Pic: Saturday result leaves Berwick in 9th place with 3 games to play.
Saturday, April 15th, 2017 SPFL 2
ANNAN ATHLETIC 2 BERWICK RANGERS 1
A bad day for Berwick Rangers. Injuries, three bookings, yet another penalty conceded, defeat and the other three teams in the bottom four all winning made the carelessness which led to incorrect names on the Annan-produced teamsheets pale into insignificance.
The first blow came before the match. Jonny Fairbairn was ruled out with an eye injury sustained in training on the Thursday night. Rangers went on to lose both Sean McKirdy and Kevin McKinlay to first half injuries to ankle and hamstring respectively. As the game ended, gloom descended on the away support, not only because of this loss but as news came in that Edinburgh City had won in stoppage time at Arbroath, Cowdenbeath had demolished Stirling Albion and seemingly single handedly, Clyde’s David Goodwillie had demolished Elgin.
We were back to one man up front for Berwick, Greg Rutherford, though after the break he got some support from Steven Thomson and later, Aaron Murrell. The back three of McKinlay, Pat Scullion and Euan Spark was augmented by Lee Hamilton and Gary Phillips as wing backs. At least that’s how it started. On McKinlay’s departure, Hamilton moved into the middle of defence with David Verlaque taking Hamilton’s original position.
Given that both sides had plenty to play for, albeit at opposite ends of the table, the pace of the first half was, at times, surprisingly slow though Annan frequently sent long balls over to their small men, Nathan Flanagan and especially, Max Wright, operating as proper wingers. Wright was a source of hard work for Phillips though going forward, Rangers’ no.11 put over some good balls from the first of which Blair Currie saved from Darren Lavery. It was the earlier of Berwick’s best two first half chances. The other came when Hamilton played in Lavery who crossed towards the far post, Rutherford heading narrowly past it.
McKirdy, already booked for a second indiscretion, departed after 21 minutes just before Flanagan temporarily left the field so that the medico could stem a nose blood brought on when he fell to the ‘turf’. From 25 yards, his teammate Gavin Skelton fired straight at Sean Brennan as Rangers crowded Annan out of their penalty area. Peter Weatherson came closer. The ball evaded Spark’s head and the Annan striker raised his right leg high to hit a powerful shot against the bar.
Berwick took control in the final ten minutes before the interval but despite some assured passing, did little to trouble Currie.
Annan’s wing men exchanged flanks for the second period. A cross from Flanagan put the visitors under pressure, two strikes blocked before Hamilton was penalised for a foul the wrong side of the penalty area perimeter. Brennan opted to dive to his right. Darren Ramsay went the other way with the kick to make it 1-0. Soon, the hosts were appealing for another spot kick. Brennan came out to take a high ball but missed it, Annan players arguing that instead, he made sufficient contact with Aidan Smith to put him on his backside. Berwick went straight down to the other end but with a man either side pressurising him, Rutherford was forced into trying a lob which went wide. Spark ran into space to take Rutherford’s pass and his back heel set up Phillips for a cross which was headed away for a corner from which Stevie Notman’s header led to another one. With still no luck, Lavery went for a shot from about 28 yards which sailed just a foot over Currie’s bar.
Using the outside of his boot, Flanagan hit Brennan’s side netting before Thomson had the back of Currie’s net shaking with a great free kick from 25 yards after an Annan man climbed up on Michael McKenna. It took Annan a mere two minutes to regain the lead. Smith ran at Verlaque who again demonstrated that whatever his best position is, it is not full back. The Annan man then rifled the ball from the left into the far corner for what proved to be the winner with 20 minutes still to play.
Behind for a second time, Berwick increasingly looked unlikely to score another. Annan came close but for Brennan using his body as a shield to stop Rabin Omar. If Flanagan hadn’t pulled up and started hobbling as he drove down the right, another home chance might have been in the offing. Meanwhile, Thomson was booked for an off the ball shoulder shove on Skelton who was equally guilty of provocation after he annoyed Berwick’s scorer by holding on to the ball to prevent a quick throw in.
Lavery was also yellow carded when his outstretched leg impeded Smith’s midfield progress. Berwick had their own claims for a penalty ignored when two men in blue went down, at least one seemingly pulled, as a McKenna free kick came in. With that, their last chance of a another equaliser had gone.
So Berwick’s recent rotten record at Galabank continues. The worry now is that even if Annan fail to win promotion, they won’t be playing there at all next season.
Berwick Rangers: Brennan, Hamilton, McKinlay ( Verlaque 39 ), Notman, Scullion, Spark, Thomson, Lavery, Rutherford, McKirdy ( McKenna 21 ), Phillips ( Murrell 84 )