East Stirling 1 Berwick Rangers 0
Saturdays must be starting to feel like Groundhog Day for Berwick Rangers. Another cruel deflection for the winning goal, another narrow defeat, another blank in the “goals scored” column.
But this was no hard luck story - another shot-shy 90 minutes from the Gers attack can be summed up by the fact that it took the Black and Gold until the 85th minute to create their first and only genuine scoring opportunity of what was another uninspiring performance.
At the final whistle, there were, for the first time this season, rumblings of discontent amongst the away support. Rangers’ record of seven points from the last 30 tells its own story, and unless Jimmy Crease can inspire his troops to knit together a winning run, Rangers will find themselves cast adrift of the play-off places and facing the prospect of another meaningless season.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom however. New signing John Grant made a promising debut in central midfield, and once he attains full match fitness his drive and physical strength will be a real asset to a team often light on those qualities.
Former Spartans tyro Kevin Motion also made his debut from the bench as a trialist, and with further additions to the squad in prospect, the Board deserves credit for reinforcing Rangers at the most critical point of the season.
East Stirling, meanwhile, have enjoyed a bittersweet few days. Ejected from the Scottish Cup for failing to properly register their goalkeeper, they turned up at Gayfield in midweek and produced the result of the season, turning over title favourites Arbroath in a 5-3 thriller. Oh for that level of excitement at Ochilview on Saturday, where Rangers’ pedestrian attacking and the enduring lack of chemistry between Brazil and O’Reilly made it a long afternoon.
Supporters will be thankful that Darren Gribben has made fulsome apologies to his team-mates and the club hierarchy after last week’s bout of dummy-throwing, and though he was confined to the centre stand on Saturday as part of his punishment, Rangers need him desperately to add some spark to a moribund forward line.
Ironically, the match started in encouraging fashion, both teams spreading play well and with some pace. That early promise soon faded as the game became bogged down in midfield and it took until the 12th minute for the first attempt at goal to be registered, the impressive David Dunn sliding a low shot wide from 18 yards.
It took Rangers some time to adjust to their new look line-up, with Paul Currie taking up an unaccustomed role on the right, and their cause was further handicapped when David Greenhill’s passing radar went on the blink. There was a moment of near-controversy in the 27th minute when Currie was felled on the edge of the Shire box, allowing Shire to break. Cawley outpaced the otherwise excellent Andy McLean, but Ian McCaldon stole the ball from the striker’s boot.
With Shire fullbacks Beveridge and Tully finding plenty of space to push forward into, Rangers found it hard to make any inroads on Andrew’s goal. They paid the price for their lack of adventure in the 32nd minute, when McLeod deflected Cawley’s low cross past the unfortunate McCaldon for Shire’s winner. Rangers replied with a well flighted Smith free kick which found no takers, and that was pretty much it for the opening 45. Value for money this was not.
The second half continued in the same desultory fashion, though Craig O’Reilly raised himself from semi-hibernation in the 52nd minute with a thumping volley from wide on the left. Crease tried to lift his team by introducing Fraser McLaren, and his pace injected some belief into Rangers’ play, though not before McCaldon saved brilliantly in the 55th minute from Tully’s curling effort.
Though Rangers had started to boss possession by this stage, they still lacked penetration, and Alan Brazil’s tendency to play with his back to goal neutered his goal threat. Donaldson clipped a low shot narrowly wide in the 62nd minute as Shire continued to pass with a snap absent from Rangers’ game, before Grant made a storming run to the byline with five minutes remaining, only for McLaren to somehow miss his fizzing cross from a yard out for what would have been a barely deserved equaliser.
Defensively, Rangers were sound, but the midfield lacked creativity and the team hasn’t scored now for three games and 88 minutes. That has come as something of a shock after the way they opened the season
Berwick Rangers: MCaldon 6; Notman 6; McLean 7; McLeod 6; Smith 6; Currie 5; Grant 6; Greenhill 5; Gordon 4; Brazil 4; O’Reilly 4.