Rangers make Celtic fight all the way to finish

Berwick vs Celtic, Shielfield Park, Berwick. Steven Notman tussles with Charlie Mulgrew of Celtic.
Berwick vs Celtic, Shielfield Park, Berwick. Steven Notman tussles with Charlie Mulgrew of Celtic.

Beaten but not disgraced. That appears to be the general feeling after Berwick’s battling performance against Celtic in their fourth round Scottish Cup tie at Shielfield on Sunday.

This was a typical ‘David v Goliath’ fixture. But on this occasion there was to be no glory for the underdogs, although they did effectively cover themselves in it with the professional manner in which they went about their business.

Berwick vs Celtic, Shielfield Park, Berwick. Darren Gribben of Berwick has a shot on goal but is offside.

Berwick vs Celtic, Shielfield Park, Berwick. Darren Gribben of Berwick has a shot on goal but is offside.

They chased and harried for the entire 90 minutes and never allowed their illustrious visitors to settle on the ball.

A victory was probably always going to be beyond them, but in a game broadcast live by Sky TV they will have taken a lot more positives than might have originally been anticipated.

Celtic have been involved in so many cup horror stories over recent years that it was understandable why they considered this the proverbial banana skin.But the SPL leaders, buoyed by their 2-0 win over their Glasgow rivals in the Old Firm derby a week earlier, treated Berwick with the utmost respect. And the fact that they showed only two changes from the side which won at Ibrox showed just how seriously they were treating the game.

Lukasz Zaluska was drafted in between the posts as a replacement for Fraser Forster, whilst big name signing Freddie Ljungberg made his official debut for the Bhoys, playing as the link man between midfield and lone striker Georgios Samaras. The ex-Arsenal and West Ham man lasted just over an hour, manager Neil Lennon later describing the game as the ideal opportunity for the Swede to test his fitness after a spell in the United States.

Berwick, meanwhile, also took on a familiar look, although striker Craig O’Reilly (a self-confessed Celtic fan) was the unlucky man to miss out on a place because of the rule which dictates clubs must include two players U21 in their Scottish Cup squads.

In Berwick’s case that was central defender Andy McLean, who had an outstanding game, and young Arran Ponton, who was drafted in from the reserves for a place on the bench. Ian Little won an unexpected recall to the starting line-up in central midfield, with Fraser McLaren being asked to play, unusually for him, wide on the left.

On what was a difficult playing surface - it was hard in some patches, soft in others - Berwick got off to a good start and for the first 15 minutes gave a good account of themselves.

As might be expected, they got stuck in, and an early penalty claim, when Stevie Notman was bundled by Charlie Mulgrew in the box, and a disallowed goal for Darren Gribben, who was clearly offside, showed that they were prepared to put up a fight.

To their credit they tried to play football - other sides might have been guilty of a more kick and rush approach - and it was for this alone that they won the fans over.

The hope had been to try and keep a clean sheet for the opening 20 minutes, but just three minutes before reaching that milestone disaster struck when Celtic took the lead.

Mulgrew flighted in a free kick from wide on the right. The ball was half cleared back to him, and as the Berwick defence pressed out McLean initially looked as if he had the second ball covered.

He later claimed he got a touch to it, but TV evidence showed that if this was the case it was very slight, and big Daniel Majstorovic, who had stayed in the area after the initial free kick, nipped in front of him and hammered the ball into the roof of the net from inside the six yard box.

It was a mistake which might have unnerved some players, but McLean quickly regained his composure and went on to prduce a fine display at the back.

Minutes later Joe Ledley was inches away when he met a Mark Wilson cross at the back post and with Samaras (twice on the left) and Jamie Forrest (on the right) both looking progressive down the flanks, the Hoops looked as if they were starting to gain the upper hand.

Forrest was denied by Peat from close range after Samaras cut the ball back to him from the left, but after 38 minutes the Greek international pickled up a niggling thigh strain and was forced to limp off down the tunnel, being replaced by Anthony Stokes.

Berwick also made a bright start to the second half, but playing with Gribben as the lone striker up front it was always difficult for them to break down the big Celtic rearguard.

As a result chances were few and far between and Zaluska had a relatively quiet afternoon.

Celtic, who also found themselves restricted to clear-cut scoring opportunities, gradually started to pass the ball around and as Forrest continued to probe down the right, he crossed for Paddy McCourt, who headed straight at Peat.

Ljungberg was withdrawn after 63 minutes and was replaced by Scott Brown, who was making his return after injury. And it was the Scottish international who sealed the victory after 82 minutes when he latched onto a through ball, turned and shot low past Peat.

A minute later Beram Kayal shot inches wide, and as Celtic tried to finish with a flourish they also had the ball in the net after 86 minutes, but the effort was ruled out for offside.

Such had been Berwick’s endeavour throughout the match, however, that a third goal would probably have been a cruel injustice. It might not have been a classic, especially with the Sky TV cameras in town, but the near 4,000 crowd (the official gate was 3,877) probably all left feeling as if they had been entertained.

Berwick - Peat, Smith, Thomson, McLean, McLeod, Greenhill, Mclaren, Currie, Gribben (Brazil 73), Notman, Little (McMullan 68).

Celtic - Zaluska, Majstorovic, Ljungberg (Brown 63), Samaras (Stokes 38), Wilson, Ledley, McCourt, Mulgrew, Rogne, Kayal (Crosas 84), Forrest.

Referee - Calum Murray.

Attendance - 3,877