Berwick Rangers 2
Deland 77, Gray 82
Alloa Athletic 2
McCord 44, May 60
by Keith Hamblin
at Shielfield Park
TWO late goals from substitutes Michael Deland and Damon Gray saw Berwick complete a remarkable fightback and earn a deserved draw against title-chasing Alloa at Shielfield on Saturday.
With leaders Annan being frozen out on their trip to Elgin, The Wasps arrived in the Borders knowing that a victory of any kind would see them take over at the top of the Third Division.
And when they established a 2-0 lead after an hour, with Berwick seemingly on the back foot, it looked as if it was job done as far as they were concerned with all three points heading back to Recreation Park.
But caretaker manager Ian Little, who has shown so far during his tenure that he is not afraid to make bold tactical moves, introduced substitutes Deland and Gray for the final flurry, and as they both came off the bench and scored it has to be said it was an inspired move.
“We looked the better side in the first half,” said Little, “but it was so disappointing to go in at the break 1-0 down, conceding as we did with less than a minute of the half left.
“We then started the second half badly and when Alloa went 2-0 up they must have thought they were set to take all three points.
“I had already brought Michael (Deland) on and decided to go three at the back to try and get us back into the game.
“It was then a bold decision to bring off Darren Gribben and replace him with Damon Gray, but it was a gamble which paid off as first of all Michael pulled a goal back for us and then Damon hit a fantastic equaliser.
“To be truthful, we then finished the stronger of the two sides and might have won it at the end.
“After being 2-0 down I am happy with the point, but Alloa will be disappointed they didn’t take all three.”
During a cagey first half, Steven May carved an early opening as the visitors applied pressure but Andy McLean and Chris Townsley combined to clear.
As Alloa continued to push up Kevin Cawley fired narrowly over. Rangers replied with Darren Gribben seeing his fierce shot blocked in the box before he saw a weak effort easily gathered by Scott Bain.
Berwick had a great chance to break the deadlock on the half-hour, but Stuart Noble steered inches wide after being fed a slide-rule pass from midfield by David Greenhill.
A minute later Gribben had the ball in the net following a similar move, and Noble also found the target, but both efforts were ruled out for offside.
The game then looked to be heading for stalemate at half-time, but just 60 seconds before the break Rangers lost possession on the edge of the box and they were punished in the cruelest possible way when Ryan McCord slammed the ball past Jamie Barclay from ten yards out after it was cut back from the bye-line.
Berwick, with Greenhill, Lee Curie and Kevin McDonald putting in a good shift in midfield, Gribben seeing a lot of the ball up front, and Stevie Notman, Andy McLean and Chris Townsley looking confident at the back, turned in a creditable performance in the first half.
They also gave a first start to young Darren Lavery, but he tired as the game went on and was eventually replaced by Deland.
But in the second 45 Alloa came out of the blocks with all guns blazing and Rangers found themselves pinned back in their own half of the field for long periods.
And when Paul Hartley’s side went 2-0 up after an hour, the ever-dangerous May scoring with a low shot from outside the box which beat Barclay in his bottom right-hand corner, it looked as if a second successive home defeat was on the cards for Little’s men.
The game might have been put beyond doubt when substitute Armand One found himself in behind the defence with just the keeper to beat, but he failed to connect properly, and this proved to be a turning point.
Hartley also made two substitutions after 74 and 76 minutes, but Craig Campbell and Robbie Winters hardly had time to settle into the game before Berwick pulled a goal back.
Deland made a strong run up the left, his cross being turned out for a corner.
From the kick Mark Docherty headed a goalbound header off the line, but Deland was there to guide a close range header over the line in a crowded goalmouth, giving Rangers some much-needed hope.
It was the spur they had been looking for and five minutes later Alloa captain Darren Young tried to play a back-pass header, but he laid it straight into the path of Gray who rifled it first time with his left foot for a dramatic equaliser.
Alloa were clearly rattled by this and for the final minutes Berwick tried to eke out a winner, but the Athletic defence stood firm and in the end the battling black and gold had to settle for a draw, which on the balance of play they thoroughly deserved.
Berwick Rangers: Barclay 6, Notman 6, Thomson 5, Townsley 6, McLean 7, Currie 7, Lavery 6 (Deland 55), Greenhill 7, Noble 6, Gribben 7 (Gray 63), McDonald 6.
Alloa Ath: Bain, Doyle, Docherty, Gordon, Harding, Young, O.Brien (One 46), McCord, May (Campbell 74), Holmes (Winters 76), Cawley.
Referee: Crawford Allan.