Pic: Pat Scullion powers in a header in the first half
Saturday, April 8th, 2017 SPFL 2
BERWICK RANGERS 0 STIRLING ALBION 1
It may have been a warm, sunny afternoon but this match did little to advance the case for summer football. Stirling left happy enough that the win keeps them within striking distance of the promotion play offs. After collecting four points from two away games, Rangers reverted to type on home soil with a third successive sub standard performance and defeat. They even missed a penalty on the stroke of half time.
Berwick’s league position remains unchanged due to results elsewhere. Cowdenbeath’s stoppage time equaliser denied Edinburgh City the chance to go above Berwick on goal difference but the point gained in the process sees the bottom of the table Fifers cut the gap between themselves and Rangers to six points. At the same time, the other club in the potential relegation mix, Clyde, picked up a valuable win over Berwick’s next opponents, Annan Athletic. All have four games left.
For much of the first half, Stirling looked the more likely side. Suspecting they had the faster men needed, long balls were regularly sent behind the defence for the likes of Callumn Morrison and Blair Henderson to chase. From one such situation, in the 17th minute, they scored the vital goal. Pat Scullion appeared to have the ball covered but he couldn’t secure it under pressure from Dylan Bikey, back at Forthbank from Hearts for the time being. The Frenchman won possession and passed across to Darren Smith for a simple tap in. Scullion also misjudged a touchline tackle on Smith but he couldn’t emulate Bikey as his pass from the same side was sent away for a corner.
Both sides were guilty of wasting free kicks but in open play, Albion’s passing was brisker with the men in red seemingly more certain about what their ball play was intended to achieve. Just past the half hour with the home defence pinned inside their own penalty area, the ball went back to Morrison prompting a tremendous save from Sean Brennan who tipped his whiplash shot on to the bar and over. Brennan came out of his area to head away one of those long balls meant for Henderson and by staying with him, Scullion forced scorer Smith to fire high.
After that, it was mainly Berwick up until half time. Scullion headed a Michael McKenna corner over the bar and following another, was way off with an attempted spectacular kick. A powerful one from Steven Thomson from 25 yards carried more threat but went wide. McKenna was cynically fouled when clean through but outside the area. Stevie Notman was definitely inside but travelling away from goal to retrieve another corner ball when he was brought down by Ross McGeachie. Captain, Chris Smith, dived the right way to punch Greg Rutherford’s spot kick to safety.
Berwick were kept waiting to make a double substitution ahead of the second half kick off as the match officials ran out a good two minutes after all the players. Lee Hamilton came on for the first time since his worrying injury against Arbroath and filled his normal right back slot allowing David Verlaque to move forward. Darren Lavery took over from Sean McKirdy in midfield. In as much as Berwick enjoyed the greater share of second half possession, the changes worked. In as much as they failed to score, they didn’t. It looked as if Verlaque had scored when the Albion defence got in a mess following a touchline free kick but he actually hit the side netting. A curling shot from Scullion looked destined to squeeze in by the far post until a Stirling foot kicked it away.
At times, the second forty five resembled a comedy of errors featuring the terrible acting of Henderson and Notman both booked for simulation, Henderson going down early on in a box full of black and gold shirts; Notman taking a dive just outside Stirling’s with about 15 minutes left. In addition we had Lavery pulling Sean Dickson’s shirt so soon Conor Quigley did the same to McKenna’s. At one point, Scullion handed off Henderson rugby style and near the end, Verlaque propelled himself into Andrew Little’s back. All of this might have been mildly amusing had this been a run of the mill end of season game.
It was no surprise when Euan Spark was named as the Seko Logistics International Ltd home man of the match as he was head and shoulders above any of the other outfield players. Brennan, who made a fine second half save to stop a Bikey free kick going in, could have been the only other contender.
Berwick Rangers: Brennan, Verlaque, Page, Notman, Scullion, Spark, Thomson ( Watt 76 ), McKirdy ( Hamilton 46 ), Rutherford, McKenna, Murrell ( Lavery 46 )