Berwick Rangers 0
O’Connor 45 (pen), Palsson 56, Sodje 72
by Keith Hamblin
at Shielfield Park
BERWICK started the build-up to the new season by going down to a 3-0 home defeat at the hands of a strong Hibernian at sunny Shielfield on Saturday.
Manager Jimmy Crease said afterwards it was ‘a good run-out’ for his players, but if nothing else it showed just how much Rangers need to strengthen up before the serious action begins.
For whilst Hibs effectively fielded two completely different sides in each half, the Borderers kicked off with only ten first team regulars, the rest of the 20-man squad being made up of trialists.
Hibs, boosted by the return of Gary O’Connor and Ivan Sproule, promised to send down a strong squad, and they were true to their word, which meant over 1400 fans turning out to bask in the sunshine.
Sproule, operating on the left, showed just how effective he can be, and he linked up well with O’Connor on several occasions, prompting manager Colin Calderwood to comment afterwards:
“It showed they have a history of playing together in the past, and I think there is a lotmore to come from them.”
Calderwood’s future remains in question with the Edinburgh club - he is being linked with a move to Birmingham - but after the game reporters were told they were not allowed to raise the subject in interview, their questions relating solely to the game. O’Connor, however, said he was hopeful Calderwood would stay on at Easter Road, as he was looking forward to working with him.
Berwick went into the match without a goalkeeper after Ian McCaldon dislocated a disc in his back, and this prompted a call for former Hibee’s stopper Andy McNeil to step in and fill the gap as a trialist.
In the first half he went full stretch to tip over a shot from Callum Booth, who cut in from the left, and he also saved well from a Lewis Horner effort, which again had him at full tilt.
The match gave fans their first sightings of new signings Richard Walker and Chris Townsley, and thei pair stood up well at the back, Townsley forming a good partnership with Chris Mcleod in central defence.
And it was McLeod who had Berwick’s best chance of the first half, narrowly heading over from a Lee Currie corner on the right.
Hibs always looked the more dominant force, however, particularly down the left.
It looked as if the teams might go in at half-time goalless, but just seconds before the break a long ball through the middle from Sproule found O’Connor on the run. The former Scottish international beat the offside trap, his first touch might have looked a little heavy, but as he went past McNeil he was brought to ground and referee Callum Murray had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
O’Connor picked himself up and duly rifled the ball straight down the middle for the opening goal, just as the half-time whistle blew.
Hibs made nine changes at the break, the only survivors being goalkeeper Graham Stack and David Stephens, although Stack was replaced midway through the second period.
Berwick, meanwhile, gave seven trialists a run out at various points throughout the second half, although it was noticeable that Michael Deland, who played as a trialist at left back, lasted the entire 90 minutes, and looked a useful prospect.
Damon Gray was asked to play as a lone striker up front and as a result had to work hard to make an impression. Early in the second half he found himself clean through, but instead of shooting, tried to play in Paul Currie on the goalline and the danger was cleared.
Just a few minutes later, in the 56th minute, Victor Palsson made it 2-0 with a deflected shot from 25 yards out. The opening had been created for him by Martin Scott who made a good run across the area before laying the ball off into his path.
A Fraser McLaren shot was tipped around for a corner by Stack, who also saved well at the back post from Gray after another Currie corner, but after that Rangers were rarely seen as an attacking force.
The scoring was completed when Akpo Sodje, who earlier saw a header saved by McNeil, stole in and finished well after taking a single touch inside the area.