QUEEN’S PARK 1
BERWICK RANGERS 0
Berwick’s worrying slump in form continued with a narrow defeat to Queen’s Park at Hampden Park on Saturday, sparking fears that a play-off place may be slipping from their grasp.
After a blistering start to the campaign which had supporters entertaining thoughts of a genuine title challenge, Rangers have registered a paltry single win in nine fixtures, gathering eight points from the 27 available.
With 21 games left, including six lost to the winter weather, Rangers still have everything to play for, but their cause was not helped by star striker Darren Gribben’s petulant histrionics when he was substituted on 31 minutes and the club will be considering what action to take against a player whose career they have been instrumental in resurrecting.
Jimmy Crease’s options were once again limited by his small squad. With Fraser McLaren still out injured, and loan signing Steven Thompson consigned to the bench before returning to parent club Stenhousemuir, the starting 11 pretty much picked itself.
That meant Alan Brazil partnering Gribben up front, with Kevin Gordon and Ian Little filling the wide positions. The defence was restored to its most popular line-up, with Stevie Notman and Elliot Smith at full back.
The Spiders came into the game buoyed by their surprise victory over title challengers Albion Rovers at Coatbridge in midweek, courtesy of two goals in the last three minutes of that match.
A low key start to the match perfectly suited the funereal atmosphere at a dank and dismal national stadium. There was little to enthuse supporters of either side during a disappointing 90 minutes, though home fans were obvioulsy delighted to leave with three points in the bag.
Rangers rarely shine at Hampden and though the early exchanges featured some neat passing from the Black & Gold, it was rarely in areas likely to hurt the home side. Watt skewed an angled shot just wide in the sixth minute with the Berwick defence caught ball-watching, but it took until the 31st minute for the game to spark into life.
Gribben was having one of his lone wolf days, so it wasn’t a huge surprise when the manager decided to haul him off for someone capable of functioning as part of a team plan. Needless to say, Gribben took a different view, stomping off the park before hurling his shirt at Shielfield legend Pea Oliver.
His route took him straight down the tunnel, his manager and sub keeper Ian McCaldon, a man whose physical presence is guaranteed to sort out any problems of the pet lip nature, in hot pursuit.
There is no question that Gribben has the x-factor, but his behaviour was universally condemned by an away support fed up with the antics of prima donna footballers who seem to live in a parallel universe to the rest of society. His replacement, Craig O’Reilly, showed enough skill and application to warrant a regular start. It was good to see the big man back in action.
Oddly enough, the incident revitalised a previously subdued Rangers outfit. Andy McLean’s close range shot was hacked off the Spiders’ line by Paul McGinn in the 34th minute, before McLean forced keeper Strain into a brilliant reaction save in the 36th minute.
Rangers piled on the pressure and Gordon slid a shot from Notman’s excellent low cross inches wide in the 40th minute, before the same player hit the post three minutes from the break after a superb passing move opened up the Queen’s Park defence.
Rangers failed to bring that momentum with them into the second half, though O’Reilly had supporters on their feet with a thunderous 53rd minute effort which beat Strain all ends up but clattered back off the stanchion. Gordon’s pinpoint right wing cross was cleared from Little’s brow as he was poised to head home in the 55th minute.
But as Rangers began to run out of steam Queens started to assert themselves to build a match winning head of steam. Driven forward by the impressive Guiseppe Casuano in midfield, it took a brilliant Notman interception to deny Murray before the same player unluckily deflected McBride’s half-hit shot past a wrong-footed Mark Peat for a 73rd minute winner.
Queens had opportunities to increase their lead, most notably in the 80th minute when sub Daly turned the Gers defence inside out before clipping his shot narrowly over.
Rangers never looked like recovering the deficit and they now need to focus on hauling themslves back into the intense battle for a play off spot.
Reinforcements will be needed if they are to get there, because this squad has a tired look to it already. The talent is there, no question, but Rangers need to rediscover that early season spark to kickstart their season.
Berwick Rangers - Peat 6; Notman 7; McLean 7; McLeod 6; Smith 6; Little 6; Greenhill 6; Currie 5; Gordon 6 (McMullan 5); Gribben 4 (O’Reilly 6); Brazil 5
Crowd - 485