Pic: Red card shown to McKenna late on (Courtesy of Ian Runciman)
Saturday, February 25th, 2017 SPFL 2
BERWICK RANGERS 0 ELGIN CITY 1
Berwick Rangers slipped to a first defeat in four matches when Elgin made it three wins out of three against them so far this season. The game was given the go ahead after a morning pitch inspection though after recent heavy rain, one corner was sanded. The strong wind which had been a feature of the morning’s weather had virtually subsided by kick off.
Stevie Notman returned for Rangers after missing several games through illness. The home side started with the same centre back pairing as finished the previous week’s win over Forfar, Euan Spark partnering Pat Scullion. One late change to the Elgin team was announced just before the start. Shane Sutherland dropped out with Craig Gunn, wearing number 14, promoted from the bench.
There was some confusion as to who scored the only goal a little after half an hour’s play. What was certain is that it followed a long throw in from the Ducket side and it looked like it was off a head. Whose? His reaction suggested that City striker Chris McLeish was claiming it but various media sources gave it as an own goal by Scullion.
Up to that point, Berwick had looked more likely to score. In the 10th minute, Greg Rutherford completed a run with a pass to the supporting Aaron Murrell, keeper Cameron MacKay diving to turn the loan player’s shot for a corner.
Five minutes later, Steven Thomson ran into the box to take a pass from Scullion and then crossed towards the far post but hit it too hard for Rutherford to connect with it. Home fans thought a penalty was due the next time Thomson ran into the area in anticipation of a pass from Murrell who had been put through by Michael McKenna but Thommo ended up on the deck.
Ahead of this incident, Lee Hamilton was unhappy to be on the end of some harsh words from manager John Coughlin after he put away an awkward cross from Gunn for a corner rather than booting it upfield. Then Spark lost the ball after trying too beat one player too many. Devlin Mackay saved his blushes by sticking up a hand to knock Gunn’s strike over the bar.
After the goal, a couple of contentious free kicks went against the hosts, the second, for Scullion leaning on Gunn when they went up for a high ball. From it, Elgin again had the ball in the net but the referee had spotted a foul on keeper Mackay.
Notman’s overhead kick gave McKenna the chance to supply Hamilton. Referee Steven played advantage when he was fouled, Elgin’s MacKay taking no risks with the full back’s high ball, punching it away from practically on his own line.
In the final minutes of the half, Gunn was unarguably offside but still went through the motions of putting the ball in the net and Rangers won three corners in a row before proceedings ended with McLeish shooting wide.
The rain had begun as half time approached and continued for most of the remainder of the match. Berwick returned with a reshuffled defence. Hamilton, who injured his groin midway through the first period, was replaced by Kevin McKinlay who was now paired with Scullion with Spark moving wide.
Though Rangers had a Spark in the team, they could not find another kind of spark to break down a well organised Elgin team either from set pieces or from open play. This despite most of the second 45 being played inside the visitors’ half. Rutherford did well to keep the ball in play at the bye line and passed back expecting to find some support but nearest teammate Murrell was not expecting the ball. Nor was anyone available when Scullion headed the ball back into Elgin’s penalty area after City initially headed away a free kick from 10 yards outside that area given for a foul on McKenna.
Long range efforts from Darren Lavery and McKinlay brought nothing though once more, home supporters felt there should have been a penalty when Ricardo Kessels went down after cutting inside but it wasn’t difficult to slip given the conditions.
A tussle for the ball between Matthew Cooper and McKenna ended with the pair wrestling on the ground and both booked though Berwick got the free kick. Not long afterwards, McKenna was in deeper trouble. His poor free kick was blocked and he picked up a second yellow when his trailing leg caught Jamie Reid. Thus, for the second week running, Berwick had a man red carded very late following then trialist David Verlaque’s injury time dismissal v. Forfar.
A four man move earned Berwick a final corner for which goalie Mackay came racing downfield. His Elgin counterpart punched out Scullion’s kick. City survived last second pressure after Berwick won another free kick when Notman was nudged off the ball.
Another disappointing feature of the day was the attendance. Barely 400 were present despite Rangers winning their two previous home matches and it wouldn’t have been that many but for the contingent backing Elgin.
Berwick Rangers; Mackay, Hamilton ( McKinlay 46 ), Phillips, Notman, Scullion, Spark, Thomson ( Orru 77 ), Lavery, Rutherford, McKenna, Murrell ( Kessels 70 )