The job is half done for Peterhead as they booked their place in the League 1 play-off final with the minimum of fuss against Stirling Albion at Balmoor Stadium.
The gulf between the sides in League 2 was 21 points and Jim McInally’s side emphasised just why as they weathered a strong start from Dave Mackay’s side before running out comfortable winners.
Stenhousemuir stand between Peterhead and an immediate return to League 1 this week following their 3-2 aggregate win against League 1 side Queen’s Park, who will drop down a division following Saturday’s game.
The Warriors have caused the Blue Toon problems this season but McInally and his players have every cause for optimism following an eight-game winning streak and the fact they will have home advantage for the decisive second leg at Balmoor on Saturday.
Following their defeat at home to the Blue Toon in the first leg in midweek, the Binos arrived at Balmoor needing to score or their hopes of promotion were over and, backed by a strong swirling wind, they surged forward from kick-off in pursuit of the goal to cancel out Peterhead’s match-winning effort from the first leg.
Home goalkeeper Greg Fleming had to look sharp to punch a through ball clear after winning a race for the ball against Stirling striker Darren Smith before saving a glancing header from the Binos forward.
It was a contest against the conditions as well as the opposition for Jim McInally’s side in a tense first half in which Blue Toon balls forward held up in the wind.
When the home side got the ball on the deck and passed it, however, they looked a threat and Binos goalkeeper Cameron Binnie did well to keep out a Rory McAllister shot.
McAllister was Peterhead’s best chance of a goal in the first half and, with the home side getting used to the conditions, he turned Ewan McNeil in the box before seeing his low drive saved by Binnie.
McAllister and Russell McLean then combined down the right to set-up Scott Brown but his 12-yard shot was brilliantly turned away for a corner by Binnie.
Having weathered the early pressure it was one-way traffic from Peterhead towards the Stirling goal and unlike the visitors they made theirs count as they opened the scoring six minutes before half-time when Mason Robertson headed Willie Gibson’s corner in off the underside of the crossbar.
It was a goal which made it 2-0 on aggregate for McInally’s men and the confidence of the visitors drained instantly.
Peterhead put the game beyond their opponents 11 minutes into the second half.
A break down the right resulted in McLean’s cross being cleared by George Stanger to the feet of Scott Brown who picked out the unmarked McAllister and he fired past Binnie to make it 3-0 on aggregate.
The Blue Toon knew the job was done and with the pressure off their shoulders they quickly set about the task of adding to their tally and Jason Brown sidefooted home his side’s third of the day from Aidan McIlduff’s ball after Scott Brown had sent the defender clear in the box.
With the tie won, McInally was able to rest some of his players with the play-off final in mind but there was no easing up from the home side.
Binnie made a terrific save to thwart substitute Allan Smith as the Blue Toon kept the pressure on the Stirling goal before Greg Fleming denied Binos substitute Neil McLaughlin three minutes from time but by the end a goal for the visitors would not have mattered.
PETERHEAD (4-1-4-1) – Fleming 6, Jason Brown 7, Robertson 7, Leitch 6 (Smith 59), McIlduff 6, Ferry 6, Stevenson 6, S. Brown 7, McAllister 7 (Belmokhtar 72), McLean 6 (Jordon Brown 66), Gibson 6. Subs not used: Hobday, Norris, Johnston, Adams.
STIRLING ALBION (4-3-3) – Binnie 6, McGeachie 7, McNeil 5 (McLaughlin 61), Stanger 6, Barr 5, Black 5 (Dickson 68), Caddis 5, Jardine 5, MacDonald 5, D. Smith 6 (Noble 79), Kavanagh 6. Subs not used: Wight, R. Smith, Banner.
Referee – Barry Cook 7.
Attendance – 861.
Man of the match – Mason Robertson.