Berwick Rangers’ marathon 450 mile round trip to Peterhead ended in another away defeat, their third consecutive loss in this season’s league campaign. However, the final score does’nt begin to tell the real story of a contest that Rangers dominated from start to finish, and which resembled an exhibition match at times as Rangers taught their hosts a footballing lesson. The bottom line however, is about putting the ball in the net, and that’s where Rangers fell short once again. I don’t want to spend my travels this season lamenting how Rangers played teams off the park but could’nt put the ball in the net, but that was the story once again at a rain-swept and blustery Balmoor on Saturday. No wonder they call Peterhead the Blue Toon. Even the brass monkeys stayed at home for this one.
Saturday’s win puts Peterhead equal top of the Third Division. I mention this because they were dreadful. Rangers were streets ahead of their hosts in almost every respect, and had ref Kevin Graham done what he was paid to do and penalised the home side for a blatant foul on Lee Currie in the build up to the matchwinning goal and allowed Dean Hoskins’ 89th minute equaliser, Ian Little and his side would have left Balmoor with the three points they deserved, which would have had them hanging on the coat-tails of leaders Queens Park instead of languishing in the dead zone at the foot of the league.
What Peterhead did in winning the match was highight Rangers’ achilles heel, namely their long-running inability to cement their domination of possession with the goals needed to take home the three points. Peterhead were there for the taking on Saturday. They’d lost their previous three games, including a dispiriting loss in the Scottish cup to Rangers’ Highland League memesis Deveronvale, and had ended their derby with Elgin two weeks earlier with eight men on the park. For all that, they featured last season’s top league marksman in Rory McAllister at no. 9, with former Dundee winger Brian Deasley on the bench. Short of firepower they were not. Which contrasted sharply with Rangers’ own goal threat. Ian Little brought in the previously injured Stuart Noble for his first start of the season, while Phil Addison returned to the right flank in what looked like a 4-5-1 formation. The big problem with this line-up is that it depends on the ability of the midfield to get forward in support of the lone striker, and that’s what Rangers failed to do, despite episodes of lovely stuff from Currie, Notman, Janczyk and McDonald which bamboozled the home side for long stretches of a match thin on chances but easy on the eye despite the difficult conditions. Rangers need a striker who’s capable of registering double figures if they’re going to hit the play-offs this season. At the moment, only Darren Lavery looks capable, and this is his first full season in league football. Rangers don’t want to become known as the toothless Arsenal of the Third Division, but unless they can cap their excellent technique and midfield mastery, that’s what this campaign is going to be remembered for.
Despite its watchability, this match featured only five good goalscoring chances. The first of these arrived in the 9th minute, when McAllister was left unattended at the back post but sclaffed a lazy shot straight at big Yossi Bejaoui. From that point on, Rangers wove pretty patterns all over the park, with Janczyk once again pulling the strings in a midfield masterclass. Chris Townsley should have given Rangers the lead in the 14th minute, but headed straight at Jarvie in the home goal from McDonald’s cross when it looked easier to score. Lee Currie clubbed a 22 metre free kick wide just before the half hour mark, a minute before Doug Bryden produced a trademark Franco Baresi-style interception to deny McAllister. Rangers created another excellent chance in the 31st minute, Stuart Noble bursting through from the left-hand angle of the box, but Jarvie just about managed to claw his attempted lob out of the sky and to safety. Ten minutes from the break Addison got on the end of a lovely flowing move but shot straight at Jarvie from 15 yards. By contrast, Peterhead looked disjointed and low on confidence.
Six minutes after the break, Rangers produced the move of the match, a beautiful flowing effort that climaxed with Currie’s square ball to the incoming McDonald, whose first-time left footer glided past Jarvie’s post by a matter of millimetres. Seven minutes later, Ian Little withdrew Noble and the disappointing Addison in an attempt to capitalise on his team’s dominance. Lavery added an immediate spark to Rangers attack and at this point it looked like the only winners on the park were wearing black and gold. That prospect was nearly turned on its head in the 64 the minute when the otherwise excellent Devon Jacobs slipped and let in the predatory McAllister, who was denied by a brilliant block by Bejaoui. Rangers recovered from the scare and Lavery deftly set up McLaren in the 71st minute but he shot wasterfully wide, a miss for which Rangers were punished five minutes later. Currie was upended by Strachan in the middle of the park but ref Graham unaccountably waved play on. Deasley crossed hopefully into the box and sub McGuire rammed home from eight yards for the winner.
Rangers piled on the pressure and Stevie Notman bundled the ball home with four minutes left, but Lavery was rightfully penalised for a foul on the keeper. With sixty seconds left. Dean Hoskins snuck in at the back post to shoot past Jarvie from an acute angle, but the goal was wrongly ruled out for offside. The margins between victory and defeat are proving to be fine this season, and I’ve still to see a team that has Ranger’s technical ability, including the other Gers, but the most important skill is about putting the ball in the net and unless that problem is addressed, progress up the league will remain a struggle. Ian Little needs his own Gareth Hutchinson to make that happen.
Bejaoui 7; Jacobs 8; Townsley 7; Brydon 7; Hoskins 8; Addison 4 (Lavery 8); Currie 7 (McLaren 6); Janczyk 8; Notman 8; McDonald 7; Noble 5 (Gielty 7)