By John Turnbull at Netherdale
The University of Stirling went top of the Lowland League table, excluding guest clubs, following a battling 3-2 win over Gala Fairydean Rovers on Saturday.
Jason Jarvis marked his return to the first team with two goals and an assist to give the Uni a deserved three-nil lead.
Ultimately, it proved far more of a challenge to reach the dizzying heights of the fifth-tier summit as Gala fought back with two quickfire second-half goals.
However, the Uni held on to record a seventh consecutive win across all competitions.
Head coach Chris Geddes said: “We made it really difficult for ourselves, and we had to do a lot of work, but yet again, from the character these boys showed today they deserved to win.
“The goals came at key times, and in these types of games, that is what you need, and we had that bringing Jason (Jarvis) back in.
“You see the quality he’s (Jarvis) got on both feet. It’s good to have him back, he’s had an up-and-down season so far, but when he’s playing, he’s helping the team, which is the main thing.
“The boys put in the hard work, train hard and travel to these places and don’t complain – they just get on with it.
Three points were a must to put Stirling ahead of the chasing pack, but waiting was a Rovers side with five wins and a draw from their last six league outings.
The Uni had the better of a tight first half, though, and Matthew Burrows was unlucky to see his free-kick crash against the near post on 36 minutes.
But, moments before the break, Jarvis stepped up to finish a well-worked nerve-settling opener.
Ben Maciver-Redwood knocked the ball down for strike partner Cammy McKinley to find an overlapping Jarvis, who slotted into the far corner.
A minute either side of the break proved the best time to score, as straight after the restart, Jarvis doubled the lead.
James Stokes glided inside off the right to tee up Jarvis, but the midfielder had it all still to do and expertly slid the ball home from the tightest of angles.
Ten minutes later, he was involved again. This time surely to put Gala out of sight, as Jarvis’ cutback fell at Euan McGill’s feet, who fired in a third.
Ben Heal said: “the energy in midfield is key in every single game, and if we’ve got it we’re flying. We were bouncing, but after the third goal we took our foot off the pedal a bit.”
Suddenly, the hosts were in the game as Gareth Rodger headed in from close range before Zander Murray pounced on a loose back pass to reduce the deficit to one.
Heal described his side as ‘relatively comfortable’ at that point, though, and the Uni held off late Rovers pressure to take home all three points.
He added: “our heads are high; we reckon we can beat anyone. We just want to go and attack teams, and if we keep it going, we’ll have some success.”
A two-week cup break is next for the students, but Geddes said: “even just for today, and this week, to see Stirling University top of the league, because Rangers can’t go up, is unbelievable.”
Gala Fairydean Rovers: Goodfellow, C. Hall, Jordan, Mitchell, Rodger, Galbraith, Nicol, L. Hall, Dougal, Chalmers, Murray
University of Stirling: Fry, Burrows, Service, Lavery, Stokes, Heal, Berry, McGill (Gilmour 91), Jarvis (McAninch 78), McKinley, Maciver-Redwood (Thompson 66)