Hat-trick hero hopes to fire play-off push

Berwick Rangers4

Gray 24,34, 76; Gribben 32

Elgin City0

by Keith Hamblin

at Shielfield Park

A RESURGENT Berwick, inspired by a hat-trick from striker Damon Gray, made it five games unbeaten when they dumped Elgin 4-0 at a sunny Shielfield on Saturday.

Gray netted his first-ever competitive treble, and as he left the stadium with the ball tucked under his arm he said he would be presenting it to his father.

“I’ll probably find it in about ten years time tucked away in the attic,” he joked.

Gray, and manager Jimmy Crease, both thought he formed a useful link-up with G-Force strike partner Darren Gribben - who himself was on target for the second successive game - and both said they hoped they could now fire Rangers to bigger and better things in the months ahead.

“I think that’s only the first or second time we have played together from the start,” said Gray, “but we seemed to gel.

“I haven’t been a regular in the side since I came back from Sweden, perhaps the manager didn’t think my fitness levels were up to it, but after a performance like that I would like to think it would be difficult for him to leave me out from now on, because like any player I don’t like sitting on the bench.

“As a team we seem to have picked up a bit over the past few weeks and hopefully if Darren and I can continue to score goals like we did today there is no reason why we shouldn’t be able to force our way back into the play-off picture.”

With three of their regular midfield (Paul Currie, David Greenhill and John Grant) all suspended, and with Fraser McLaren out through injury, Rangers were forced to make major changes to their side, with Jamie Ewart partnering Chris McLeod in central defence and Andy McLean switching to right back.

Stevie Notman was advanced into a right-sided midfield role, but he was forced to leave the field early in the second half after being diagnosed with low blood pressure, and Alan Brazil was pulled back into a left-sided midfield slot, with Hibs trialist Lee Currie making his home debut in the middle.

Currie went on to put in a fine performance, for which he was rewarded with a full contract until the end of the season, which he signed immediately after the match.

With all the changes it was perhaps understandable that it took Rangers some time to settle and it would be fair to say that for the first 20 minutes Elgin, with Craig Frizzell threatening down the left, and Brian Cameron looking dangerous with a couple of early chances, were the better side.

But Gray, who had been denied a potential third minute opener when goalkeeper Peter Donnelly blocked with his legs from close range, shot Berwick into the lead after 24 minutes.

He prodded home at the second attempt after his initial effort had been blocked by Donnelly on the line, Gribben and Currie being involved in the build-up before Brazil headed back across the face of the goal.

David Gormley threatened at the other end with two shots which drifted wide, and a hookied shot which came off the top of Mark Peat;s crossbar, whilst Ross O’Donoghue also shot wide.

But in 32 minutes Gribben produced a piece of magic which literally had some of the home fans drooling.

A long through ball from the right dropped over his shoulder in a central position. He was closely marked, but his first touch was sublime, taking the defender out of the equation, and he coolly slotted the ball past Donnelly from the edge of the box for a goal fit to win any match.

And two minutes later it was 3-0 when Gribben this time turned provider, his superb long through ball from inside his own half finding Gray on the run. Like his strike partner, Gray controlled it expertly, sidestepped the advancing keeper and rolled it into the empty net.

Rangers were on a roll at this stage, and Elgin, who started the game with seven first team regulars missing, were simply shell-shocked. Ian Little might have made it four before half-time but his effort was well saved by Donnelly and both Notman and Brazil shot wide.

Gribben and Gray also had further chances at the start of the second half but again Donnelly came to Elgin’s rescue.

Substitute Kevin Gordon had a shot blocked on the line by an outstretched Steven Edwards and Donnelly made another good save from Gray after he played a neat one-two with Brazil.

It seemed only a matter of time before the fourth goal came, and it was provided courtesy of an outstretched leg from Gray who completed his hat-trick by sliding the ball home in 76 minutes after a good advancing run by McLean down the right who fed the ball into his path.

Elgin, who have never won at Shielfield now in ten visits, left ruing their early missed chances, but for Berwick this was another welcome three points.

Berwick - Peat 8, Mclean 7, Callaghan 7, Ewart 7, Mcleod 7, L Currie (8), Brazil 6 (Ponton 76), Notman 6 (Gordon 55), Gray 8, Gribben 8, Little 6 (O’Reilly 80).

Elgin Donnelly, Dempsie, Edwards, Frizzell (Gunn 55), Duff, Crooks (Jack 81), Inglis, O’Donnaghue, Gormley (Millar 67), Nicolson, Cameron.

Referee: John McKendrick

Crowd: 305