Berwick Rangers 5, Alloa Athletic 0: Hibs youngster Danny Handling grabbed another double as Berwick produced their best performance of the season to hammer new Third Division champions Alloa Athletic. Lee Currie and Stuart Noble were also on target and an own goal completed the rout.
On a day when the top four all lost, Berwick produced the biggest coupon buster with a stunning display. Ian Little’s men are now six points off the final play-off spot.
The Rangers manager said: “That was the best performance I have seen in my time as manager. Our forwards were impressive but overall it was a real team effort.”
Alloa had clinched the title in swashbuckling style the previous weekend with an 8-1 success over Elgin City, however they were brought back down to earth with a bump at Shielfield.
Handling opened the scoring in 13 minutes, firing into the bottom right-hand corner of the net from the edge of the box. Just 60 seconds later Lee Currie got on the end of Handling’s flick to fire in the second from six yards.
An own goal from Ryan Harding made it three before half-time, with on-loan striker Handling completing his double early in the second half from close range. Stuart Noble completed the scoring in the 58th minute as he found the top corner of the net from 12 yards out.
Alloa manager Paul Hartley said: “I told the guys that we were not going to Berwick for a jolly. We were going to win the game but we just didn’t perform.”
Alloa arrived on Tweedside having comprehensively secured the title with an 8-1 thrashing of Elgin the previous weekend and after winning their last seven matches in a row there would have been many in the crowd who thought the champions might once again turn on the style to finally achieve a victory over Rangers.
But whether they were suffering from a celebration hangover after quaffing all the champagne they thoroughly deserved after their title success, or whether Rangers were really up for the fight, wanting to maintain their unbeaten record this season against Paul Hartley’s side, one will never know.
Perhaps it was a combination of both.
First of all Hartley made a number of changes to his side, something which he admitted later, in hindsight, was the wrong thing to do. But then there was the manner in which Berwick went about their business. They had a confidence and a swagger about them which has been missing for all too long.
For spells they again reverted to their short passing game which brought them so much success earlier in the campaign, and it has to be said,it worked.
Alloa simply looked as if they were going through the motions. They didn’t have an answer for the attacking flair of the likes of Ross Gray, Kevin McDonald, Stuart Noble and teenager Danny Handling, who bagged another brace to make it an amazing six from only four starts following his loan move from Hibs.
On a day when all the players deserved credt for their performances, it might be unfair to single out some for special mention, but they, along with central defender Jordon Forster, were all outstanding, whilst by Hartley’s own admission, his squad ‘hardly deserved pass marks.’
Berwick had lined the tunnel and applauded Alloa onto the pitch to honour their championship victory, but that was where the niceties ended.
With Chris Townsley starting a two match suspension Forster fitted straight back in at the back, but it was his partner, Andy McLean, who made the first telling contribution of the afternoon when he made a good blocking tackle in the box.
Handling, who had netted two doubles in his first three games, opened the scoring after 13 minutes when he picked his spot in the bottom corner and rifled home after a telling break and cross down the right by Noble.
And just a minute later it was 2-0 when Currie shot home through a crowded goalmouth after McDonald laid the ball off to him following a cross to the back post.
It might have been three less than 60 seconds later when Handling twisted and turned on the edge of the box, keeper Craig McDowell bundling his shot away for a corner.
Handling also scuffed a kick when the ball fell to him in the box, and as Rangers threatened to run riot it was only a a header from Steven May at the other end, which ended on the roof of the net, which offered the Alloa defence some respite.
With Gray a constant threat down the left and Noble posing all sorts of problems down the middle and right, it was all the visitors could do to hang on.
Forster saw a header from a free kick saved by McDowall at full stretch, but then on 34 minutes the third goal finally came when a Gray cross from the left almost found Noble, but defender Ryan Hardling stuck out a foot and turned the ball into his own net.
As half-time approached Handling blasted over from 20 yards, and Michael Doyle, who had a torrid time trying to contain Gray, was substituted.
This was a sign that Alloa were struggling and when Handling bagged his second and Berwick’s fourth after 51 minutes, turning the ball in from close range following a cross by McDonald, fans began to dream of the biggest win of the season.
That was confirned just seven minutes later when Noble capped a fine performance with a well taken fifth, slamming the ball into the roof of the net with a first time left foot shot, McDonald again the provider.
Such was Berwick’s dominance that Alloa had to wait until the 75th minute before registering their first real shot at goal, Steven Masterton blasting well over the top from 25 yards out.
Rangers then even afforded themselves the luxury of giving young Ben Miller from the U19s a run-out as a replacement for David Greenhill.
Overall this was a welcome and unexpected performance, and in some respects showed just what Berwick are capable of when they play with confidence.
Berwick Rangers: Bejaoui, Notman, McLean (Walker 75), Forster, McGlinchey, McDonald, Greenhill (McLaren 61), Currie, Ross Gray, Noble (Miller 61), Handling. Subs Not Used: Barclay, Ferguson. Booked: McLean, Forster.
Goals: Handling 13, Currie 14, Harding 34 og, Handling 51, Noble 58.
Alloa Athletic: McDowall, McCullagh, Harding, Michael Doyle (Gordon 38), McKinnon, Ryan McCord, Masterton, Docherty, Ross McCord (Wright 54), May, Campbell (Cawley 54). Subs Not Used: Bain, Philp.
Referee: Euan Anderson. Attendance: 486