Boyle 9, Lunan 49, Cameron 85
Berwick Rangers 5
Gribben 20, 25, Noble 60, 78, R Gray 90
by David Cook
at Links Park
Berwick’s remarkable renaissance under Ian Little continued on its merry way with a spectacular victory against a resurgent Montrose side at a windblown Links Park on Saturday, a deserved win hauling the rookie manager’s side into the play off places for the first time this season.
Little and his sidekick Craig Valentine have wrought a remarkable transformation at Shielfield, and, to misquote Nirvana, it smells like team spirit. No-one doubted the quality in Rangers’ squad this season, but under Jimmy Crease’s tutelage that quality appeared fitfully and rarely to consistent effect. All that has changed since ‘Yano’ took over, most notably in the revitalised Darren Gribben and Stuart Noble who are starting to look like the most destructive attacking partnership in the Third Division, with impressive support from an intelligently-juggled squad built around a spine of Jamie Barclay, Steven Notman, Lee Currie, Kevin McDonald and Rangers’ very own budget Ballotelli, Gribben himself.
In some ways this was Rangers’ most challenging fixture in recent weeks, the Gable Endies having put together an impressive run of form under Ray Farningham, including an unlucky cup replay defeat to Ayr on the preceding Tuesday night.
Despite that, Rangers have a remarkable league record at Links Park in recent years, not having tasted defeat there since 1993, but a capricious wind howling down the pitch added the X-factor to an unpredictable contest, made dodgier from a Rangers perspective by the absence of any back up centre halves in the absence of the in-form Chris Townsley and Chris McLeod. Steven Thompson returned from suspension to do the honours alongside Andy McLean.
With the wind at their backs, Rangers started brightly enough, McDonald and Michael Deland getting shots in on Andrews’ goal in the opening five minutes, which meant that Boyle’s ninth minute header from Johnston’s cross to open the scoring came as something of a surprise.
Rangers found themselves briefly on the back foot but rallied strongly and equalised in the 20th minute, Gribben slotting neatly home from 15 yards after Noble had set him free in the box.
The goal sparked Gibben into frenzied action and after shooting wide in the 22nd minute, he headed the Gers into a 25th minute lead from McDonald’s excellent cross.
Montrose responded with efforts from Masson and Campbell before the half hour mark, but McDonald should have extended Rangers’ lead in the 33rd minute instead of shooting wastefully over.
Rangers made it to the break without alarm but any thoughts of an easy ride in the second 45 were shot down in flames when Paul Lunan headed home Boyle’s cross in the 49th minute to restore parity and spark fears that Rangers enforced break following their humiliating cup exit to Deveronvale might interrupt the momentum of the post-Crease era.
With Lee calmly managing the midfield and Ross Gray providing a constant threat down the right, Rangers rode the brief storm and restored their lead on the hour, Noble taking full advantage of hesitancy in the home defence to ram his shot past Andrews from ten yards.
Montrose rallied and forced a string of corners but Winter was unable to capitalise on the glut of set pieces forced by his teammates, a failure nearly punished by Gribben’s 75th minute effort which forced Andrews into a smart near-post save.
Noble continued his personal renaissance in the 78th minute by extending Rangers’ lead with another neat finish after Crighton and McNalley failed to deal with another potent Rangers’attack.
With the points apparently in the bag, Darren Lavery was introduced in place of the hard-grafting Notman, but Montrose had different ideas and fired up the contest once more with Dougie Cameron’s 85th minute shot beyond Barclay to set up the proverbial grandstand finish.
Thankfully for those of a black and gold persuasion, Ross Gray killed the contest off with a deserved goal in the final minute to help his side go nap and nail the three points to hoist Rangers into fourth place in the league.
Since Ian Little took over, Rangers have negotiated a tricky run of fixtures to take 10 points from 12. In a results-based business, ‘Yano’ is building an irresistible case to be given the manager’s job on a permanent basis.
Football being what it is, it’s highly unlikely that Rangers will win every game they play between now and Christmas, but what Little has done is to instill confidence in a talented but previously disinterested bunch of players and build renewed belief amongst a support that was losing faith in the likelihood of their team making it to the holy grail of the play-off zone.
That is a very impressive body of work in such a short period of time and one has the sense that this could be the start of something worth watching.
Montroses: Andrews, McNalley, Campbell, Crighton (Crawford 53), Cameron, Lunan, Winter, Masson, Boyle, Johnston, (Dimilta 78), Pierce (McPhee 68).
Berwick: Barclay 7, Smith 7, McLean 7, Thompson 7, Deland 7, R Gray 7, Currie 8, McDonald 8, Notman 7, Gribben 8, Noble 8.
Referee: Kevin Clancy.