Walker 17 (og), Gunn, 20 pen, 51, 70.
Berwick Rangers 1
Paul Currie 84
by David Cook
at Borough Briggs
Berwick Rangers’ hopes of carrying their excellent early season cup form into the new league campaign were shot down in flames by Elgin striker Craig Gunn, who netted a hat-trick and had a big hand in Richard Walker’s own goal in City’s big opening day win.
The home side ended up worthy winners, but Rangers’ lack of fight after unluckily going behind should give the management team of Jimmy Crease and Ian Little cause for concern. Not many people would have bet their mortgage on the final score mind you, after Rangers dominated the opening 15 minutes, moving the ball around with the kind of easy confidence borne out of a cracking win at Firhill a week earlier. The league is a different kettle of fish to cup competitions however, and, after two middling seasons in the Third Division, it is over the 36 games of the 2011/12 campaign that Rangers will be judged.
Rangers lined up in their new 4-3-3 formation once more, their starting eleven featuring one enforced change due to Lee Currie’s suspension. New signing Darren Smith filled in on the right of a three-man midfield, with Damon Gray, Stuart Noble and Fraser McLaren making up an attacking triumvirate.
It was the latter who created Rangers’ best chance of the opening half in the second minute, brilliantly intercepting a crossfield pass before outpacing the home defence and shooting low to Clark’s right. The keeper managed to get a hand to the shot but Gray should have buried the rebound instead of slotting the ball just wide of the post.
Kevin McDonald was a busy presence in midfield and Rangers had a confident look to them, but that confidence took a blow in the 10th minute when McLaren fell heavily and had to be subsituted with what looked like a thigh injury. This was disappointing for both Rangers and McLaren, who looks to have regained his best form. Still, his replacement wasn’t bad either, prodigal son Darren Gribben getting an earlier than expected introduction off the bench.
Elgin’s biggest threat up to this point had been right-sided midfielder O’Donoghue, whose direct running gave Steven Thompson all sorts of problems, and it was from Rangers’ left flank that Elgin scored their opener in the 17th minute. Beveridge got behind Thompson, who was frequently exposed by the lack of midfield cover, and his low cross was steered beyond Jamie Barclay by Richard Walker’s lunging attempt to clear.
Matters took a catastrophic turn 60 seconds later, when Smith tripped Moore in the box for a stonewall penalty. Gunn took full advantage of Rangers’ free gift scheme, ramming his spot kick past Barclay to give his side a two goal lead.
A Rangers goal at the right end before the break would have hauled them back into the contest, and McDonald went close in the 34th minute, thumping a 25 yard drive wide from Gray’s lay-off. That was a rare glimmer of hope in an otherwise disappointing response to going behind however, and Gunn wasn’t far away from putting City out of sight when he sent a booming volley narrowly over two minutes from the interval.
Rangers had reverted to the tried and tested 4-4-2 formation by the time they emerged from what doubtless involved a dose of the hairdryer treatment during the break, but they still had a lopsided look to them which suggests that some tactical tinkering still needs to be done.
Gribben looked lively but he was soon reduced to gesticulating at team-mates and trying ambitious solo missions that ended up in blind alleys, or being snuffed out by Elgin’s impressive centre half pairing of Nicolson and Kaczan.
Gunn put the result beyond doubt five minutes into the second half, sliding home Moore’s corner which somehow found its way to the back post unimpeded.
Elgin were absolutely dominant by now and they should have gone further ahead in the 58th minute when Moore made a monkey out of Rangers’ offside trap for the umpteenth time only to shoot off the post with Barclay beaten.
Two minutes later, Nicolson missed a free header from another Moore corner, with Rangers looking ragged and Kevin McDonald in particular finding himself caught in possession after trying one hollywood pass too many.
Gunn showed them how it was done with his hat-trick goal in the 70th minute, bulleting home Moore’s free kick with a fine header. Job done. Inevitably, Elgin eased up, and Rangers, lifted by the introduction of David Greenhill and Elliot Smith, finally managed to build some attacking momentum which was rewarded by Paul Currie’s cracking drive into the top corner of Clark’s goal six minutes from time.
McDonald should have finished off Gray’s through ball a minute later but it would’nt have had any meaningful effect on the final scoreline.
Despite the result, there is no need to panic. Those of us with long memories will recall Davie Smith’s legendary outfit getting tanned 6-0 at Falkirk on the opening day of the 78/79 season, before winning the Second Division in style. Rangers will be strengthened by Lee Currie’s return, and Stevie Notman will add further quality when he completes his civic duties. A lot of supporters would like to see Notman and Deland given a shot as the full back pairing, giving Rangers another attacking dimension. It would also help if they could find someone prepared to be the on-field leader they clearly need.
Elgin City: Clark, Niven, Duff, Nicolson, Kaczan, Cameron (Lawrie 69), O’Donoghue, Beveridge, Moore, Gunn (Crooks 75), Leslie (Frizzel 79).
Berwick: Barclay, Walker (Greenhill 69), McLean, McLeod, Thompson, Darren Smith, Paul Currie, McDonald, McLaren (Gribben 10), Gray, Noble (Elliot Smith 69).
Referee: John McKendrick