Berwick Rangers 2
Notman 9, Currie 32
McColm 5, Malcolm 72
by Keith Hamblin
at Shielfield Park
BERWICK turned in one of their best performances of the season but could not get the better of league leaders Stranraer at Shielfield on Saturday.
The visitors, who have since been overtaken at the top by Alloa, arrived on the back of an eight match unbeaten run, and having scored 47 goals so far this season, the size of Rangers’ task was evident to everyone in the 400-plus crowd.
And when Stranraer took the lead after only five minutes, courtesy of a well-struck low shot from just outside the edge of the box by Stuart McColm, many of the home supporters were probably expecting the worst.
But, to their credit, Berwick rolled up their sleeves, and for the remainder of the first half they gave as good as they got, turning it around to go in 2-1 at the break.
With on-loan midfielder Ross Gray unavailable because of a back injury, Berwick took on a somewhat unexpected look with Richard Walker making a rare appearance at right back.
But with Lee Currie bossing the midfield, turning in a masterful display of distribution with a string of accurate and penetrating passes, Rangers always looked dangerous, and with Darren Gribben looking in the mood up front, Stranraer could not rest on their laurels.
Berwick hauled themselves level in the ninth minute when Damon Gray head onto the post, but Stevie Notman, playing in a more advanced role, was the quickest to react and slammed home the rebound.
A minute later Gribben made a great run on the right, but his shot from the edge of the box was just wide, and then Fraser McLaren, back after his lengthy broken toe injury, got in a good cross from the right, but Gray was unable to get any power in his header.
Stranraer weren’t prepared to let Berwick walk all over them, however, and in an end to end first half full-back Grant Gallagher often pushed forward down the right, and on one occasion cut inside and crossed across the face of the goal, but fortunately for Berwick there were no takers at the back post.
Sean Winter then headed over from a corner and it was evident both sides were in the mood for more goals.
The breakthrough came in the 32nd minute when Berwick were awarded a free kick for a foul on the right, about five yards outside the penalty area.
Currie, who was the natural candidate to take the kick, stepped up and his sublime left-foot shot flew into the net past a helpless Ryan Marshall.
With their tails up Gribben let fly with a left foot screamer from 30 yards out which Marshall did well to gather.
Currie then played in Gribben on the right and his cross was met by Mclaren in the centre, but he was unable to finish it off.
Shortly before half-time Stranraer had a great opportunity to equalise but as the ball fell for defender Steven Noble inside the box he blasted over the top when it looked easier to score.
At the start of the second half Stranraer upped the tempo and for a while Berwick found themselves defending deeply.
John Kane shot over after cutting back onto his right foot and Winter also had a shot deflected into the side netting for a corner.
But it was Berwick who probably had the best chances of the half as they strived to increase their advantage and give themselves some breathing space.
First of all Currie found Gribben who was denied by a great tackle in the box.
Another pin-point ball from Currie found Gray, who crossed for Kevin McDonald, but he was unable to make contact.
Gray then ran through but his shot was blocked by the goalkeeper’s legs as he rushed out to meet him, and another Currie through ball fround Gribben, but one on one with the keeper he pushed his shot wide.
Andy McLean then hit the bar with a header from a Currie corner, whilst McLaren had Marshall back-tracking with a speculative lob.
It was end to end and the danger was that the misses might come back to haunt Berwick, which they duly did in the 75th minute when Craig Malcolm coolly finished with a low shot past Jamie Barclay after a long ball down the middle, although there was some suspicion from the Berwick players that a foul had been committed on McLean in the build-up.
There was still time for a winner at either end and Barclay had to pull off a great save to deny substitute Nathan Shepherd with his first touch after coming on.
Ian Little’s managerial career has been highlighted so far by his own bold decision making, and in that respect he did not disappoint again as he made a triple substitution after 80 minutes with David Greenhill, Stuart Noble and Darren Lavery coming off the bench to replace McLaren, Gribben and Gray.
By this stage the heavy pitch, which only passed an inspection at 11.30am that morning after frost, was starting to take its toll on some of the players and tired legs meant chances became fewer in the closing stages.
A draw was probably a fair result, but how Rangers must be ruing their string of missed chances in the early part of the second half.
That makes it four 2-2 draws in the last five games - great stuff to watch, but unfortunately a lot of dropped points and Berwick, who have now not won in six, must try to get back to winning ways soon if they are to stay in touch with the play-off hopefuls.
Berwick Rangers: Barclay 7, Walker 6, Deland 7, McLean 7, Townsley 6, Currie 9, McLaren 7 (Greenhill 80), Notman 8, Gray 7 (Noble 80), Gribben 8 (Lavery 80), McDonald 6.
Stranraer: Marshall, Gallagher, Noble, MacGregor, McKeown (Moore 71), Kane, Winter, Stirling, Malcolm, Grehan, McColm (Shepherd 76).
Referee: George Salmond.