Queens Park 2, Berwick Rangers 1
THOUGH Valentine’s Day preceded Rangers’ visit to Hampden on Saturday by 48 hours, there wasn’t much love shared around in a mediocre contest disfigured by three second half dismisssals.
Worryingly for black & gold fans, the defeat leaves Rangers marooned in seventh place with the gap between them and a respectable position in the top 4 growing instead of narrowing. Ian Little’s team might be winning plaudits for the quality of their football, but they’re not winning many matches, and that is the acid test of a good side.
In truth, there wasn’t much between the teams on Saturday. Second placed Queens just about deserved their victory over a disappointing Rangers side who gave only fleeting hints of the accomplished performance that somehow failed to dispose of Clyde a weak earlier, and too many players looked like they had their minds on next Saturday’s glamour encounter with another team called Rangers.
Although Darren Lavery continued his extraordinary scoring sequence with a well-taken opener, he was starved of opportunities for the remainder of the game, while Lee Currie and an off colour Neil Janczyk sat way too deep to cause the Spiders many problems.
Rangers’ own box of tricks, the mercurial Dylan Easton, occasionally sparked into threatening life, but his involvement was too peripheral to make a real difference.
The only Rangers players to come out of the game with better than modest ratings were keeper Marc McCallum, who was confident and secure, the hard-grafting Lavery, and the consistently tidy Damien Gielty.
Interestingly, Rangers featured one change from the previous week, Stevie Notman coming in for Devon Jacobs at right back. Notman’s dynamism and good footballing sense has been missed in recent weeks, and Rangers are going to have to get used to his absence once again after he got caught up in the bout of red card carnage.
Factor Kevin McDonald’s dismissal into the mix and the manager is not going to be blessed with selectorial riches when it comes to choosing his starting eleven against the boys in blue next week.
Despite a four-goal humbling at Ibrox in their previous match, Queens started brightly against a lethargic-looking Rangers and Anderson caused an early scare with a second minute shot that drifted too close to McCallum’s goal for comfort. With Spider’s full backs Little and Brough bombing forward in support of their wide midfielders at every opportunity, Rangers found it difficult to break out from their own half, but they finally did it with devastating effect in the eighth minute.
Kevin McDonald’s neat pass just inside the Spiders’ half put Lavery through on goal and though Parry blocked his initial effort, Rangers in-form No.9 calmly slotted the rebound into the corner.
McDonald was inches away from latching on to Currie’s lofted pass in the 18th minute, before Spiders’ marksman Jamie Longworth levelled with a close range volley at the back post from Burn’s deep cross.
Easton thumped a 37th minute shot narrowly over the angle and came close to giving Rangers the lead two minutes from the break, but Shankland cleared his shot from Dougie Brydon’s header off the line.
The home side started the second period as they had the first, and only a desperate flick by Gielty denied Blair Spittal after a lightning Queens break from another poor Rangers corner kick.
The challenge facing Rangers got a lot tougher in the 54th minute when Kevin McDonald was shown a straight red for a late tackle from behind on Spittal after Janczyk had given the ball away in midfield. Despite the protests, it looked the right decision by ref Walsh. For a while, the incident seemed to fire up Rangers and they were unlucky not to regain the lead when Currie and McLaren had goalbound efforts hacked clear in the space of 60 seconds just before the hour mark.
They succumed to a classic sucker punch a minute later. Rangers defended a Spiders’ attack untidily, and when the ball fell to the unmarked McParland 23 yards out, he unleashed a screamer which seared past McCallum and into the top corner.
Scott Dalziel’s introduction gave Rangers a target up front, and the big man won an encouraging number of headers and provided an attacking dimension that Rangers should be deploying more often as they seek to climb back up the league.
Michael Keenan’s 72nd minute dismissal for two bookings restored parity of numbers, but a second booking and subsequent dismissal for Notman eight minutes from time put the kybosh on any realistic hopes Rangers had of hauling a point out of the fire. With the match getting fiestier by the minute as tempers frayed, Easton clipped the outside of Parry’s post but the ball was humped clear before anyone could bury the rebound, and that pretty much was that.
Rangers face a daunting run of games over the next few weeks as they play catch-up with the series of postponements from a few weeks back. That programme will make or break what remains of the season. There’s no doubting Rangers have the ability. The unanswered question is whether they have the will
Queens Park: Parry, Spittal, Little, Brough, Robertson, McParland, Longworth, Anderson, Shankland, Keenan, Burns (Connolly 74).
Berwick: McCallum 7, Notman 6, Brydon 6, Townsley 6, Gielty 7, McLaren 5 (Carse 6), Currie 6, Janczyk 4 (Jacobs 6), McDonald 4, Lavery 7 (Dalziel 6), Easton 6.
Referee: Nick Walsh.