Pic: Rutherford scores from a header (Courtesy Ian Runciman)
Saturday, May 6th, 2017 SPFL 2
BERWICK RANGERS 3 EDINBURGH CITY 2
Entertainment from the Norham Village Band, bags of sweeties distributed by St. Andrews Berwick Rangers Supporters before the game, all match programmes sold and Berwick’s biggest home crowd of the season suggests something of a festive occasion. There was too much at stake for that. At the end, Berwick did have something to celebrate. They avoided the SPFL 2 relegation play off but not before surrendering a 2-0 first half lead in a second period dominated by City.
Edinburgh’s goals came late. It was no surprise to see Gary Phillips belting the ball downfield to knock off a few more seconds of playing time as Rangers clung on at 2-2 which would have been enough to keep them safe. Darren Lavery had other ideas. Next time Berwick broke out, he gained ground in midfield before sending a sublime pass across to David Verlaque who had streaked forward on the other side of the field. He was left with a one on one with keeper Calum Antell, didn’t panic and timed his shot just right for his first goal for Rangers’ first team. He stood in statuesque pose waiting to receive the inevitable wave of teammates heading his way to offer congratulations, their feelings a mixture of happiness and relief.
Berwick hit the post early in the game before Lavery tried his luck from 20 yards but sent the ball over the bar. He did find the net in the 16th minute. Michael McKenna played the ball through to Greg Rutherford whose gentle touch left the ball handy for the supporting Lavery to go on and beat Antell. Rutherford headed Steven Thomson’s cross on to the roof of the net before being more successful in the 28th minute. McKenna’s cross found the striker on his own at the far post and his soft header bounced on its way over the line.
A burst of City pressure was relieved by the offside flag and Rangers had a scare when Ross Guthrie got behind their defence but couldn’t connect with Lewis Allan’s ball which a slightly wrong footed Sean Brennan quickly scooped up with one hand.
Rutherford, who took a knock in the first half, was clearly in discomfort and in the 56th minute was replaced by Lee Hamilton though not after some confusion. It appeared that Euan Spark, on the sidelines for treatment minutes earlier, was now going off for good. He stayed, switching to right back with Hamilton taking the left side and Phillips moving into midfield. The realignment effectively left Aaron Murrell by himself up front.
City sent a warning when Jordan Caddow headed on to the bar from where the ball dropped to safety. Referee David Lowe then directed both managers to stay within the boundaries of their technical areas. For Rangers’ John Coughlin it was obviously an afternoon of anxiety and before his team’s first goal was heard loudly berating Brennan for kicking the ball from hand instead of throwing it directly towards a black and gold shirt. Coff’s worries increased when Edinburgh pulled back a goal on 73 minutes when Brennan let a corner ball slip from his grasp and Allan administered the punishment. With Joe Mbu and Dougie Gair playing for the last time before retirement, the visitors were looking to take something from the match. Three corners in a row brought nought. Allan’s free header off Caddow’s cross was on target but Brennan flung himself into a great save. However, with 5 minutes left, City appeared to have secured at least a point when Ryan Porteous cashed in following another corner, the ball going through the legs of a home player on its way into the net.
Verlaque had come on just two minutes beforehand and immediately reacted quickly when Pat Scullion headed away a free kick from the impressive Josh Walker. Taking the ball downfield he put in a good pass to McKenna but Antell stopped his shot with his foot.
Sean McKirdy came on for Thomson as the clock reached 90 minutes when Coughlin made one of those very late substitutions intended to disrupt their opponents’ rhythm and help Berwick hold out. With stoppage time almost up, Lavery and Vertlaque made sure they did more than that. It was Berwick’s first victory in six matches.
Berwick Rangers: Brennan, Spark, Phillips, Notman, Scullion ( capt. ), Fairbairn, Thomson ( McKirdy 90 ), Lavery, Rutherford ( Hamilton 56 ), McKenna, Murrell ( Verlaque 83 )