A loanee-studded starting eleven featuring no less than five players borrowed from other clubs meant that Saturday’s victorious eleven were more Loan Rangers than Berwick Rangers, though that will be of marginal concern to Ian Little and Robbie Horn as they continue their drastic, albeit much needed, overhaul of the squad they inherited from Jimmy Crease. At a fog-shrouded and perishing Balmoor, a young Rangers outfit thoroughly deserved all three points against an expensively constructed home side. Encouragingly for Rangers supporters, this is the template for next season – a young and hungry side minus the ballast of journeymen footballers incapable of hauling the team into some kind of meaningful finish in the play-off places.
Now that the new management team have been given their head, they’ve made it clear to a number of players that their future in a Berwick Rangers shirt is unlikely to last beyond the end date of their current contract. Gribben and Thompson have been farmed out to junior clubs, while others are unlikely to ever make it into the starting eleven except in extremis. That kind of take-no-prisoners approach has opened the doors for a number of young tiros to come in and prove themselves in a more challenging environment than Hibs reserves, and they’ve done so with relish and no little skill. Teenager Danny Handling became the youngest player to score on his Rangers debut since Methuselah was a boy, and it’s fair to say he lit up the dismal environs of Balmoor with the skill and confidence of a genuine prodigy, embellished by two excellent goals which won another match on the road for Rangers. If only their home form had matched their away form, Rangers would still have a live interest in the play-offs.
After the previous weekend’s no-show against Queens Park, Ian Little rang the changes again, starting with a debut for the giant Tunisian Youssef Benjouai in goal. The big man acquitted himself admirably, beaten only by McAllister’s spot-kick, and it will be a surprise if he relinquishes the No. 1 spot between now and the end of the season. The 17 year old Handling, signed on loan from Hibs on the day that Gribben was exiled to Bonnyrigg, started up top alongside the vastly more experienced Stuart Noble, and Kevin McDonald made a surprise return to midfield. The home side had been in erratic form leading up to the game, hammered 6-3 by wooden spooners Shire a fortnight previously but beating on-fire Elgin with some comfort the previous weekend. This was not a game that those with a gambling habit would have been comfortable betting on.
Handling did’nt take long to show what he was made of, banging in a 3rd minute shot that Jarvie handled competently, a minute before the veteran Bavidge brought Benjouai into the game. As the home side eased themselves into the contest, Townsley made a characteristically brave block on Bavidge’s volley with 12 minutes gone, but it was the youngest man on the park who lit the place up in the 23rd minute, Handling coolly slotting home Currie’s right wing cross from near the penalty spot to give Rangers the lead. Noble shot wide a couple of minutes later as Rangers, buoyed by taking the lead, pressed Peterhead back. Bavidge continued to look the most dangerous home player with McAllister relatively anonymous, and it was he who cracked another volley wide of Benjouai’s post just after the half hour mark. McAllister woke up seven minutes from the break, forcing Benjouai into a low save from close range, but it was Rangers who should have extended their lead before the interval. First, Stuart Noble missed a sitter after being set up by Lee Currie, then Rangers had a strong penalty shout turned down by ref McDermott after Donald appeared to bring down Handling.
Sod’s law being what it is, Rangers lost their lead to a penalty equaliser four minutes after the break when Ross Gray needlessly brought down the marauding Donald. McAllister did the business from the spot to level the scores. Handling restored Rangers lead with a brilliantly taken goal in the 55th minute, taking Stevie Notman’s clever pass and clipping a 20 yard shot beyond Jarvie. There is never a dull minutes when Jordon Forster is on the pitch, and the Hibs youngster, who looked the part again against one of the most dangerous attacking partnerships in the league, grabbed the headlines when he was red-carded for a last-man handball in the 58th minute. That left Rangers with an uphill battle to retain their advantage but a curiously supine home side made their life easier than they might have expected in the closing stages, though it should also be said that Rangers also defended well. McAllister drilled a shot wide a minute after Rangers were reduced to ten men, and Benjouai saved well from Russell Donald with 25 minutes remaining, but the expected onslaught never materialised. The outstanding Handling – a piece of rhyming you should get used to – kept the Peterhead defence on their toes with another fine effort in the 71st minute, and the youngster had another decent penalty claim turned down before he was replaced by Damon Gray with 17 minutes left. Rangers had a let off when McAllister clipped the post in the 83rd minute but they saw out the remainder of the match to earn a welcome three points.
Rangers need to translate their solid away form into something better than the unacceptable performances they’ve dished up at Shielfield so far this season. A struggling Clyde outfit offer the perfect opportunity to do that as the Little revolution continues to lay the foundations for what an exciting campaign next season, and Saturday also gives supporters the opportunity to get a sighting of Danny Handling. Not to be missed.
Benjouai 7; Deland 6; Townsley 8; Forster 7; McGlinchey 7; Gray 6; Currie 7; Notman 7; McDonald 6; Handling 8; Noble 7
Crowd – 396