Referee's assistant again steals limelight

EAST STIRLING ....0BERWICK RANGERS ..0BERWICK Rangers held on to their place at the top of the Third Division by the skin of their teeth with a hard won point at Ochilview against East Stirling on Saturday.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 29th September 2010, 2:38 pm
Updated Wednesday, 29th September 2010, 2:38 pm

But with one point separating the top four, they'll be feeling the Bovril-scented breath of Stranraer, Annan and Albion Rovers on the back of their neck after their three nearest challengers all won.

Rangers have opened their current campaign with a festival of free flowing, high scoring attacking football, but even the romantics among us know that such form cannot be maintained forever, and that there will be some matches that bear no resemblance to the traditions of the Copacabana. This was one of them, an absolute dog of a game on a plastic pitch where the bounce confounded even the most skilful players. For all that Rangers produced their first disappointing performance of the season but, this will probably be seen as an invaluable point at the end of the season.

Rangers have already been exposed by injuries to the talismanic Darren Gribben and Stevie Notman, and the ludicrous red card issued to Mark Peat stretches a skeletal squad to breaking point. For the second week in a row, the intervention of a linesman had a damaging impact on Rangers' chances of getting all three points, after advising the ref that the Gers' keeper was last man when he had three defenders behind him.

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Jimmy Crease was forced to reshuffle his pack following last week's draw, Andy McLean moving across to right back to cover Notman's absence, with Jamie Ewart slotting in at centre back. They were Rangers' best performers on the day. With Gribben out following a back injury, sustained whilst lifting weights, Alan Brazil partnered Craig O'Reilly up front.

The hosts have had a disappointing start to their season, failing to score from open play. Conversely, their defence had conceded a measly one goal in three home games, so on balance, it was never going to be a goal-saturated thriller.

After some early cat and mouse, Paul McMullan's fifth minute free kick eluded the Gers' attackers lining up in the Shire penalty area. It took until the 14th minute for Rangers to produce the kind of slick passing move which has decorated their season to date, great link-up work from Greenhill and O'Reilly setting up Currie for a shot which he lashed over Andrew's bar.

A minute later, Ewart's well taken set piece eluded O'Reilly by inches at the back post as Rangers started to impose themselves.

It was far from one way traffic though, Ewart making an excellent block on Ure's shot in the 17th minute. Rangers play became ragged, and with Gordon and McMullan posted missing on the flanks, Currie and Greenhill began to find themselves overwhelmed in the middle of the park. Ewart gave the ball away on the half hour mark, letting in Cawley for a low shot across goal, before Peat saved brilliantly from Watts in the 31st minute. Rangers had a decent penalty shout denied in the 37th minute when Brazil was wrestled to the ground in the Shire box, but ref O'Reilly applied WWF rules and let it go.

The first half lacked any flow and was peppered with free kicks as both sides struggled to make the breakthrough. With O'Reilly about to blow for half time, Currie bulldozed his way through the middle and looked set to put Brazil through on Andrews, only to be scythed down by a dreadful tackle from Dunn, who was dismissed via a straight red. It seems that he was deemed last man on the advice of the assistant referee - more of whom later - which was wrong, but the foul was so bad it should have been called for violent conduct in any case.

The decision handed Rangers a clear advantage, which the manager sought to maximise with the introduction of McLaren for the labouring Brazil 13 minutes into the second period. McLaren added some real spark and focus to Rangers' attacking play and should be a cert for a starting place against Annan on Saturday.

Greenholl shook off some of the lethargy in the 62nd minute with a dipping volley, before Cawley whacked a 25 yarder wide of Peat's goal five minutes later.

The game changed again in the 70th minute, courtesy of our friend the referee's assistant. Greenhill made a hash of a straightforward back pass which Kelly picked up to home in on goal. Peat tackled him a foot outside the box, but the ball broke to Kelly again and Peat tackled him for a second time. This time the tackle was late, but by now, three defenders had got back to cover the unguarded goal. The referee awarded a free kick on the edge of the box before red carding an incandescent Peat for a professional foul, again on the advice of the assistant. McCaldon saved Neil's free kick.

Parity in numbers inspired Shire and after Gordon lost possesion to hand the home side a four on two break, it took some last ditch defending by Ewart to save the day.

McLeod strolled forward to hammer a 30 yard drive past Andrew's goal in the 80th minute, before Rangers put togther some semblance of pressure, Currie putting O'Reilly through with only the keeper to beat, but he wasted the best chance of the match by poking the ball tamely into the side netting. With four minutes left, Andrews saved brilliantly from Currie's superb angled volley, before McCaldon made an excellent low save from Team.

A minute from time, Currie headed home from close range but his effort was chalked off for offside. In truth, it would have been harsh on a game Shire outfit, because neither side deserved the three points.