by David Cook
Berwick Rangers salvaged a point with a late rally at Galabank on Tuesday night, extending their unbeaten run to four games. It took the belated introduction of Damon Gray and Darren Gribben, surprisingly confined to bench duty once more, to give Rangers a cutting edge, and it left the travelling support wondering what might have been after the G-force put the fear of God into a hitherto untroubled home defence.
Annan, meanwhile, should give serious thought to a name change along the lines of “Annan Aerial Assault,” or simply “Wimbledon FC 1981,” after subjecting Rangers to an endless barrage of long balls which panicked the flocks of geese flying overhead.
The beautiful game this was not, though it was undeniably effective during the middle hour of the game when the home side had Rangers under the cosh. Only two remarkable saves from Mark Peat, the intervention of the woodwork, and more defensive heroics from Jamie Ewart and Andy McLean kept the score down.
Nonetheless, this was a good result for Rangers who were missing four first team regulars in the suspended Paul Currie and David Greenhill, and the still-injured Smith and McLaren.
Jimmy Crease wasn’t so much forced to juggle his resources as get eleven fit men on the park, which meant a rare start for Kevin Gordon on the left of midfield and trialist Lee Currie in the centre.
It was Gordon who registered the first effort on target, his fourth minute snapshot from Ian Little’s lay-off forcing Summersgill into an early save. Ten minutes later, David Cox executed a brilliant turn and shot which flashed inches past Peat’s post. The same player missed a sitter in the 21st minute, somehow missing his kick after Sean O’Connor had squared the ball to him bang in front of goal.
Rangers revived themselves and in the 25th minute John Grant powered his header off the outside of Summersgill’s post from Callaghan’s cross when it looked easier to score, but the Gers started to wane under the aerial bombardment and Peat was forced to make a wonder save ten minutes from the break, somehow deflecting O’Connor’s header over the bar from point blank range.
Neilson got a free header from the resultant corner to give his side the lead. With Rangers reeling, Annan left back Aitken broke forward to clatter a 40 yard shot off Peat’s bar minutes before the break, and boy, did Rangers need the sanctuary of the dressing rooms.
With Craig O’Reilly having one of his ‘away with the fairies’ outings, Ian Little was left to plough a lone furrow up front, and though he worked himself into the ground, intermittent service from the disappointing Alan Brazil and Gordon meant that a Rangers goal looked a distant prospect.
Although Currie lobbed a half chance wide from Summersgill’s poor clearance in the 47th minute, Peat saved Rangers again in the 54th minute, touching O’Connor’s powerful header on to the bar before Ewart belted the ball clear.
Oddly, that incident seemed to signal a turning of the tide. John Grant’s sterling performance in Rangers’ struggling midfield began to reap rewards, and Little’s subtle 66th minute lay-off was sent narrowly wide by Gordon.
The cavalry arrived in the shape of Gray and Gribben, whose direct running into the channels panicked the home defence. A minute after Little rifled a shot inches wide, Gray broke in from the left before cutting the ball back for Gribben to shoot home a 74th minute equaliser.
Rangers were finally on the front foot, and though Gribben collected his customary lunatic booking, he looked to have created a last minute winner for the Gers, outpacing Neilson and Watson only to have his shot blocked.
The rebound fell to Currie whose thunderous shot was deflected into the grateful arms of Summersgill. It wouldn’t necessarily have been a deserved win, but Rangers have been short of luck in recent months and are due a break.
An outbreak of surprise results in recent weeks has confirmed the Third Division as the most exciting and competitive league in Scotland, which means that Rangers’ recent upturn in form has given them a scent of a play-off berth once more.
Although that objective has been dealt a cruel blow by the plague of suspensions which has deprived Rangers of their midfield engine room, there is a renewed belief amongst Jimmy Crease’s team that they can rekindle some genuine interest in the season. This result will have reinforced that belief, and wins in the forthcoming home games against Elgin and East Stirling will give the Black and Gold some serious momentum.
Annan - Summersgill, Gilfillan, Aitken, MacBeth, Neilson, Jardine, Watson, MacFarlane, Sloan, Cox, O’Connor.
Berwick - Peat 7, Notman 6, Ewart 8, McLean 8, Callaghan 5, Brazil 4, Grant 7, Little 8, L Currie 5, Gordon 6, O’Reilly 5.
Crowd - 309
Referee - John Beaton.