Home fans in the 454 crowd would have experienced a full range of feelings during the course of this one; optimism, appreciation, relief, disappointment and ultimately anger.
The optimism was borne of a first half performance in which their team gave one of their best displays of the season so far. The half time lead was well deserved. Crucially, they could not extend it beyond Greg Rutherford’s 18th minute success which completed a convincing attacking move in which Darren Lavery was prominent. Minutes earlier, Lavery, looking hungrier than of late, was involved twice as Berwick swept forward presenting Jordyn Sheerin with a chance to shoot. Cowdenbeath’s goalkeeper captain David McGurn dived to turn away the ball though it probably wasn’t going in anyway. It was different on 38 minutes when Sheerin’s prospects looked better after being supplied by Michael McKenna. This time McGurn’s save was really necessary.
The visitors found the home defence in unyielding mood with Jonny Fairbairn comfortably clearing up at the back and Brian Martin looking more like last season’s highly rated man. Lee Hamilton, who went off for a couple of minutes clutching his face, did his bit by stopping a low ball from Craig Johnston right on the line. This after Steven Thomson came back to make a committed but clean tackle on Kyle Miller for which ‘Beath players were expecting a free kick.
More appreciation from the home support that Berwick started the second half in similar vein only for the lack of a killer touch to let them down. The Blue Brazil struggled to contend with Thomson’s ball skills and he soon set up Rutherford but his very weak hit was easily blocked. Another move of note came to nothing with the final touch from Kevin McKinlay going straight to a blue shirt.
McKinlay was down injured inside the penalty area with the ref having already blown before Cowdenbeath got the ball into the net. Rutherford conceded a free kick for which he was booked, Kevin Walker flying to punch away the powerful strike for a corner. From it, a goalbound header was stopped on the line by Thomson’s arm and he was red-carded. To Berwick’s relief, Dean Brett’s spot kick bounced down from the bar, the defence winning the ensuing scramble to clear for another corner.
Berwick’s tactics now changed dramatically. Sheerin was left as the lone Ranger up front with everyone else back to defend the precarious lead. Was it the right move? There were still well over 20 minutes left to play. Had the nine men held out at the end for another 30 seconds, it might have been judged to be so. But it also invited the Fife team to seize the initiative. Walker punched away a deflected Miller free kick and Brett fired over the bar before matters erupted.
The referee’s decision to award a free kick just outside the box five minutes from time led to a brawl involving most of the outfield players. After it was broken up, Martin and Miller were booked. Angry home fans were of the opinion that the foul which prompted it was committed by an away man but relief once more when Brett’s free bounced of the Berwick wall. Next, Kris Renton was peeved at seeing his lob drop on to the roof of Walker’s net.
At the start of stoppage time, the tiring Sheerin was replaced by Barry Hogg. With his first touch, he found Lavery on the left. Home fans were convinced Darren was illegally pushed off the ball. The referee appeared set to confirm this but instead let play continue. As Miller worked his way forward near touch, Stevie Notman took him out with an atrocious challenge. Kevin Graham took out his red card. McGurn’s free kick launched the ball into Berwick’s area. Walker made a one handed reflex save when Miller shot but could not keep out one from substitute Cameron Muirhead from the Fifers’ Development team.
With his issuing of more than a handful of cautions, including to Fairbairn and Lavery, plus the two reds and what else went on, Mr Graham’s match report to his department is likely to be longer than this one. Suffice to say, he was not applauded off at the end.
Berwick Rangers: Walker, Hamilton, McKinlay, Notman, Martin, Fairbairn, Thomson, Lavery, Rutherford, McKenna (Beveridge 78), Sheerin (Hogg 90)
Match report courtesy of Berwick Rangers Supporters Trust.