Berwick Rangers 1
Elgin City 1
by Keith Hamblin
at Shielfield Park
IAN Little’s three-match tenure in charge of the team whilst the managerial situation is ongoing started with a 1-1 draw at home against Elgin on Saturday.
Rangers may have rode their luck at times, particularly for a period during the second half when they were forced to defend resolutely, but they came through to take a point, strengthening Little’s claims for the job on a permanent basis.
There can be no denying that the club has been in a state of turmoil over the past fortnight following the 4-0 Scottish Cup defeat at Deveronvale, and the fans’ backlash which prompted Jimmy Crease’s resignation.
Little has been quick to play down all the controversy, as he has been anxious to galvanise the players around him and Saturday’s performance and result will have gone part way to starting the healing process.
Elgin arrived at Shielfield fourth in the table - three places and five points above Rangers.
Some fans might have been expecting another capitulation, but credit must go to Little and former favourite Craig Valentine, whom he called upon to help him out in his preparation for the match.
For Berwick stuck to their task, even though their probable game plan went out the window as early as the 13th minute when David Greenhill was sent off, shown a straight red card by referee Stephen Finnie for what he indicated was stamping or following through with his studs on a tackle on Stuart Leslie in the centre circle.
Down to ten men with 77 minutes still to play, taking anything from the match was going to be a big ask. The original 4-3-3 starting line-up reverted to 4-4-1 with Darren Gribben forced into the lone striker role.
Craig Gunn shot Elgin into the lead after 33 minutes and it looked as if the writing might be on the wall, but the wayward Gribben salvaged a point with the very last kick of the first half.
Both sides had chances to win it in the second half, but a combination of poor finishing and good defending kept the scoreline down and both sides had to settle for the draw.
There was nothing between the sides in the early stages, although Gribben showed that he could be a handful. In the fifth minute he was put through on goal but couldn’t get his shot away, and just a few minutes later his chip into the box caused all sorts of problems for the visiting defence before they finally managed to clear.
Greenhill’s sending off may have seemed harsh - a yellow card might have been more appropriate - but it put Rangers on the back foot and Elgin naturally tried to take advantage.
First of all Jason Crooks saw a looping header beat Jamie Barclay, only to land on the roof of the net.
The stalemate was broken after 33 minutes when Mark Nicholson made a good run down the left. His cross wasn’t dealt with properly by the Berwick defence, and when Elliott Smith failed to clear properly, Gunn, at his second attempt, swivelled and shot home from an angle on the right.
Crooks then pulled a shot wide, and as Rangers weathered the storm Barclay had to go full stretch to deny Gunn a second with a save from his shot on the edge of the box after being set up by a cross from Brian Cameron.
It looked as if Rangers were going to go in at the break 0-1 down, but Gribben changed the context of Little’s half-time talk when he popped up to slot home a neat equaliser with the very last kick of the first 45.
A ball through the middle saw the striker run through and finish confidently with a shot low into the keeper’s left hand corner.
With loan signing Ross Gray starting to have more of an influence on the game, Rangers made a bright start to the second half and rangers had a claim for a penalty turned aside when Kevin McDonald’s cross appeared as if it might have been handled in the box.
Rangers were then forced to get men behind the ball as Elgin pressed forward.
Leslie had a header cleared off the line by Chris Townsley with Barclay beaten, and then Daniel Moore had a good effort from distance drift narrowly wide.
The diminutive Gray offered Rangers some respite when he linked up well with Gribben on the right, but his shot from an angle in the box was well saved by Zander Clark who stood up well and turned it around for a corner.
Barclay had to make another good save from Gunn as Elgin tried to turn the screw, before Nicholson turned up a glorious chance, heading over from just a couple of yards out with the goal gaping.
Moore crossed but Gunn just failed to make contact and it was at this stage Little decided to make tactical changes with the boss - who surprised some with his own inclusion in the starting line-up - being replaced by Michael Deland, whilst Andy McLean, who some thought perhaps unlucky not to start, came on for Gray.
Not long afterwards Gribben was presented with a glorious opportunity to win the match and steal all three points. Barclay took a long freekick from the back, and Gribben managed to beat the offside trap, finding himself clean through in a similar position to that at the end of the first half.
However, on this occasion he chose to try and lift the ball over the keeper, but it drifted over the top of the goal as well and the chance was lost.
Lee Currie was forced into another goalline clearance as Elgin again pushed forward but Berwick finished the stronger and substitute Darren Lavery, on for Gribben, almost stole the show with what would have been a stunning goal.
He showed very clever footwwork on the edge of the box as he beat at least three defenders but unfortunately he pulled his shot wide.
McDonald then blasted wide in the very last minute after a back-post header from a Currie free kick.
Overall a pleasing and welcome point for Rangers, especially after playing for so long with only ten men.
It will certainly give Little something to build on in his remaining two games in charge.
Berwick Rangers: Barclay 7, Notman 6, Smith 6, Townsley 7, McLeod 7, Currie 7, Gray 7 (McLean 68), McDonald 6, Gribben 6 (Lavery 79), Greenhill 3, Little 6 (Deland 63).
Elgin City: Clark, O’Donoghue, McPhee, Kaczan (Edwards 75), Duff, Crooks (Niven 71), Gunn (Beveridge 84), Cameron, Leslie, Nicolson, Moore.
Referee: Stephen Finnie.