BERWICK Rangers were denied a historic victory over Rangers when they had a late goal disallowed by a contentious refereeing decision at Shielfield.
It is not a day which will resonate in Berwick’s history quite like the 1967 Scottish Cup win at Shielfield Park by which all shock results are now measured, but in its own way this was an equally memorable experience for the club.
On a gloriously sunny afternoon, Ally McCoist’s visitors were fortunate to escape with a point from a match where all the credit belonged to Ian Little’s hosts. Rangers were a feckless lot for most of the 90 minutes, even after Andrew Little’s seventh goal in six games this season put them ahead seconds before half time.
Berwick deservedly equalised through substitute Fraser McLaren’s fine goal when he broke clear to find the far corner after 62 minutes. He had another effort saved by Rangers goalkeeper Neil Alexander and only a contentious refereeing decision denied the Black and Golds another famous victory when they had a late Chris Townsley goal disallowed.
The uncompromising nature of combat which the Glasgow giants must expect to become accustomed to in the Third Division this season was exemplified in just three minutes when Berwick midfielder Lee Currie collected the first booking of the afternoon for an eye-watering foul on Ian Black.
It was clear that the home side were determined to prevent Rangers settling into any kind of rhythm and there was certainly little evidence of fluent football on an excellent playing surface from McCoist’s men. They were disjointed and shapeless for much of a first half in which Berwick could count themselves desperately unfortunate to fall behind to Little’s stoppage-time strike.
Rangers’ new-look back four, in which former Greek under-21 international Anestis Argyriou was making his debut at left-back, appeared uncertain and vulnerable on more than one occasion. Hesitancy between captain Carlos Bocanegra and goalkeeper Neil Alexander on the edge of the penalty area almost gifted Berwick the first opening of the match, but striker Darren Lavery could not react quickly enough to take advantage.
But it was Berwick, lacking nothing in confidence or ambition, who produced the first shot on target, albeit a less than menacing effort by midfielder Kevin McDonald which was comfortably saved by Alexander.
Nonetheless, the scrappy nature of Rangers’ play was a source of concern for McCoist. He applied a tactical change midway through the first half, switching Little to a wide right position and shuffling youngster Barrie McKay into a more central role in attack alongside Francisco Sandaza.
Lee McCulloch saw a stinging long-range shot deflected wide as Rangers gradually began to force themselves onto the front foot, but Berwick continued to carry a threat on the counter attack. Currie beat the offside trap with a smart pass to Lavery in the 35th minute, but the front man miscued his shot.
As Rangers finally found some penetration in the home penalty area, it took a perfectly judged challenge from giant central defender Dougie Brydon to deny Sandaza what would have been a simple scoring chance.
When the breakthrough came, in the closing seconds of two additional minutes at the end of the first half, Berwick were guilty of allowing their previously impressive defensive standard to drop. Neil Janczyk, the former Hearts midfielder, conceded a free-kick and earned a booking in the process with a late challenge on Black. The set piece was swung in from the right by Black, finding McCulloch unmarked at the far post. The midfielder nodded the ball back across the six yard box where Little smashed it high into the net.
The opening goal might have been expected to be the cue for Rangers to take firm command of the match but, just as when they went in front at Peterhead, they encountered opponents unwilling to bow to the seemingly inevitable.
Berwick began the second half with renewed purpose and the industrious Phil Addison was unlucky to see his low, right-foot drive slide narrowly wide of Alexander’s right-hand post. Rangers were simply unable to build on their advantage and there could be little dispute that Berwick deserved their 62nd minute leveller. It was a well-constructed and finished goal, although one Rangers would have expected to defend far more robustly.
Currie’s through ball down the left caught Brazilian defender Emilson flat-footed and McLaren, who had only entered proceedings three minutes earlier as a replacement for Lavery, burst into the penalty area and drove a fine left-foot shot low across Alexander into the far corner of the net.
Stung into a response, Rangers should have restored their lead immediately, but the lacklustre Sandaza’s shot was smartly saved by Berwick goalkeeper Youssef Bejaoui. McCoist introduced Kevin Kyle and Robbie Crawford in a bid to revitalise his attack and another good opportunity was scorned when McCulloch blazed a shot wide from ten yards.
But it was Berwick who appeared most likely to snatch a winner in a closing quarter of an hour which must have been excruciatingly uncomfortable for McCoist. The impressive McLaren flashed a shot wide and in the 90th minute saw a searing 25-yard shot kept out by a magnificent one-handed save by Alexander. Berwick did have the ball in the net in stoppage time, Townsley heading in a Currie corner, but it was chalked off for what referee Mike Tumilty judged to be a foul on Alexander by McLaren.
Berwick Rangers: Bejaoui, Droudge, Townsley, Brydon, Hoskins, Notman, Janczyk (McLaren 58), Currie, McDonald, Lavery (Gielty 58), Addison. Subs Not Used: McCaldon, Lancaster, Ferguson.
Booked: Currie, Janczyk.
Goals: McLaren 62.
Rangers: Alexander, Perry, Emilson Cribari, Bocanegra, Argyriou, Little, McCulloch, Macleod (Naismith 77), Black, McKay (Crawford 64), Sandaza (Kyle 64). Subs Not Used: Gallacher, Faure.
Goals: Little 45.
Referee: Mike Tumilty