Berwick Rangers allowed hosts Annan to overturn a two goal lead in a disastrous five minute spell during the second half at Galabank on Saturday, leaving the Black & Gold marooned in 9th place after two games. While it’s way too early to start pressing the panic button, and there was more than a lingering suspicion that too many players had one eye on next Sunday’s glamour fixture against the other Rangers, this was a poor performance defined once again by an inability to change the pace of the game and the absence of someone to hold the ball up in attacking positions. For once, Rangers’ vaunted midfield did not dominate possession, despite pre-match hopes that Annan’s new £800,000 artificial surface would suit their neat passing style.
The most disappointing aspect of the contest was Rangers failure to kill off a home side that had been royally pumped in their two previous outings, losing 5-1 in their league opener at Stirling Albion and then being turned over 3-0 at home by Stenhousemuir in the cup. Their lack of confidence was obvious from the first whistle, but Rangers took the foot off the gas after finding themselves two goals ahead with only 25 minutes on the clock when they should have been going for the jugular. Although Rangers’ own defence looked far from secure throughout, despite the best efforts of skipper Chris Townsley, it’s unlikely that Annan would have recovered from a three goal deficit.
On a hot and sticky afternoon, Ian Little made one change from the home draw with Elgin, former Cowdenbeath defender Dene Droudge coming in on the right side of the defence with Devon Jacobs dropping back to a bench which featured Reserves striker Greig Smith. Darren Lavery started up top with Phil Addison and Fraser McLaren playing off him in wider positions, giving Rangers plenty of attacking options. Damien Gielty didn’t feature due to injury. After a slow start, Rangers engineered a beautiful flowing move in the 10th minute, Lavery carrying the ball from the half way line to feed Addison, whose angled shot was kept out courtesy of a low diving block from Mitchell in the home goal. Two minutes later, Lee Currie banged a free kick over Mitchell’s bar from the same position he’d scored twice against Raith Rovers. Currie had one of those days where he spent more time berating colleagues than trying to run the midfield, and his performance suffered from his cantankerousness. He needs to rein in the anger because he’s a very good footballer when he puts his mind to it. Rangers took the lead in bizarre circumstances on the 15 minute mark. Mitchell took a routine backpass from Thorburn but took an age to get the ball under control, by which time Addison had closed down his options. As Mitchell tried desperately to clear, Addison hung out a foot and deflected the clearance into Mitchell’s goal. Ten out of ten for opportunism. Currie sent Addison through sixty seconds later but Mitchell made a partial block and McGowan hacked the loose ball clear.
Annan recovered their composure enough for Swinglehurst to bullet a diving header over Bejaoui’s bar in the 17th minute, but it was Rangers who doubled their lead in the 25th minute when McLaren’s backside inadvertently deflected McDonald’s well struck corner beyond Mitchell. To be honest, the scoreline flattered Rangers but no-one of a Shielfield persuasion was complaining. Annan broke forward in the 37th minute and let Rangers off the hook after Bejaoui parried Steel’s fierce drive back to Sloan, but the winger hammered the rebound over the top when it looked easier to score.
With the strong breeze at their backs for the secoond half, we settled down in the expectation that Rangers would comfortably see out the afternoon to claim all three points. How wrong we would be. In short, Rangers were abysmal in the second period, save for a late surge inspired by subs Jacobs and the energetic Craig Stevenson, whose aggression helped create a series of late half chances. Rangers begain the half sitting too deep, which had the dual effect of allowing Annan to press them and made it harder for the ball to stick up front, where Addison and Lavery were forced to feed off scraps, while McLaren was having one of those days that did’nt include taking on his man. With Lancaster getting the runaround from Ally Love, gaps started to open up in the Rangers defence though it took a very soft penalty decision to go against them for Annan to get on to the scoresheet in the 56th minute. There was no question that Sloan’s driven cross struck Townsley’s hand, but the central defender had his hands pressed to his side and many referees would have waved play on in the circumstances. Unfortunately for Rangers, Ref Gavin Ross did’nt, and Chaplain buried the spot kick. Annan levelled the scores three minutes later, Chaplain heading Jardine’s cross beyond Bejaoui. Anna’s lazarus-like recovery was completed in the 61st minute, when Steele picked the ball up in splendid isolation before homing in on Bejaoui, who half-blocked the shot which broke to Love for a tap in. The five-minute footballing apocalypse had a slightly unreal feel to it, and Rangers looked understandably shellshocked at finding their two goal lead overhauled in the blink of an eye. Steele had a shot cleared off the line by Brydon as Annan rampaged through a defence that was now in tatters, though Janczyk raised the siege when he stabbed a low shot a foot wide of Mitchell’s goal in the 73rd minute. Lavery hooked a volley over before the end but the home side ran out deserved winners.
There is every chance that Rangers will find themselves bottom of the league once the dust settles on next Sunday’s Shielfield clash of the Gers. Should that happen, the only way is up, a direction of travel that needs an experienced striker with a physical presence and some real pace on the flanks if it is to be realised. Rangers have not become a bad side overnight. The squad has more technically competent players than for many years, and in Lavery and Addison they have two talented young footballers, but they need a win to get the confidence flowing again.
Bejaoui 5; Droudge 6; Townsley 6; Brydon 5; Lancaster 4; McLaren 4; McDonald 5; Currie 4; Janczyk 4; Addison 6; Lavery 5
Crowd – 512