Stenhousemuir 1, Berwick Rangers 1
Berwick Rangers left Ochilview on Saturday pondering on the nature of justice, after they played their Second Division hosts off the park in a one-sided draw.
Make no mistake, the result was an absolute travesty. Ian Little’s men produced their best display of the season to outplay a sluggish, niggly Warriors outfit who, when they look in the mirror, will know that they hoovered up a season’s worth of luck to scrape a replay at Shielfield on November 13.
Football statistics normally come with a hefty pinch of salt, but the crime count from Saturday’s encounter tells some hard truths about the Warrior’s gameplan.
They racked up seven bookings and a red card, and conceded 23 fouls to Rangers’ eight. There was only one team out there playing football and wasn’t the one wearing maroon.
Once Rangers put the disappointment of not winning the match behind them, they will know that they’re a superior footballing unit to the Warriors, who worked hard to cement suspicions that the quality gap between second and third divisions is more imagined than real.
On a glorious autumn afternoon with the Ochil hills glowing in the late afternoon sunshine, Little rang a couple of crucial changes. Skipper Chris Townsley returned in place of the eternally unlucky Andy McLean, while Ross Gray was given a start on the right of midfield. The diminutive winger went on to have his best game in a black and gold shirt.
Although Stenhousemuir are sitting comfortably in mid-table a league above Berwick, they came off second best in a 7-2 hammering at Brechin the previous week, and their lack of confidence was evident in a nervy start to the match by the home side.
With eight minutes on the clock, Lee Currie, who narrowly missed out to Gray in the man of the match stakes, curled in peach of a free kick which eluded Hoskins by inches at the back post. Yossi Bejaoui made a sharp save from Kean’s close range flick in the 15th minute, but the one-way traffic resumed in the 19th minute when Stevie Notman, in excellent form once again, shot straight at Thomson.
The home goal had a lucky escape in the 26th minute, McKinlay slicing a clearance from a McDonald corner inches wide of the junction of post and bar. Fraser McLaren, put through by Currie on the half hour mark, lobbed wide from an angle before Currie gave the Gers the lead two minutes later.
Ross Gray was brought down by Dickson outside the box, but the challenging angle proved no obstacle to Currie who cracked a beauty past Thomson and into the roof of the net.
That’s Rangers’ fourth goal from free-kicks outside the box this season, and they’re really proving to pack a punch from set pieces. Not since the days of the legendary Jimmy Morton have they carried such a threat.
Kean volleyed wide six minutes from the break but the game shifted even more in Rangers’ favour in the 44th minute when McLaren was brutally felled by O’Grady and limped off to be replaced by Stuart Noble. Rangers reverted to a more orthodox 4-4-2 formation and they looked more mobile and a lot more threatening for it.
The otherwise excellent Darren Lavery should have increased Rangers’ lead a minute after the restart, latching on to a poor clearance from Ross before outstripping the home defence only to shoot too close to Thomson. Five minutes later, with the Warriors on the rack, Hodge cleared Brydon’s header out from underneath the bar and Lavery volleyed the clearance over the top.
Thomson produced the save of the match in the 55th minute, finger-tipping another textbook Currie free kick over his bar.
In between making provocative gestures at the away support, John Gemmell clattered a 62nd minute free kick off Rangers’ defensive wall. He really does need to grow up, because he’s a decent footballer when he’s not being a brat, which he proved in the 68th minute when his snapshot forced Yossi into his second meaningful save of the afternoon.
Ross Gray then fired in a low shot which Thomson dived to divert for a 72nd minute corner as Rangers pumped up the pressure. Seven minutes later, Stenhousemuir grabbed an undeserved lifeline. Under pressure for the first time in the match, Rangers failed to clear the ball and Kean shot low through a ruck of players and in off the post.
Eight minutes from the end, McKinlay was red carded for another clumsy foul, By this stage,it felt like the only people connected with Stenhousemuir who had’nt been booked were the tea lady and a bloke from the St. John’s Ambulance. Stevie Notman had two opportunities to win the tie in the closing five minutes. A brilliant Jacobs-Gray-Noble flowing move set him free eight yards out, but with the goal at his mercy he shot over when it looked easier to score. Two minutes from time he broke in from the right and slid a low shot inches wide with Thomson beaten all ends up.
The replay gives Rangers another chance to put the tie to bed and make it through to the fourth round of the Scottish Cup. If they can repeat this form, they should do it with both ease and style. The big worry is that Rangers might not be this good next time round and that the Warriors cannot possibly be as bad.
Man of the match: Ross Gray, who terrorised Stenhousmuir’s left flank, struck up an excellent understanding with former Livi club-mate Devon Jacobs, and worked hard defensively to boot.
Stenhousemuir: Thomson, Ross, Dickson (Rodgers 58), McKinlay, O’Grady, Hodge, Ferguson, Paton (Smith 45), Anderson (Thomson 53), Gemmell, Kean.
Berwick: Bejaoui 7, Jacobs 8, Brydon 8, Townsley 7, Hoskins 7, Gray 9, Currie 8, Notman 8, McDonald 7, Lavery 8 (Ferguson 6), McLaren 6 (Noble 8).
Referee: Paul Robertson