McLeod 8, Gribben 39, Gray 77
Murphy 4, Agnew 45 (pen), 90
by Keith Hamblin
at Shielfield Park
BERWICK’S end of season play-off hopes suffered a setback at Shielfield on Tuesday when they were held to a 3-3 draw by Stranraer.
Rangers knew that a win would lift them above their rivals, and with the teams due to meet at Stair Park again on Saturday, they would have had the psychological advantage.
But they were denied by a last- minute goal from man of the match Scott Agnew, which means Jimmy Crease’s men still trail the West Coast side by three points.
This was a game which was great for the neutral, with plenty of goals, and just as much controversy.
Stranraer assistant Stevie Aitken was sent to the stand just before half-time after he had earlier been warned for his conduct on the touch-line.
There were two penalty decisions which probably turned the game and afterwards Crease fumed at the handling of the match by whistler Craig Charleston.
He described it as ‘‘ludicrous’’ and being ‘‘beyond a joke’’.
Rangers fell behind to the opening goal from Paul Murphy after only four minutes when the striker side-footed the ball into the net after being set up by Armand One and Craig Malcolm, who cut open the home defence with a flowing move.
Within four minutes, however, Berwick were level, Chris McLeod heading in off the underside of the bar from a Stuart Callaghan corner.
A minute later Steven Notman blasted wide after a good build-up down the left, but the home side found themselves 2-1 in front when Darren Gribben struck a fantastic free kick from 20 yards out which gave goalkeeper Ryan Marshall no chance after 39 minutes.
The award of the kick was perhaps fortunate for a defender had no chance of avoiding a well struck shot from close range, but there was no denying the quality of the finish.
It looked like Rangers were going to go in 2-1 up at the break, but less than a minute before half-time Mr Charleston pointed to the spot after he adjudged that defender Jamie Ewart had handled a shot from Agnew in the box after he beat three Berwick players across the face of the area.
Agnew rammed home the penalty to make it 2-2 and suddenly it was game on again.
In the second half there were chances at both ends with David Greenhill and Notman for Berwick and Malcolm for Stranraer all going close.
Berwick also had a strong claim for a penalty turned aside, and another Gribben free kick brought out a good save from Marshall.
Rangers re-took the lead at 3-2 when substitute Damon Gray, who had lost his starting place to Alan Brazil, slammed into the net when the ball rebounded to him 10 yards out after a shot from a Callaghan corner was headed off the line.
At the other end One headed over in a crowded goalmouth from a corner and as the clock started to tick down it looked as if the Borderers were going to hang on for a deserved victory.
But Agnew still had a starring role to play and he produced a tremendous equaliser in the very last minute of normal time when he swivelled just outside the box and sent a low shot past a helpless Ian McCaldon.
It was a cruel blow and one which Crease later admitted left him feeling ‘‘frustrated’’.
“We go to Stranraer for the return on Saturday and there will now be some pressure on us to get the win,” he said.
“But I have seen nothing from Stranraer tonight to suggest that we can’t go over there and get the result we need.
“Before these games I said we needed four points to keep the momentum going. It’s a must win game for us at Stranraer now, but there is no reason why we cannot pull it off.”
Berwick - McCaldon 7, Notman 7, Callaghan 7, McLean 6, Ewart 6, McLeod 6, Greenhill 7, L Currie 7, Gribben 7, Brazil 6 (Gray 65), Grant 6.
Stranraer - Marshall, G Gallagher, Kurakins, Kennedy (Moore 77), D Gallagher, Agnew, One, Mitchell (McColm 84), Malcolm, Murphy, Noble.
Referee - Craig Charleston
Crowd - 297