down when Preston equalised through a set piece in the 52nd minute. The Michael Osborne free-kick, taken from ten yards inside the Stirling half, was launched towards the Stirling back post where Brian Foster used full advantage of his height to head home.
The visitors then stunned their opponents by taking the lead less than two minutes later. Osborne was again involved, this time being sent through the Stirling back line and slotting past the oncoming Ryan Marshall from 15 yards.
The home side were back on level terms on the hour mark, with Paul Sludden being given space and time to direct his strike from the corner of the Preston penalty area low into the bottom far corner of the net.
Preston had a great chance to regain the lead in the 74th minute when an Osborne strike was parried by Marshall into the path of Steven Philp, but his follow up at the back post was lashed into the side netting.
And Chris McKee then crushed Preston’s hopes of leaving Forthbank with a result, rattling in a deflected cross from ten yards out in the 89th minute.
The win lifts Stirling into second place in the Lowland League, five points behind table toppers Spartans, but with a game in hand while Preston, who are scheduled to take on Whitehill Welfare in a cup clash at the Pennypit tomorrow night, drop to ninth.
“I can’t criticise the players’ effort,” said Preston Athletic manager David Bingham.
“I’m just disappointed with the way in which we lost the goals, and that will have to improve against Whitehill.
“John [Gilbertson] was outstanding and kept us in it in the first half, but at 1-0 you’re still in with a shout and in the in the second half I thought our first goal changed the game, and we competed well from then on. So while we’re obviously disappointed with the result, we can take heart from the way we played and the effort we put in.”
Stirling University: Marshall, Robertson, Burns, Nixon, Sutherland, Pearson, Millar (Geddes 57), Sludden, Jones, Williams-Mitchell (McKee 60), Faulds (McWhirter 57). Subs: Nichol.
Preston Athletic: Gilbertson, Cherrie (Reilly 72), Morrison, Dodd, Foster, Stewart, Philp, Elliot, Martin, Osborne, Devlin. Subs: O’Hara.