Pic: Berwick pulled a late goal back in a game of few chances for the home team. (Courtesy of Ian Runciman)
Saturday, March 11th, 2017 SPFL 2
BERWICK RANGERS 1 COWDENBEATH 3
Cowdenbeath breathed new life into their bid to avoid the relegation play off with a thoroughly merited win over Berwick. It was their first in four attempts this season but any uninitiated watching at Shielfield could have been forgiven for assuming it was the home side who were stuck at the foot of the table.
Berwick showed three changes of personnel from the eleven which kicked off in the midweek win over Clyde. Sean Brennan was in goal, Sean McKirdy, who just got a few minutes play against the Cumbernauld club, wore number 10 and Ricardo Kessels was given a start.
With Aaron Murrell demoted to the substitutes’ bench, Greg Rutherford resumed as the lone Ranger up front closely watched by Cowdenbeath’s straight four man defensive line. If Kessels alternating between flanks was intended to confuse the opposition, it didn’t. The Fifers had also sussed out that, especially on a heavy pitch, Berwick’s central defenders might struggle against their faster front men. Pat Scullion in particular, found it hard to cope when quick-fire balls were played forward, primarily to Dale Carrick.
There was an early sign that the visitors meant business. Carrick raced up the left and then cut inside to put in a decent shot. Although Brennan easily held it, Carrick earned claps of encouragement from the travelling support. Cowdenbeath claimed the game’s first corner following an 11th minute free kick awarded because Gary Phillips ran into the back of Carrick. Soon, Carrick was again allowed to come in from the left though once more, Brennan safely handled his shot.
This softening up process over, the Blue Brazil went ahead on 16 minutes. Robbie Buchanan was faced by Phillips but the Berwick man did not commit to the tackle and after a little jink, ‘Beath’s number 20 fired into the net. For Rangers, both Rutherford and Stevie Notman were off target with medium range efforts.
The focus of some away fans was very much on fouls, real or imagined. They felt especially aggrieved when the referee decided that McKirdy had not ended up face down on the ground by accident and awarded a kick to Rangers close to the halfway line. Nothing came of it, nor from two poor corners taken by Steven Thomson.
The second half had barely got underway when the Blue Brazil scored again. Scullion was forced towards the corner to defend but Rangers couldn’t clear their lines enabling Liam Henderson to put in a cross. Brennan made an instinctive one handed save from unmarked Kris Renton but there was no prospect of him repeating the heroics as Brian Ross nodded in the resulting loose ball. Sensing that their team was probably now on the way to a rare victory, fans’ preoccupation with fouls and frees came to an end.
Fortunately for Berwick, Buchanan’s free header off Jamie Pyper’s touchline cross lacked power and went straight into Brennan’s hands but there was to be a third goal. It came as Berwick were preparing to make a triple substitution. Scullion and partner Spark were reduced to mere spectators as Renton collected a quick pump downfield and comfortably beat the keeper.
Rangers got one back when McKirdy chased a long cross field pass, kept it in play and passed to new man Murrell. He sent the ball on to Rutherford who knocked it it over the line at the near post. There were eleven minutes left in which to salvage something from the match but it never looked likely. Jonny Fairbairn marked his return after injury lay off with a booking for contact on Lewis Moore after the referee played advantage as Moore skipped out of an attempted foul by Darren Lavery. Fraser Mullen’s free kick hit the bar.
Newly appointed ‘Beath manager Gary Locke, watching from the stand, must have been impressed by his new charges but would also have realised that Berwick were very poor on a day when Cowden keeper Jamie Sneddon’s fluorescent orange strip was as clean and shiny at the end of the game as it had been at the start.
Berwick’s visit to Meadowbank this Wednesday ( March 15th, 7:45 p.m. ) for the rearranged game v. Edinburgh City now takes on even greater significance after the capital club crept to within two points of Rangers in the table with a 2-1 victory at league leaders Forfar. Nobody in the Shielfield camp should need telling that a vast improvement is needed if they are to win this one.
Berwick Rangers: Brennan, Hamilton, Phillips ( Verlaque 68 ), Notman, Scullion ( Fairbairn 68 ), Spark, Thomson, Lavery, Rutherford, McKirdy, Kessels ( Murrell 68 )