Berwick Rangers gave First Division outfit Raith Rovers a real scare in a fog-shrouded seven goal cup thriller at Starks Park on Saturday, and if the Black and Gold can find a cure for their extraordinary vulnerability from corners, they will be a force to be reckoned with in this year’s league campaign.
Rangers won a host of new admirers in Kirkcaldy with another composed performance which highlighted the technical competence of Ian Little and Robbie Horn’s substantially rebuilt team, and on another day, with a touch of good fortune, they would have left Fife with something more tangible than the praise ringing in their ears. For large parts of this match, and certainly until the closing half hour, Rangers were the better side against a very ordinary looking Rovers team.
Anyone turning up on the day withour prior knowledge of the teams would have had a struggle on their hands to tell which one was positioned two leagues higher than the other. Unfortunately for Rangers, having deservedly taken the lead on three separate occasions, they were undone by their inability to defend corners. All four Rovers goals came from corners, and it got to the point where conceding a corner took on the same deadly inevitability as giving away a penalty. There were danger signs in the Livingston and Dunfermline friendlies that Rangers were having trouble defending corners and they paid a hefty price on Saturday for failing to rectify the problem. Elgin will be wheeling out their 6’7” centre forward Paul Miller in the league opener, so Rangers need to come up with a solution, pronto. The odd thing about Saturday is that both centre backs, Brydon and McLean, had outstanding matches, while full backs Jacobs and debutant Marc Lancaster were very solid. Rangers’ vulnerability comes from their lack of height outside of their two centre backs, while keeper Bejouai, an excellent shot-stopper, needs to be much more dominant coming off his line.
Robbie Horn took charge again on Saturday in Little’s absence, and made a couple of changes to the team which performed so well against Queens Park the previous week. Former Hibs U-20 player Lancaster started at left back, while Fraser McLaren and Phil Addison were given the nod up front after impressing against the Spiders. Rangers started with a bang, McLaren’s angled effort cleared off the line by Hill in the 4th minute after the striker latched on to Brydon’s long diagonal ball. They took the lead four minutes later, Lee Currie cracking a bullet of free kick past McGurn from 28 yards out after McLaren was fouled, to invoke the ghost of Rangers’ legend Jimmy Morton. It was an absolute peach of a goal. Inspired by his goal, Currie was looking hotter than a vindaloo, and his 20th minute pass, hit with the outside of his foot, almost put Addison through. Rovers were all over the place but they equalised out of the blue in the 24th minute, Graham firing home from close range after Hill got up at the back post to head a corner down to the lurking striker. Brydon almost sent McDonald through a hesitant-looking Rovers defence on the half hour mark, and a minute later Addison outstripped the covering Malone only for his crosss to evade Currie by inches.
Rangers began the second half looking very much in control, Janczyk bossing the midfield exchanges against a one-dimensional home side. The Black & Gold regained the lead five minutes into the second period, McDonald setting up Addison for a very cheeky chip past a possibly unsighted McGurn. The lead lasted only six minutes, Hill diving to bullet a header past Bejouai from another corner. If the alarm bells were’nt ringing by now for Rangers, they should have been, because it finally dawned on Rovers that Rangers were experiencing all sorts of grief defending corners. The equaliser reinvogorated the home team, and Bejouai was forced into a good save from Graham’s hooked volley before Jacobs produced a texbook saving tackle to deny the same player. Bejouai then made a hash of collecting a routine cross from Anderson, but a combination of McLean and Jacobs somehow denied Clarke from point blank range. With the contest cranking up a couple of notches, Ellis fouled Addison on the edge of the Rovers box in the 65th minute. Up stepped Currie, to lash another goal of the season contender beyond McGurn and into the top corner. Rovers responded in kind, and Clarke banjoed a 10 yard shot off the post in the 69th minute, before Graham levelled matters for the third time with a 72nd minute equaliser, turning sharply to chip home after Rangers had failed to clear, you’ve guessed it, another corner. Little wonder after a superb effort, but Rangers started to tire, and it took a brilliant reflex save from Bejouai to prevent Currie inadvertently deflecting a Walker shot past his keeper for an ill-deserved own goal. Result, another corner, and you can guess the rest – the ball broke loose in Rangers box and after a classic stramash, Clarke backheeled the ball past Bejouai for an 85th minute winner.
The result was harsh on Rangers, but they should take great credit for another excellent performance. It’s better to have defensive failings exposed now so that they can be sorted out before the important league campaign kicks off, and if they can do that, they look to be well equipped to mount a genuine challenge for the play-offs. Whatever happen this season, supporters are unlikely to die of boredom. The management team have assembled an entertaining team that places a pemium on keeping hold of the ball. Early days, but Rangers look a stylish outfit, and hopefully that will generate better attendances at Shielfield.
Bejouai 5; Jacobs 7; McLean 8; Brydon 8; Lancaster 6; McDonald 6; Currie 7; Janczyk 7; Gielty 6; McLaren 6; Addison 6