Berwick Rangers left Stair Park pointless on Saturday after a quickfire double from the home side just after the hour mark consigned the Gers to the long haul home with nothing to show for their efforts. Rangers have a disappointing record at Stranraer in recent years, but they must have travelled westward on this occasion with hope in their hearts after the Blues had made a poor start to their competitive season.Stranraer looked to have been weakened by the loss of their talismanic midfielder Scott Agnew to Dumbarton, but in goalscorers Aitken and Malcolm they still have some quality players, as Rangers discovered to their cost, and the debuting David McGregor, signed during the week from Morton, added some defensive know-how to their back line.
For his part, Jimmy Crease made a couple of changes to the side that impressed against East Stirling at Shielfield the previous week, Elliot Smith replacing the benched Richard Walker at right back and Darren Gribben getting his first full outing in place of Damon Gray. Rangers might have been expected to have their minds on the glamour of the Hibs cup tie, but it did’nt show in what was an even contest between two sides harbouring hopes of featuring in the play-off positions come the end of the season.
Jamie Barclay was called into action in the first minute, easily collecting Shepherd’s shot after the ever-dangerous Malcolm had escaped down the left.Never one to be left out of the party, Gribben fired in a fourth minute sighter which Mitchell saved well with his feet. Though Rangers were playing well enough, Barclay had to be sharp to block Danny Mitchell’s 15th minute effort as the teams wrestled for some kind of supremacy.As the opening half wore on, the Blues began to exert some coherent pressure, and Rangers attacking options continued to be frustrated by Gribben’s tendency to wander offside.Barclay muscled his way through a congested penalty area in the 38th minute to punch Aitken’s corner clear as the Blues turned the screw, before McGregor kept his side level three minutes later, hoofing Lee Currie’s dangerous corner kick off the line with Mitchell beaten.
Having made it to the break with the scores level, Jimmy Crease withdrew David Greenhill and replaced him with Andy McLean, allowing a tactical change from 4-4-2 to a 3-5-2 lineup.Rangers started the second period brightly enough with the Curries and McDonald bossing the midfield, though there were scant goalscoring opportunities for either side.Stuart Noble and Danny Mitchell exchanged shots ten minutes into the half before Gribben was replaced by Fraser McLaren just before the hour mark. It looked like Gribben had paid the price for his attempts to set a Scottish record of offside calls, a habit he needs to kick.Unfortunately for the Black & Gold, the change was rewarded by Stranraer taking a 61st minute lead. Malcolm made good ground before setting up Aitken for an 18 yard shot past Barclay. One of Rangers’ waeknesses this season has been their tendency to concede goals in bursts, and they were at it again on Saturday. Four minutes after conceding the opener, they criminally allowed Malcolm too much space outside the box and he rifled another excellent strike past Barclay. Credit to Rangers, they fought their way back into the match and after Paul Currie shot over when it looked easier to score, the on-form McLaren pulled a goal back thirteen minutes from time, belting home an astonishing wondergoal from all of 40 yards after being set up by McLean. McLaren had a chance to level with five minutes left but sliced wastefully wide.
Rangers deserved a point form the match and will play worse and win games, but they need to start winning on the road. They were given a relatively easy start to their league campaign but have already lost to Elgin and Stranraer, with the heavy hitters like Alloa, Annan and Peterhead lying ahead. It is against teams of their quality that Rangers will discover what they’re made of, but they need to make sure that the bread and butter of the league campaign does not suffer from cup distractions.
Barclay 6; Smith 6; Townsley 7; McLeod 7; Thompson 6; Greenhill 6; P Currie 6; L Currie 7; McDonald 6; Gribben 6; Noble 6
Crowd – 260