Berwick Rangers opened their competitive season with hard fought but deserved victory in the 1st round of the Ramsdens Cup at Broadwood against Clyde on Saturday, via the nerve-shredding route of the penalty shoot out.
After racing into a two goal lead in the opening ten minutes, Rangers looked on course for a comfortable stroll in the sun, but they were pegged back by a gutsy home performance and had to rely on a brilliant penalty save from new keeper Jamie Barclay during normal time to keep his team afloat. Rangers’ starting eleven featured five new faces, so it will take some time for the team to gel. The win will help build confidence, and with Chris Townsley and Stevie Notman still to return and Jimmy Crease on the lookout for another striker after Darren Gribben opted for a short-term deal with Hamilton, Rangers should be stronger again when the league campaign starts at Elgin on 6th August.
Although the Ramsdens Cup is the least glamorous of the Scottish cup competitions, Rangers opened with all guns blazing and took a 4th minute lead when Lee Currie buried a brutal 20 yarder past Filip Mentel in the home goal after collecting Kevin McDonald’s short pass. McDonald was instrumental in Rangers’ second goal six minutes later, his deep left wing cross allowing Damon Gray to beat the offside trap and finish clinically from close range. So far, so good, with Rangers attacking spearhead of Gray, Noble and McLaren causing a cumbersome home defence all sorts of problems in Jimmy Crease’s innovative 4-3-3 line up.
Fraser McLaren, who enjoyed his best game in months, was inches away from a third goal in the 17th minute, clipping a lob narrowly over with Mentel struggling. It took the home side a long time to get going before the lively Cusack set up McDonald for a low shot that sneaked past Barclays goal. Clyde built on that chance and created an excellent opportunity to get a foothold in the game when Andy McLean conceded a 27th minute penalty with an unnecessary challenge. Scullion’s spot kick was well struck but Barclay dived to his right to make a brilliant stop, maintaining Rangers’ two goal lead. That advantage was halved nine minutes from the break when Fitzpatrick sent an angled drive beyond Barclay after more good work from Cusack. Rangers rallied and Kevin McDonald, who had an impressive debut, had a dangerous free kick cleared from under the Clyde bar before McLaren was brought down by Tully on the stroke of half time for what looked like a stonewall penalty. Unfortunately for Rangers, referee O’Reilly, who had an eccentric match, saw differently and booked a bemused McLaren for diving.
It took Rangers some time to recover from that injustice and Clyde took full advantage with a 51st minute equaliser, poor defending at the back post giving Stephen McDonald space to bury Sweeney’s deep cross with a powerful header. By now the game was in the balance, but Rangers grasped control again on the hour mark when they reverted to a 4-4-2 line-up following Stuart Noble’s substitution with a leg injury. Jimmy Crease introduced another debutant, Darren Smith, who took up position on the right of midfield and helped give Rangers a more orthodox shape. The change buoyed Rangers and they peppered the home goal in the final 30 minutes without the benefit of a shred of luck. Gray turned Tully inside out in the 67th minute but shot straight at Mentel, then McDonald cracked in a shot which the keeper did well to block. With 18 minutes left, Rangers stitched together a flowing, pitch-length move which ended with Paul Currie shooting inches wide. Clyde were rocking but they held on, more though good luck than good judgement. McDonald’s low shot was cleared off the line by Clyde’s Brown in the final minute, before the home side broke upfield, Neill shooting over from a good position to Barclay’s obvious relief.
Both teams looked absolutely shot in extra time, which was no surprise in the baking heat. Chances were non-existent with players taking the safety first option, leaving the result to be determined by the lottery of the penalty shoot out. Damon Gray nervelessly fired home the first and Hay did the same for Clyde. Lee Currie then had his penalty saved before Scullion sclaffed his wide. Parity was maintained with McDonald and McLaren scoring their spot kicks for Rangers and Sweeney and Neill doing likewise for Clyde. With the pressure building, Paul Currie cracked home Rangers’ fifth penalty before Tully booted his spot kick over the bar to hand Rangers the win by 4 penalties to 3.
This was a good result for Rangers and whilst there were obvious areas for improvement, there were also plenty of encouraging signs, with Barclay, Lee Currie, McDonald and McLaren all standing out. Partick Thistle in next week’s league cup tie will present a different kind of challenge, but it will be against Elgin that the Black and Gold should be properly judged.
Barclay 8; Walker 6; McLean 6; McLeod 6; Thompson 6; McDonald 7; P Currie 6; L Currie 7; McLaren 8; Noble 6; Gray 6
Crowd – 472