BERWICK’S alarming slide down the table continued at the weekend when they slumped to a disappointing and frustrating defeat at the hands of Annan at Shielfield on Saturday.
Rangers, with only one win in their previous 11 games, and with only a solitary victory against Clyde since September, were in desperate need of a success to kick-start their season again.
Twice they took the lead against the visitors, but twice they allowed Athletic to come back at them, and in the end it was Harry Cairney’s side who left with all three points to boost their own play-off aspirations.
Not surprisingly the defeat brought a hasty rebuke from manager Jimmy Crease who later despribed the performance as ‘shocking and pathetic’ and he later called on the players to take a long. hard look at themselves as they enter what is effectively a make or break period with two games a week for the next seven weeks.
Annan had only beaten Berwick once in their previous nine meetings, but on current form - they had only lost three league matches all season - they arrived on Tweedside optimistic that this might just be the day they managed to get one over their Border rivals.
Annan opened up the brighter of the two sides and fullback Aaron Muirhead saw a flashing shot from 20 yards dip inches over after 12 minutes. Ian McCaldon was then forced to get down and save a low drive from midfielder David Cox, and with McCaldon also tipping over a Sean O’Connor header from just under his bar Rangers looked as if they were struggling to cope in the heavy conditions.
But Berwick, with John Grant making his home debut following his move from Alloa, Stuart Callaghan making his first full start after six months out with a broken ankle and with striker Damon Gray returning to the fold after international clearance was granted following his brief spell in Sweden, gradually started to claw their way into the match, with bad boy Darren Gribben showing some nice touches in particular.
And it was Gray who gave Rangers the lead after 25 minutes when he poked the ball home from close range when a Callaghan corner found him in the crowded penalty area.
This was Rangers’ first goal of 2011, but their celebrations were short-lived, as within 60 seconds Annan had drawn level, veteran hit-man Ian Harty finding the net from close range after central defenders Andy McLean and Chris McLeod failed to clear the ball on the edge of their six yard box.
Stevie Notman fired a shot just wide as Berwick tried to regain the initiative, but Harty always looked a handful up front for Annan and the Berwick defence had to be alert to the danger.
Another Callaghan set piece, this time a free kick out on the right, led to Berwick’s second goal just two minutes before half-time when Ian Little fired into the roof of the net after the ball was headed down to him by McLean.
But in the second half, when supporters were hoping that they might kick on, Rangers lost their way again.
Gray tried an audacious chip from 25 yards out which landed on the roof of the net, but again it was Annan who showed more guile and resillience and they were rewarded with a second equaliser after 58 minutes when the home defence failed to pick up Muirhead at a free kick. He was allowed to run unchallenged across the line and his glancing header found the net in the far corner.
The game then started to open up a little with half chances being created at either end. Paul Currie missed a glorious chance when he lifted the ball over the top from close in, whilst McCaldon had to get down to save from a shot across his goal.
The points were decided, however, when Annan were awarded a penalty after 77 minutes, Callaghan being adjudged to have handled a shot on the edge of the area from Harty. The striker stepped up to bury his spot kick, and with it any hopes Berwick had of getting their season back on track.
Gray might have snatched a late equaliser but he just couldn’t get his shot away when he found himself only eight yards out.
After twice taking the lead this was a poor result for Rangers. Their fall from grace after topping the table in the early part of the season has been dramatic in the extreme. They just cannot seem to buy a win at the moment, and with such a hectic schedule facing them over the coming weeks it is only going to get tougher.
McCaldon 6, Notman 6, Callaghan 6, McLeod 7, McLean 6, Grant 7, McLaren 5 (Gordon 75), Currie 6 (Greenhill 64), Gray 7, Gribben 6 (O’Reilly 80), Little 6.