Spartans will head into an Edinburgh Derby pre-split final day showdown against Hearts in two weeks time, knowing they will need a win to secure Top 6 status after the summer recess following Stirling’s smash and grab win at Ainslie Park.
With Rachel Harrison losing her late fitness test battle, it was a return between the sticks for teenager keeper Eartha Cumings, who had secured clean sheets in her previous two SWPL outings so far this season.
Debbi McCulloch’s side looked to have taken a 5th minute lead after determined play from Alana Marshall set up Michelle Russell inside the Stirling box however the stand-side Referee’s Assistant had his flag raised as he ball hit the net.
Neither goalkeeper looked in danger for a large part of the opening half hour with visitors setting out their stall in a congested midfield that offered little opportunity for fast flowing football.
Sarah Ewens was a post width away from opening the scoring when her sweetly struck attempt crashed off the upright before whizzing to safety.
Moments later, the Students scored in a rare venture into the Spartans half of the pitch. A through ball saw Nicole Pullar time her run to avoid the offside trap before drawing out the exposed Cumings who could do nothing to prevent Stirling from grabbing what proved to be a match winning goal.
Half Time: Spartans 0-1 Stirling University
Spartans came out of the blocks in the second half looking to turn their first half superiority in possession terms into goals. Louise Mason’s long range effort just rising as it looked to trouble Chloe Logan who watched the ball race over her crossbar.
It was to be Mason’s final involvement in the game as she was replaced shortly after by Danni Pagliarulo.
Captain Katie Reilly came close when her turn and shot inside the box went over then Sarah Ewens was cruelly denied by the woodwork for the second time when her 30 yard free-kick rattled the bar. Claims for handball as the ball flew back into the box were brushed aside by Referee Vikki Allan.
A second change of the afternoon saw Michelle Russell withdrawn and Carla Jackson enter the fray. It was almost a textbook introduction to proceedings as the Scotland age-grade player weaved in and out of the Stirling midfield like a slalom skier on the slopes of Courchevel. Her run however was crudely halted in peak flow with the resultant free-kick failing to draw her side level.
Katie Reilly was the Spartans meat in the Stirling sandwich when she was clattered in the visitor’s penalty box, giving the whistler the easiest of decision to make. Kirsty McLaughlin stepped up, sent Logan the wrong way however her spot kick cleared the Uni keeper’s left hand post.
As Spartans pressed for a late equaliser, frustrations appeared to boil over with the match official producing cards from her top pocket like Paul Daniels in a frantic five minute spell.
Both sides ended the game with their full quota intact and more importantly for the Stirling University side, three points to take back on the bus as the final whistle echoed around the ground.
Full Time: Spartans 0-1 Stirling University