Berwick Rangers suffered the most humiliating defeat in their modern history when they were thrashed four nil by Highland League Deveronvale in Banff in Saturday afternoon’s Scottish Cup second round tie.
Make no mistake, this was not a freak result. The Vale outfought, outplayed and outmuscled an abject Rangers outfit who made it clear from early on that they simply did’nt have the stomach for the contest, a point made by man of the match Mike McKenzie in one of many, and deserved, post match interviews. The sheer poverty of Rangers performance casts a harsh light on the future of manager Jimmy Crease, whose team have failed the justify the reported twenty per cent uplift in this years’ playing budget and lie marooned in seventh place in the league, well adrift of the anticipated play off places.
Rangers took a decent travelling support with them on Saturday, and the people who forked out to make the near-500 mile round trip in these financially straitened times made their feelings known long before the end of the game, calling for Crease to go before another season fizzles out. It is to be hoped that the Berwick Rangers board listen to an increasingly disenchanted support; anything else would be an abdication of their responsibilities as custodians of the football club.
Deveronvale, who currently lie eleventh in the Highland League, could easily have won by a wider margin, while Rangers’ embarrassment was underlined by a red card for Stephen Thompson and another booking for letting his mouth run for serial offender Darren Gribben. It was that kind of day. Last year, Rangers brilliantly handled the threat of Cove Rangers and dispatched them 3-0 in the seccond round of the cup. In that tie, Rangers were combative, organised and professional, three adjectives that could not be applied to their efforts on Saturday. Admittedly, they were handicapped by the absence of in-form skipper Chris McLeod due to flu and top scorer Fraser McLaren, but that should not be allowed to obscure how poorly Rangers played and the continuing lack of leadership on the pitch. In stark contrast, McKenzie, who looks like he has more than a passing interest in the world of pies and pints, turned in a superb performance, making up for a lack of moblity with a brilliant playmakers’ display, embellished by his repertoire of chaos-inducing set pieces. The big man did’nt stop there, and took on the role of a one-man cheerleading team, cajoling his teammates and stoking up the crowd. Vale were by no means a one man team, brick outhouse centre back Fraser, right winger McKenzie and midfielder Blackhall all standing out. The only man in Black & Gold who could pick up his paycheck without embarrassment was the veteran Ian Little, whose King Canute impression deserved more than he got. Thompson and Barclay also get pass marks, but the rest were dreadful, and one has to wonder what diminutive loan signing from Livingston, Ross Gray, will bring to the mix, because on Saturday he was well nigh invisible.
Ironically, Rangers strolled the opening ten minutes, bossing possession and forcing a couple of early if unthreatening corners. Vale looked nervous and if Rangers had scored first, then who knows. The Vale proved the old adage of appearances being deceptive by taking the lead in the 22nd minute, shortly after Barclay had brilliantly stopped Fraser’s downward header. A panicky-looking Rangers defence, with Elliot Smith press-ganged into service as an auxiliary centre back, allowed Fraser another unchallenged header, the big man finding Duncan who hooked home from close range to give his side a jubilantly received lead. Predictably, the goal fired up the home side and the crowd, who felt confident enough to churn out the first few bars of “Flower of Scotland”, and they were rewarded with a second goal in the 29th minute, Fraser following up his blocked header from another damaging McKenzie corner to ram the ball home from a yard out. There was no respite for Rangers, principally due to the inability of Currie and MacDonald to get hold of the ball and the inability of Gray and Noble to get any change from a hard working home defence, who lapped up Rangers’ default tactic of lumping high balls down the middle.
Jimmy Crease replaced the shot-shy Noble with Gribben at the break and Ranger’s recidivist striker did at least give the home defence something to think about in the opening stages of the second period. Blanchard in the home goal made his fist serious save in the 46th minute, tipping Little’s header over the bar, before MacDonald fired a searing 22 yard volley past the upright. McKenzie thundered a 30 yard free kick goalward on the hour mark, forcing Barclay into another excellent diving save, but the keeper was well beaten in the 66th minute when Blackhall got on the end of McKenzie’s deep cross to head home. Defensively, this was another shocker from Rangers, who allowed the winger to advance unchallenged down their left flank. The Vale’s third goal killed off any hopes Rangers might have entertained of getting back into the game, and their chances were well and truly buried a few minutes later when Thompson was red carded for an attempted mortal kombat challenge on McKenzie. Rangers’ coffin was nailed shut twenty minutes from time, McKenzie firing home a penalty after McLean was harshly adjudged to have fouled Henderson. Little kept up his one man resistance movement, cracking in a 25 yarder which Blanchard did well to keep out before sending a header against the bar with eleven minutes remaining, but it was, if you’ll pardon the pun, too Little, too late. Vale should have gone nap with eight minutes left, a flowing move ripping a downcast Rangers side wide open only for Blackhall to chip his shot wide when it looked easier to score.
Where Rangers go from here is anybody’s guess. The league is still there to play for and a change of manager should have the effect of galvanising the players and reigniting supporters’ interest. However, responsibility for this fiasco does’nt just rest at the manager’s door. There are too many players at Shielfield content to roll up in Berwick every second week and pick up a paycheck for not doing very much. That culture needs a real shake up if Rangers are to extricate themselves from this mess.
Barclay 6; Notman 3; E Smith 2; Thompson 6; R Gray 2; MacDonald 2; Currie 4; Little 7; D Gray 3; Noble 2
Crowd – 550