CHRISTMAS may have gone, but there was a turkey shoot at Ibrox nonetheless. Three more points gobbled up by Ally McCoist’s team in their inexorable rise to the, er, bottom tier of Scottish football if the newly-reconstructed leagues come into being in time for next season.
Rangers - Little 9, 47, Templeton 53, Little 74.
Berwick - Gray 65, McLaren 73.
That, of course, is a sore point in these parts, Charles Green and Ally McCoist making their feelings known with a range of emotions that ran the gamut all the way from indignation to even more indignation. At least things went their way on the park, if not in the committee rooms of the SPL and the SFL.
This was a strange little game. Rangers were coasting at 3-0 then became comatose and lost two quick goals, only to score a fourth and almost a fifth and very nearly a sixth. Was McCoist surprised at a landslide that suddenly became a chore, albeit briefly? “No,” he said. “Not a lot shocks me at the moment, believe me.”
Andy Little scored a hat-trick – his second of the season – and brought his tally to 16 and Rangers’ advantage at the top to 19 points, not far off the total of goals they might have got had they been a bit more dead-eye in their finishing. Four was a pretty scant return. The fact that they conceded two should worry McCoist. The Rangers defence is a soft touch through the middle.
“At times our football was really good and we had a cutting edge to us. We scored four good goals and the plusses far outweigh the negatives. We could and should have had more goals, but I’m really disappointed with the two we conceded.”
Fran Sandaza contributed plenty to the victory, but quite how he failed to score is a question that would trouble a laboratory full of boffins. The laws of mathematics suggested that he had to score at some stage from one of the myriad opportunities he had, but he didn’t. Still, he did well, which will have come as a relief to his manager who hasn’t seen a whole lot from him this season.
“Fran has done everything apart from score,” said McCoist. “I felt for him because he didn’t get the goal, but his contribution was very valuable to the team and he had a hand in two or three of the goals. He’s becoming like his old self.”
Little went as far as to say that Sandaza had played better than him.
What yesterday illustrated is that Rangers have fine goalscorers and creators, but there is a vulnerability at the back. For the briefest moment there was the possibility of a humiliating loss of a three-goal advantage and only their superior punching power got them out of trouble.
Nobody saw Berwick coming, not with them well and truly under the Rangers thumb. Berwick’s battle plan would have been all about containment, but it went out the window in the opening minutes when some feeble defending allowed Rangers in for their first, which could and should have been added to once, twice, three times and more before they actually managed to.
Little got the opener after Sandaza’s shot was blocked and the breaking ball was put away by the Northern Irishman. It was a painfully soft goal for Berwick to give up. The next five chances fell to the Spaniard. He had a shot saved, then he dallied too long when a first-time shot might have seen him score, then he narrowly failed to get on the end of a cross from Templeton, pictured left.
On it went. The next major chance that came happened to fall to Little, though, and he volleyed home after Templeton’s cross picked him out in the box. Having failed to score, Sandaza turned creator for the third goal, swinging in a ball from the right to Templeton, who was clinical in beating Ian McCaldon in the Berwick goal.
The calculators were sent for at this point. Fifty two minutes gone and already three goals to the good. What did Ibrox expect? A total capitulation from Berwick, undoubtedly. More Rangers goals. More and more. Instead, something truly weird happened.
Berwick threw off the shackles and Rangers didn’t like it much. Out of the blue, Ross Gray, barely on the field as a substitute, fired low past Neil Alexander. Eight minutes later, from a Lee Currie corner, Fraser McLaren was left to head beyond the Rangers goalkeeper. “It was my fault,” said Little, later. “He was my man and he got in front of me. I thought at 3-0, that would be it, that it would be comfortable for us, so I was surprised when we conceded two. It’s not good enough.”
A stroll had become a trial. From a Rangers perspective, it was ridiculous that it come to this. In fairness, the mini-crisis was headed-off in quick order when Little manufactured his third, a shot that beat McCaldon at his near post. “To get three is extra-special,” said the striker. “I’d gone off the trail a little bit.” Much to the relief of the Ibrox crowd, all 44,976 of them, Little is back on track.
Rangers: Alexander, Hegarty (Faure 55), Perry, Emilson Cribari, Wallace, Little, Hutton, Macleod, Templeton (Crawford 83), Shiels (Aird 75), Sandaza. Subs Not Used: Currie, Naismith.
Berwick: McCaldon, Jacobs, Townsley, McLean, Gielty, McLaren, Lee Currie, Janczyk (Notman 79), McDonald, Easton (Gray 64), Lavery (Dean Currie 64). Subs Not Used: McCallum, Hoskins.