COWDENBEATH 0 BERWICK RANGERS 1
Berwick Rangers survived Cowdenbeath’s second-half onslaught to take all three points on a day when the sunny conditions contrived to show even Central Park in a reasonably good light.
Former manager John Coughlin was amongst the 380-strong crowd, diplomatically sitting with the home fans.
Injury prevented the possibility of Josh Morris inflicting more pain on his former club, but Ben Stirling, on loan at Shielfield last season, started for the Blue Brazil, while Charlie Denton, once of Berwick Under-20s, was an unused substitute.
Despite an uncertain performance in the previous week’s 5-1 drubbing by Annan Athletic, Kevin McKinlay kept his place in the centre of defence, the decision vindicated by a good performance. It also allowed skipper Pat Scullion to start in a midfield role, though a second-half reshuffle took him back to a defensive one.
The game was 10 minutes old when Cowdenbeath won their first corner, McKinlay’s diving header turning the ball over the byeline for another one. It proved to be a false dawn for the hosts as Berwick went on to dominate the rest of the half.
Well upfield, Scullion’s drive was blocked after keeper Joe McGovern punched out Chris McDonald’s long free-kick. Aaron Murrell still won a corner even when crowded out by three men in blue.
In the 18th minute, he went one better, scoring the only goal with an easy header off Michael McKenna’s cross from the right.
As if in response to a home fan’s lament about the poor quality of his team’s play, Cowdenbeath produced their best attack yet which ended with Robbie Buchanan’s cross being headed wide, this shortly after Berwick lost Darren Lavery to injury.
But most of the pressure was being applied at the other end. When Rangers counter attacked, McGovern dived on the ball as Steven Thomson got in close. They won a 35-yard free-kick when David Syme used Murrell’s back as his ladder going for a high ball. McKenna took it. Scullion and Oliver Fleming were up for it but the ball was headed wide of the far post. As the 45 were up, Scullion’s shot was too high following Callum Donaldson’s free-kick from just inside Berwick’s half of the field.
Donaldson didn’t play much of a second half which was a different story from the first. He came off worse after a sideways lunge at Stirling. Yellow carded and initially treated on field for a facial injury, he was replaced by Andrew Irving.
Berwick had much for which to thank Robby McCrorie. The on-loan keeper from the big Gers in Glasgow was always in command of his area and made three outstanding saves as the home team raised their game – diving to push away Fraser Mullen’s free kick which was heading for goal, his leg denying home man of the match Buchanan after he beat two men and then securely holding a 40-yarder from Mullen. On guard at the post, McKinlay stopped another Mullen free from going in.
When there was some playground argy bargy between McKenna and Jamie Pyper near the touchline, referee Kevin Graham thought better of his initial impulse to bring out his card.
More entertaining was a fine piece of inter passing between Thomson and Irving, the pair taking advantage of the space available in amongst a back-pedalling defence before McGovern held Irving’s shot from inside the box.
Socks down, Murrell looked tired having once again put everything into his game in the warm conditions. Greg Rutherford came on for the final 20 minutes, though it was Thomson who directly stepped into Murrell’s place up front.
Fleming received a caution for a foul on Kyle Miller, Mullen’s free-kick provoking a frenetic scramble which Rangers eventually won.
Irving had two chances, from either side of goal, to put matters beyond doubt but on both occasions was thwarted by McGovern. It was the post which rescued Berwick, hit by Alasdair Smith after he turned to connect with a long throw in near the end.
Berwick Rangers: McCrorie, Fleming, McKinlay, Thomson, Lavery (Stewart 27), McKenna, Phillips, Donaldson (Irving 51), McDonald, Murrell (Rutherford 70), Scullion