Report: Annan Athletic 1-0 Berwick Rangers

Berwick returned to Galabank just three weeks after their 4-1 Scottish Cup defeat at the hands of the current League 2 leaders, a result which played a part in the dismissal of then manager Colin Cameron. Now, John Coughlin was in charge for the first time since his recent reappointment. Like the visiting fans in the 486 crowd, he probably left with mixed feelings. There was disappointment with the result especially as the winning goal came late and on overall play, was barely deserved. Yet, Stuart McColm’s 81st minute angled volley was a lesson in finishing, a facet of the game in which Rangers were again found wanting.

David Banjo returned to the fold after lengthy lay-off

David Banjo returned to the fold after lengthy lay-off. Image courtesy of Alan Watson.

Statistics suggest Berwick had around 60% of possession, more corners and more shots on goal. Many of their build ups were confident and creative but aside of the inability to finish, were often terminated by a poor final pass.

Clearly, the players knew they had to show the new boss they were worthy of their places. Graeme Beveridge in the back four, Finn Graham of the midfield trio and Darren Lavery of the front men stood out. David Banjo made his first start in weeks. He worked hard but was perhaps not yet fully match fit. He departed after 70 minutes after receiving a knock to the head.

From the start, Rangers kept the ball on the ground whilst initially, Annan repeated their Cup tie tactic of trying to unsettle the away defence with crosses or long, bouncing balls downfield. The nearest they came to a first half goal was when Matty Flynn headed Steven Swinglehurst’s cross over the bar. Before this, with more poise and patience, Josh Todd might have done better on the end of one of those long balls. Ewan McNeil and Craig Halkett were left chasing him before he fired wide.

Berwick’s moves were more impressive and Lavery, playing out left, was involved in three of the best. In the 20th minute, he sprayed a great pass across field to Michael McKenna. He gained yards but his shot was stopped by keeper Jordan Hart’s outstretched foot. Darren then worked his way into the box, found his man again, Finn Graham, but Hart saved from him, too. Next time, Lavery had a choice of continuing his run and having a go or pass to Graham. Unwisely, he opted for the latter and it was a poor pass to boot.

Hart punched away McNeil’s shot just beyond the half hour and rescued Annan again three minutes from the break. Graham put Banjo through. He struck from a yard inside the penalty area but Hart’s excellent positioning led to him smothering the ball.

Beveridge was very much in attacking mode and opened the second period with an unchallenged run though was eventually off target from 25 yards. Lavery linked with Banjo but the return ball was another poor one. Ten minutes in, Graham had the Berwick support gasping with a crack from the right which whistled just outside the opposite post.

Another great run and ball from Lavery led to a very poor Blair Henderson effort but the big man was unlucky when he got on the end of a McKenna/Lavery move only for Hart to tip the ball over the bar. This save undoubtedly contributed to him being named John Smith’s Man of the Match after an embarrassing start when he almost sliced an attempted clearance kick into his own goal!

Once again, Annan made astute use of their substitutes. Grieg MacDonald and Liam Park came on together at the same time as Ross Drummond replaced Banjo. However, it was the earlier ‘new man’ who did the most damage.

In a rare lapse of anticipation, Berwick were slow to go for a 50:50 ball which was niftily played to McColm positioned to the left of Walker’s goal. Rangers’ supporters held their breath but their worst fears were confirmed as the loud, celebratory music blared out of the speakers.

Berwick Rangers: Walker, McNeil, Beveridge, Notman, Halkett, Fairbairn, Lavery, Banjo ( Drummond 73 ), Henderson, F.Graham, McKenna