Berwick began their pre-season preparations at Shielfield Park on Saturday afternoon, welcoming East of Scotland side Heriot Watt University.
With focus very much on building match fitness, the ‘Gers management team would have been less frustrated by the absence of four first-teamers, with club captain Euan Smith marrying partner Lauren, Lewis Barr and Kevin Waugh carrying injuries and Jordan Sinclair away.
Perhaps predictably given the lengthy absence, the ‘Gers got the game off to a slow start and the first real chance fell to Russell Cairns who’s strike proved too powerful for stopper Dougie Horne to handle, the ‘keeper palming the effort into his own net as Heriot Watt went ahead.
The opener did provide a wake-up call for the Dream Team though, and following a short period of sustained pressure featuring some quality play from Sam Daniel and Dan Purves down the left, veteran forward Calum Smith latched on to a cushioned header from Purves, showed great agility to turn his marker and opened the scoring with a finish into the far corner from 12 yards out.
Berwick continued to press from the restart, and went close again as the Uni ‘keeper felt his palms sting after pushing away a long-range effort.
The away side soon regained their composure, keeping the ball for a spell to take the sting out of the match, and their game management began to reward them with chances, first taking advantage of dwelling on the ball by a trialist to steal the ball just past the half-way line and rush towards goal only to mishit and see a grateful Horne collect a weak effort.
In spite of some solid pressing in midfield by Ali Forster and the composed efforts from Craig Reid at right back, who was linking well with Kieran Somerville, Heriot continued to gather momentum. When an attack was halted by a Jack Cook foul, the resultant free-kick was swang in from deep out on the left, and Lewis Morton met the ball on the volley at the back post to make it 2-1.
It was then Berwick’s turn to try to regain their composure, and a quieter period in the game almost culminated in a ‘Gers equaliser, some energetic high pressing presenting Calum Smith another chance, this time lobbed just over the bar.
A powerful run from Kieran Somerville resulted in a ‘Gers corner a few minutes later. A good delivery was met by a second ‘Gers trialist, but his header was well saved and follow-up blocked, leaving the score at 2-1 going into half-time.
Half-time: Berwick Rangers 1-2 Heriot Watt University
The second half got underway with one change for the ‘Gers, Andrew McNeil replacing Dougie Horne, and was fairly equal.
The first big chance fell to the away side, a ball from their own half splitting the defence open and putting the Heriot Watt striker in on goal with just the onrushing McNeil to beat. The nippy forward beat the ‘keeper to the ball, but his touch wasn’t quite enough to enable him to escape the attention of Berwick’s trialist centre half, who mopped up the mess.
Shortly after, Assistant Manager Kevin Haynes was left bellowing at his side who watched a long-ball roll out of play, the ‘Gers legend keen to see his side get the ball down and play in windy conditions.
McNeil set about putting the guidance into action and played it out to Daniels at left back who found Smith from deep out wide, the striker showing good strength to hold the ball up and lay it off into the path of Dan Purves, who watched a shot sail over the bar.
Liall Smith and Jo Purves made their debuts, replacing Jack Wright and Kieran Somerville, before Darren Smith replaced Ali Forster for a runout in the middle of the park.
‘Keeper McNeil was enjoying a quiet second half but showed his value as a vocal presence, constantly organising his defence.
Striker Smith was by far Berwick’s biggest threat going forward, and though isolated at times, showed he could handle the lack of support in the 80th minute, collecting a sharp pass from Jo Purves, holding off the advances of a Uni defender before slamming a shot off the crossbar from 20 yards out.
It would be the final effort of note in the game, a useful workout against a hard-working Heriot Watt University side. Though a result would have been an added positive, focus is on fitness and the first match back will certainly have gone some way to helping build that.
The ‘Gers will now continue their pre-season campaign with an away fixture on Tuesday, with more action also likely next weekend.