No Highland fling for Rangers

Elgin City 4

Miller 35, 53; MacPhee 37; Leslie 49.

Berwick Rangers 0

by David Cook

at Borough Briggs

Berwick found themselves on the wrong end of a hiding at a windswept Borough Briggs against play-off rivals Elgin City on Saturday, baffling supporters who were looking for a continuation of the previous week’s outstanding effort against Stranraer.

Rangers had no excuses after being thoroughly outplayed by a rampant home side who harnessed the elements in a way that was simply beyond the Gers. Just to compound a bad day at the office, Kevin McDonald was given a straight red card on the hour mark for a robust challenge on Archie McPhee, which means that Rangers will be deprived of both their first choice central midfielders through suspensions when Peterhead visit on February 4.

Ian Little doesn’t have his sorrows to seek, but he isn’t getting the rub of the green either. After lining up with the same 11 who performed so admirably against Stranraer, Rangers promptly lost the toss which meant having to play into a howling gale.

There’s obviously something in the Highland air that sits uneasily with the Black & Gold after they haemorrhaged four goals for the third consecutive time on the long trip north, following heavy losses against Deveronvale in the cup and at Elgin on the opening day of the season.

Any concerns that Rangers had about playing into the teeth of the storm were heightened by an erratic display from keeper Jamie Barclay, who should have dome better with Elgin’s third and fourth goals, even though he made a couple of decent saves. Rangers’ defensive record is lamentable this season, and it has to be hoped that the arrival of Robbie Horn will deliver some early returns in that respect, because if it does’nt, Rangers can kiss goodbye to the fast-receding dream of a play-off spot.

Elgin had ex-Ger Paul McMullan making his debut at left back, but his defensive capabilities were never really tested by a strangely lacklustre Rangers outfit.

Coming into the game on the back of a 6-0 hammering at Hampden, Elgin were keen to get their own play-off bid back on track and they started brightly with Niven and Moore stretching Rangers down the flanks and forcing a series of corners in the opening quarter.

Darren Gribben shot over in the 19th minute, but Rangers found themselves hemmed in by a combination of Elgin pressure and the elements, which frequently resulted in Barclay’s goal kicks blowing back into his own penalty area.

On a rare breakout, Rangers were denied what looked a clear penalty shout by referee Roach after Stevie Notman was tripped in the box, but in truth they were second best all over the park.

That said, it looked as though Rangers would make it to the break without conceding until they were hit by a killer double-whammy in the space of three minutes. Cameron’s deep cross was headed on by Leslie, and although his effort looked goalbound, Paul Milalr buried the ball beyond Barclay for a 35th minute opener.

Things took a dramatic turn for the worse three minutes later when McPhee broke into the box from the left and his shot took a wicked deflection off the unlucky Andy McLean’s boot, looping over the stranded Barclay and into the net. All of a sudden, Ian Little’s half-time tea talk had taken on a different theme.

If Rangers expected things to be easier in the second half, they were sorely mistaken. Someone left their lucky rabbit’s foot in the changing room, because the wind dropped during the interval, depriving them of a potential ally in their bid to get back into the game.

Elgin sewed up the points four minutes into the second period, Leslie popping home the rebound after Barclay spilled a routine shot from McPhee, and they rubbed salt into Ranger’s wounds by notching a fourth goal in the 53rd minute, the giant Millar heading home Leslie’s cross after Walker and Barclay seemed to obstruct each other in their attempts to clear the danger.

Just when you thought it could’nt get any worse, ref Roach red carded McDonald in the 60th minute for what would have been deemed a legitimate tackle until the recent furore over what constitutes a legitimate challenge reared its head in the Manchester cup derby.

Unlike their August visit, when Paul Currie was able to grab a consolation goal, Rangers rarely threatened the home side who saw out the remainder of the match in some comfort, though the Gers got the rough end of the stick with some marginal offside decisions and had a second penalty claim denied when Durnan looked to handle a Noble shot on the line.

You have to hope that at some point, the breaks even themselves out. For now though, Ian Little and Robbie Horn have some work to do to convince their underachieving players that the play-offs remain a realistic target, for they are now nine points off the pace and three points wins are essential if they are to claw their way back.

Elgin: Clark, Durnan, MacPhee, Niven (Beveridge 74), Duff (O’Donoghue 63), Cameron, Miller, Moore, Leslie (Gunn 66), Nicolson, McMullan .

Berwick Rangers: Barclay 4, Walker 4, McLean 6, Townsley 6, Deland 5, Notman 6, Currie 5, McDonald 4, McLaren 4, Gribben 5, Gray 4.

Referee: Des Roache.

Attendance: 438.