Berwick Rangers continued their astonishing record of never having lost a league encounter at Links Park since 1994 with a disciplined and forceful performance against an improving Montrose side on Saturday. A point was the least Rangers deserved, and but for some profligate finishing during a dominant closing half hour, they would have claimed all three. Jamie Barclay made one challenging save all afternoon, and that tells you all you need to know about the supremacy of Rangers’ recast defence in which teenagers McGlinchey and Forster and the excellent Chris Townsley were outstanding. Until the late introduction of Damon Gray, Rangers’ biggest problem was their lack of a cutting edge, though Gray galvanised his side with an energetic cameo that had the home side on the rack during the closing stages of an entertaining encounter.
Ian Little had to make a couple of enforced changes to the winning line-up at Stranraer, Darren Gribben missing out with a groin strain, while the impressive Stephen Tulloch had been recalled by parent club Forfar. Jordon Forster moved across from right back to centre half, McGlinchey took over at right back, Deland came in at left back and Ferguson got another opportunity up front alongside Stuart Noble. The ever-reliable Steven Notman brilliantly blocked McNalley’s 4th minute piledriver, but that was a lone incident during a sedate opening, punctuated by player after player ending up on their backsides on a skiddy plastic surface. A westerly wind did little to enhance the flow of the game, though once Rangers settled they started to impose themselves on an ordinary-looking home side. McLaren embarked on a powerful run with 12 minutes gone but his delayed pass found Noble offside. Rangers came closest to opening the scoring in the 34th minute, Ross Gray climbing above the towering Crawford, without the aid of stepladders, to bullet McLaren’s pinpoint cross a yard wide. Lee Currie went even closer a minute later, clipping a superb 23 yard free kick off the bar with Andrews beaten after Gray was fouled. The Gable Endies had shown nothing up to this point, but they were almost gifted the opener by Forster after Boyle robbed him whilst doing his Beckenbauer thing in a dangerous place on the edge of the box. Fortunately for the talented defender, Barclay was equal to Boyle’s low shot, fingertipping it behind for a corner. The incident rattled Rangers, and a minute from the break, Masson guided a header inches wide from Wood’s right wing cross. With the game catching fire all of a sudden, Rangers missed the best chance of the half on the stroke of half-time. Notman’s low cross should have been buried by Ferguson, but the the ball broke to Noble whose thunderbolt shot struck the fortunate Andrews and rebounded clear of danger.
After looking the likelier side before the break, Rangers found themselves a goal behind to a 49th minute sucker punch from the home side. Johnston’s long cross took a dodgy bounce which deceived Townsley, allowing the quicksilver Boyle to hook a low shot beyond Barclay. The goal revitalised the home side, and it took a desperate tackle from Michael Deland to deny the lurking Young, Wood cracking the loose ball wide when it looked easier to score. Rangers steadied the ship once again, and looked set to equalise when Ferguson played McLaren through, but he shot too close to Andrews who was able to deflect the ball for a fruitless corner. The introduction of Damon Gray sparked Rangers into a prolonged assault on the Montrose goal during the closing twenty minutes. First, Gray hammered a 27 yarder a foot wide, before Noble burst through the home defence only to thunder his shot off Andrews’ body. Fellow sub David Greenhil then put Gray through only for Andrews to save again at the cost of a corner. Rangers were squandering chances at a fair rate of knots but they got their just reward ten minutes from the whistle, Gray getting between the home centre halves to head home a deserved equaliser. Gray curled a 20 yard shot narrowly wide as Rangers finished strongly, and then, in the final minute, he scampered clear of the cover, only to choose the unselfish option by trying to square the ball to Noble for a tap-in when a shot looked the best option. Such small margins decide games, but Rangers should take credit for another improved performance which suggests that a team not of his making is starting to sing from the manager’s hymn sheet.
Some day soon the Ranger board will be meeting to decide what to do about the management position at Shielfield.Like many Rangers supporters who are looking beyond the short-term, I really hope that they choose to give Ian Little and Robbie Horn the job. They represent a combination of promise and ambition, with a clear vision about what they want Berwick Rangers to achieve. That represents a refreshing change from the stagnation of the previous two and a half years, and the prospect of the same old, same old, if the pro-Coughlin lobby gets its way. Rangers need to start planning now if they are to mount a successful league campaign next season, and the board have an opportunity to take the lead by appointing a young and hungry management team with a genuine long-term view about what it’s going to take to start moving the club forward on the field of play.
Barclay 7; McGlinchey 8; Townsley 8; Forster 8; Deland 7; McLaren 5 (Greenhill 6); Currie 7; Notman 7; R Gray (McDonald 3) 6; Noble 6; Ferguson 4 (D Gray 8)
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