Cove Rangers slipped to an unexpected defeat in their first game of the season as Stirling Albion triumphed 3-2 in the League Cup.
Paul Hartley’s side had their pre-season schedule interrupted due to Covid-19 and that misery continued as Nathan Flanagan’s last-gasp strike gave Stirling victory at Balmoral Stadium.
Fraser Fyvie netted a second-half double to get Cove back into the game after they had gone in at half-time 2-0 down thanks to goals from Rabin Omar and Flanagan.
The win means the Binos gained revenge on Cove after being handed a 7-1 thrashing by Hartley’s men shortly before the first lockdown last year.
Cove made a big statement this summer by recruiting the likes of Iain Vigurs and Ross Draper.
Both players started the match alongside fellow new signing Morgyn Neill while captain Mitch Megginson began on the bench.
Stuart McKenzie retained his place between the sticks despite the arrival of Kyle Gourlay, while Harry Milne returned to the starting line-up for the first time since January following an ankle injury.
Stirling, led by former Aberdeen defender Kevin Rutkiewicz, came into the match at Balmoral after a 3-2 pre-season friendly defeat to Lowland League side Bo’ness United.
But they managed to put that defeat behind them in the north-east, with victory putting them second in Group A behind Hearts following the Jambos’ 2-0 win at Peterhead.
Cove’s best change of the opening stages came in the 16th minute when good work from Milne and Fyvie manufactured a yard of space for McAllister on the edge of the box.
The striker appeared to be nudged slightly just before pulling the trigger, with Stirling keeper Blair Currie ultimately collecting the shot with relative ease.
There was concern for Cove a few minutes later when captain-for-the-day Ryan Strachan was forced off due to a knock, with Connor Scully coming on in his place.
Those concerns worsened eight minutes later when Stirling made the breakthrough. Kieran Moore powered into the box and cut the ball back to Rabin Omar, who slotted home right-footed into the far corner.
Cove ramped up their attacking pressure after going behind, with Milne bringing a good save out of Currie from a Vigurs corner in the 37th minute, but could not find a leveller before the break.
Don’t call it a comeback
The hosts, now in a back three, resumed their dogged pursuit of an equaliser after half-time with Vigurs, in particular, continually trying to conjure up an opening.
But it was Stirling who found the net next. After a Cove attack was cleared in the 56th minute, Flanagan showed great composure to cut in from the right and left the Cove defence bamboozled before curling home left-footed via the post.
Hartley turned to Megginson – last season’s League One player of the year – just after the hour mark in a straight swap for McAllister.
But it was the persistence of Vigurs which finally paid off in the 68th minute as his pass gave Cove their lifeline.
The former Ross County man picked up the ball around 25 yards from goal before dinking it over the top of the Binos defence to Fyvie, who rattled a right-footed half-volley into the far corner.
And it was 2-2 inside the last 10 minutes when Fyvie lashed a screamer into the top corner from just outside the box after Megginson had dummied a Vigurs through ball.
Cove continued to push forward but Stirling landed a late suckerpunch as Flanagan scored again to make it 3-2 from a breakaway in the 94th minute.
Cove Rangers: McKenzie, Neill, Milne (Thomas 66), Ross, Strachan (Scully 20), Watson, Yule, McAllister (Megginson 63), Draper, Vigurs, Fyvie. Subs not used: Gourlay.
Stirling Albion: Currie, Cummins (Banner 55), McNiff, McLean, McGregor, Laird, Moore (Heaver 90), Omar, Leitch, Flanagan, Mackin (Bikey 75). Subs not used: Law, Creaney, Greenhorn.
Scorers: Fyvie 68 82 / Omar 28, Flanagan 56 90+4.
Referee: Barry Cook