Berwick Rangers left the national stadium with a creditable point against a heavily-fancied (not least by themselves) Queens Park side on Saturday. This was Rangers’ first point on the road this season after two substandard performances at Annan and Montrose and an unlucky reverse against Peterhead, so manager Ian Little will be hoping that Saturday’s deserved draw marks a turning point on Rangers’ travels.
The only disappointing feature of a tight match was Rangers’ failure to hold on to their lead for more than 120 seconds, which is all it took for their nemesis, the burly Tony Quinn, to level Darren Lavery’s superbly taken opener. Before The Rangers were unceremoniously dumped in Division Three, Queens Park were pretty much the unanimous favourites to win the league. They’d flirted with promotion for the past three seasons, but a bout of play-off panic attacks meant they never managed to make the step up. However, by holding on to players like Jamie Longworth and Ricky Little, they demonstrated their appetite for another promotion challenge, so it says a lot for the black and gold that after finding themselves under the cosh for periods during the opening 45 minutes, they took control of the second period. When Ian Little’s side are running smoothly through the gears, I’ve yet to see a better side in the league this season, and that includes the other mob who share our name.
Despite Ross Gray’s return to Shielfield on another loan deal from Livingston, he could only manage a place on the bench after the manager kept faith with the starting eleven that saw off Clyde a week earlier. Queens Park had lined up in front of 49,000 at Ibrox 7 days previously, but on Saturday a meagre 487 turned up to watch this contest in the cavernous echoing space of Hampden. From the sublime to the ridiculous.
Energised by their lauded efforts at Ibrox, the Spiders started brightly and first threatened Youssef Bejaoui’s goal with only five minutes on the clock,Quinn rattling Gallacher’s low cross narrowly past the post. From a black and gold perspective, it looked like being a long afternoon, an impression cemented by Shankland’s dangerous run through the middle which Dougie Brydon halted at the expense of a free kick that Bradley hoofed straight at Big Yossi. For the first time this campaign, Rangers’ full backs Hoskins and Jacobs looked on the back foot with Gallacher and Robertson bombing on down the flanks. It was Gallacher again in the 21st minute, getting in behind Hoskins only for the excellent Andy McLean to nick the ball off Robertson’s toes as he prepared to shoot. Although Rangers had seldom been seen as an attacking force during the opring half hour, they disrupted the Spider’s momentum with a classy goal in the 31st minute. Darren Lavery showed good strength and excellent control to beat Ricky Little to Janczyk’s clever through ball, and after losing his marker he bent a peach of a shot around Parry and in off the post. Disappointingly for Rangers, their lead lasted less than two minutes. A flowing move saw Shankland feed Longworth who in turn supplied the rampaging Robertson, and his low cross was bundled past Bejaoui from close range by that man who loves to score against Berwick, Tony Quinn. Despite the blow of losing a quick equaliser, Rangers did’nt buckle. With Stevie Notman once again in superb form, the midfield finally began to wrest control from the Spiders and Rangers closed out the half looking more in control than at any other stage of the match.
Any complacency on Rangers’ part was knocked on the head two minutes after the break, when Shankland’s cross was deflected to Gallacher, but Bejaoui beat away his goalbound effort. Rangers found it hard to contain Shankland and it took another excellent Brydon block to prevent him setting up Longworth in the 51st minute. Six minutes later, Ian Little decided to inject more pace into Rangers’ game and replaced Neil Janczyk with Ross Gray. The substitution had a near-instantaneous effect, Currie bursting through a static Spiders’ defence to shoot inches wide of Parry’s post. The game had developed into a good contest between two well-matched sides, but it was Rangers who now had the momentum. After replacing Fraser McLaren with Stuart Noble in the 70th minute, Rangers again came close to taking the lead, Lee Currie reprising his Bryan Robson role by getting in behind Brough to force Parry into a difficult low save. Bejaoui saved Rangers’ bacon 12 minutes from time, moving quickly from his line to deny Quinn after Shankland had bisected the Rangers’ defence. The pace was maintained until the final whistle, without any further clear-cut chances being created, but it was Rangers who left the pitch looking the happier side after blunting the home threat with a composed display which augurs well for their playoff challenge.
Rangers get a break from league action with a challenging but winnable trip to play Second Division Stenhousemuir at Ochilview next Saturday. In the meantime, they sit four points off the top in a remarkably tight division. Ian Little’s side have only lost two of their last eight games, and if they can stitch a run of wins together they can reach the play-off zone. Tough league fixtures against Elgin and Annan will prove whether this good-looking Rangers’ side has what it takes.
Bejaoui 8; Jacobs 7; McLean 8; Brydon 8; Hoskins 7; McLaren 6; Notman 8; Currie 7; Janzcyk 6; McDonald 6; Lavery 7