Berwick Rangers recent run of good form, which had hauled the team back on to the fringes of the play-off places, ground to a halt against an inspired East Stirling outfit at Ochilview on Saturday. As ever with Rangers, the scoreline does’nt tell the whole story. Two nil down at the break after being played off the park against wooden spooners Shire, they found themselves on the wrong end of another appalling refereeing decision when Stevie Notman – nobody’s idea of a hatchet man – received his third red of the campaign with forty minutes remaining. The sheer wrongness of ref Greg Aitken’s decision galvanised Rangers, and, inspired by David Greenhill’s domination of the midfield and Jordan Foster’s decent impression of Steven Gerrard in his pomp, they penned Shire into their own half and were only denied a deserved point when goal machine Danny Handlng miskicked with Antel’s goal at his mercy with four minutes remaining.
Ian Little made one change from last week’s thriller at home to Elgin,replacing the suspended Andy McLean with Chris Townsley. Suspensions have been a recurrent theme in Rangers’ season, and there is no question that an embarrassing total of thirteen red cards has handicapped their chances of making a better impression on the league. I mention this because there comes a point when it’s hard to keep conspiracy theories at bay. Rangers are way ahead of the opposition when it comes to piling up the reds, yet anyone who watches them regularly knows that they are not a dirty side. Their last four dismissals have all been controversial, and Saturday’s was up there with the “he’s got to be joking” (articulated less politely by the away support) reaction of everyone in the ground. Even the Shire fans conceded that it was the wrong decision, and by some distance.
Anyway, to the action. On a bright and blustery afternoon, it was Rangers who showed first, Stuart Noble bullocking his way through the Shire defence to clip his shot a foot wide in the 4th minute. Looking back, it seemed like one of those pivotal moments in a match – had it gone in, it might have damaged Shire’s fragile confidence and paved the way for a comfortable Rangers win. Typically, Shire took the lead two minutes later. Rangers made a hash of clearing Andrew Stirling’s corner, and as the ball broke to the lurking Lewis Horner on the edge of the “D”, he lashed the ball low past an unfit – looking Benjouai and into the corner. It got a lot worse for Rangers with 18 minutes on the clock, Shire capitalising on a poor Kevin MacDonald corner to break quickly, allowing Sheerin glancing home another Stirling corner with the Gers’ defence still looking like it was still suffering from the hangover of the last half hour against Elgin. Turner and Stirling on the Shire flanks were giving Rangers all sorts of grief with their pace and consistently accurate crossing, and Shire should have gone three up in the 21st minute when Sheerin somehow put his point blank header from another brilliant Stirling cross past Benjouai’s post with the keeper stranded. It took Rangers some time to recover from the onslaught, though Handling was inches away from pulling a goal back just before the half hour mark, latching on to Gray’s through ball only for Hunter to make a superb saving tackle. From the resulting corner. Foster got his head in the way of what looked like a certain Townsley score. It was that kind of half.
Five minutes into the second period, with Rangers looking as if they’d been given the hairdryer treatment in the changing rooms, ref Aitken gave them a mountain to climb. Notman caught Stirling on the half way line. It was the sort of challenge that they show in training dvds as a classic booking, but no more. When Aitken brandished the red card, even the Shire players had the good grace to look surprised. Cometh the hour, cometh the man however, and David Greenhill stepped up to the plate, ably supported by another rampaging performance by Foster. Three minutes after the red card, Gillespie seemed to block Handling’s goalbound shot with his hands, but ref Aitken saw no offence. For all their possession, Rangers were finding it hard to open up a disciplined Shire defence, and it took until the 70th minute for them to finally find a way through. A minute after he replaced Stuart Noble, Fraser McLaren made an instant impact, skinning Gillespie down the right and cutting the ball back for McDonald, who was hooked by Frances in the process of shooting. A straight red was duly produced before Lee Currie buried the spot kick. With Rangers in the ascendancy, Greenhill volleyed Handling’s knock down over the bar before the teenage tyro missed a good headed chance from McDonald’s hanging cross with eight minutes left. Four minutes from time Danny Boy missed a sitter from three yards after being beautifully set up by McLaren, and then with seconds to go Townsley got too much on a header when well placed at teh back post.
First of all, credit to Shire.Their opening 45 was excellent and if they’d played that kind of football more consistently, they would’nt be marooned at the bottom of the league. For Rangers, this was a salutary lesson about not taking the opposition for granted. Too many players looked as if they were already mentally thumbing through the holiday brochures, and Ian Little will want to make sure they regain their focus for the closing fixture at home to Stranraer on Saturday, before the team building begins in earnest for next season.
Benjouai 5; Notman 5; Foster 8; Townsley 5; McGlinchey 5; MacDonald 6; Greenhill 8; Currie 7; R Gray 6; Noble 6; Handling 5
Crowd – 277