AFTER the loss of an early goal, there were bloody noses, disturbances off the pitch and a storm that smothered Shielfield Park in snow at full-time.
Scores: Berwick - Argyriou 6 og; Rangers - Shiels 9 pen, Little 45, Faure 66.
Earlier in the season, this was the kind of game in which Rangers would have been distracted enough to drop points, but not now.
Berwick made quite a fist of this, starting and finishing well, while also competing manfully in between, but their opponents dug deep to produce the quality when it mattered most. A Dean Shiels penalty and a spectacular volley by Andy Little quickly overturned an early own goal by Anestis Argyriou before Sebastian Faure sealed the points midway through the second half.
Ally McCoist, the Rangers manager, said that he was delighted to take three points with what was a workmanlike performance. “The game went exactly as I thought it would,” he said. “Not a lot of football was played in the middle of the park, so the best we could do was to try and put their defence under as much pressure as possible and I thought we did it OK. It was a really strong, disciplined performance.
“The boys have more resilience about them. We were still giving away too many chances from set pieces late on, but there was certainly more steeliness about them. To do well and win promotion and titles you have to grind out results. It was a good, solid performance without being eye-catching.”
Some 4,500 crammed into Shielfield, if crammed is the right word. With its wide cinder track circling the pitch, there was room for nobody behind the goals, which meant that most of the travelling support gathered in the old enclosure. They were in exuberant mood, although an outbreak of sectarian chanting in the first half led broadcaster ESPN to apologise on air. There were also some arrests. It was also a lively encounter on the pitch, thank goodness, not least in the opening exchanges, when Berwick gave their opponents quite a fright. Only six minutes had gone when Dylan Easton’s corner was missed by all those who challenged for it at the front post, but not by Anestis Argyriou, the Rangers defender, who contrived to direct it across the line with his shoulder.
As ever in these situations, what Berwick needed most was a period of consolidation, a spell in which to make Rangers think about their deficit, but instead McCoist’s team needed just two minutes to cancel it out. When Dean Shiels went down in the box after a challenge by Dougie Brydon, Calum Murray, the referee, awarded a penalty. It was a soft one but Shiels was in no mood to sympathise, finding the roof of the net.
Shiels had a quick chance to grab his second, but the shot was parried by Marc McCallum, after which the game descended into a messy tangle of legs and arms, which seemed to suit Berwick more than their visitors. Ross Perry was given a bloody nose when he rose to challenge Scott Dalziel on the edge of his own penalty area, but it could have been more damaging for Rangers. When the ball fell to Darren Lavery, his crisp shot was blocked on the line by Neil Alexander.
Dalziel then flashed a shot across the face of Rangers’ goal, and Lee Currie skewed a decent chance wide, which only made the goal that Berwick conceded on the stroke of half-time all the more difficult for them to bear.
Until then, Rangers had offered precious little in the final third, but when Lee Wallace swung in a cross from the left, Little wheeled his left boot across his body to lash a sweet volley between the goalkeeper and his right-hand post.
“That was one of the best goals I have seen all season,” said McCoist. “Well worked, a lovely ball in from Lee Wallace and the volley really was sensational – a top, top goal. And it came at a great time.”
Ian Black then returned David Templeton’s cross back across goal, Kal Naismith had a close-range effort cleared off the line, and Faure converted the loose ball.
Berwick, to their great credit, refused to lose heart. Several times in the last quarter of an hour, they were denied by an outstretched leg or a body putting itself on the line.
Ian Little, the Berwick manager, who thought that the penalty equaliser had been “soft”, admitted that Little’s volley had been crucial. “Sometimes you’ve just got to hold your hands up,” he said.
“It was a wonderful strike, but they kept their composure and showed their quality as the game went on.”
Rangers: Alexander, Argyriou, Perry (Faure 52), Hegarty, Wallace, Hutton, Black, McKay (Naismith 46), Shiels, Templeton (Aird 86), Little. Subs Not Used: Crawford, Gallagher.
Berwick: McCallum, Jacobs, Brydon, Townsley, Hoskins, Easton (McLaren 48), Janczyk, Lee Currie, Gielty, Dalziel (O’Brien 77), Lavery (Carse 68). Subs Not Used: McLean, McCaldon.
Ref: Calum Murray