Berwick Rangers deftly negotiated a potential banana skin of a match against bottom dogs East Stirling at Ochilview on Wednesday night by delivering an impressive performance which will have reinforced caretaker manager Ian Little’s hopes of landing the job on a permanent basis.
Little showed again that he is unafraid to make brave decisions by bringing back the previously disappointing Stuart Noble to partner Darren Gribben up front, giving Richard Walker a rare start at right back, and dropping the teflon-coated former skipper Chris McLeod for Andy McLean. It could have gone badly wrong, but Little backed his hunches and came up trumps, Noble delivering his best performance of the season to complement Lee Currie’s midfield masterclass.
The match started a fair rate of knots, and Gribben gave Rangers a desrved lead in the 7th minute, sliding home the rebound after Antel had blocked Noble’s wicked shot on the turn. Shire equalised ten minutes later, Coyne ramming home a low 22 yard free kick to haul the home side back into a contest that looked to be slipping away from them. This Rangers side look to have rediscovered the meaning of team spirit, and they retook the lead on the half hour, Andy McLean bundling home Currie’s low corner. Gribben should have completed his hattrick before the break, curling a shot inches wide after being set up by Noble three minutes from the interval and then forcing Antel into a brilliant, instinctive stop on the stroke of half time after another superb set up from the on-fire Noble.
The second half started more sedately, and it wasn’t until an hour had passed that Antel was forced into serious action again, denying another barnstorming effort from Noble, who had the last laugh in the 64th minute when he was hauled down by the Shire keeper on the edge of the six yard box. Gribben finished with aplomb from the spot to give Rangers a 3-1 lead. New skipper Townsley saved Barclay’s blushes in the 69th minute after the Rangers keepr made a hash of clearing a corner, but that was pretty much it until Ross Gray missed a sitter with ten minutes remaining. Little introduced both Damon Gray and the very composed Darren Lavery with twenty minutes to go, underlining Rangers’ striking options and showing that he is prepared to make the changes at the right time.
Rangers have a spring in their step now, and a win on saturday against the Spiders will haul the back on to the finges of the play-off places. It’s amazing what a difference a couple of weeks make.
Barclay 5; Walker 6; Townsley 7; McLean 7; Smith 6; R Gray 6; McDonald 6; Currie 8; Gribben 7; Noble 8; Notman 6
Crowd – 310