East Stirlingshire replaced Berwick at the foot of the Ladbrokes League 2 table as a first half double from Finn Graham and second half goals by Dwayne Coultress and Darren Lavery, neither of whom played in the midweek defeat at Arbroath, ensured Rangers’ first three pointer since victory over the same team on October 3rd.
Early play was punctuated by clumsy fouls and the referee’s whistle. In the 9th minute, Berwick won the first of three successive corners, Robert Wilson heading the final one over the bar. They came closer to scoring seven minutes later after Coultress and Stevie Notman worked the ball to Lavery who was only a foot wide with a low drive.
David Morris put the ball in the net but the offside flag was already up. Sixty seconds later, in the 25th minute, the next one was for real. Coultress played the ball up the left to Michael McKenna who picked out Graham inside the box from where he comfortably beat keeper Darren Dolan.
Graham struck again in the 37th minute. He recovered both the ball and his composure after stumbling when tackled and, again showing self belief, had the ball in the net from 25 yards out.
As half time approached, Graham was once more well placed inside the penalty area to receive Ewan McNeil’s pass. This time, his shot was on the weak side but it still had Dolan scrambling to turn it away for a corner.
After doing little of note in the first half, ‘Shire, with the wind now behind them, opened the second half briskly. They won their first corner of the game on 53 minutes. Jonny Fairbairn was booked for clattering Nathan Shepherd whose runs from deep posed the greatest threat to Rangers. The hosts went on to win a couple more corners, the second hitting the post. Ross Gilmour was replaced by Jon Tully to play up front but he made little impact, some in the Berwick camp more used to seeing him as a central defender in Development League games.
McKenna was poised to increase the lead just short of 70 minutes but Dolan made a good save. However, the stuffing was soon knocked out of East Stirling. With the defence in trouble, Lavery played in Morris. It was debatable if his shot would have gone in anyway but Coultress was on hand at the far post to make sure that it did.
With less than 10 minutes remaining, manager John Coughlin introduced new loanee from Morton Dylan Stevenson ahead of a four man move which might have ended with fellow midfielder Graham’s hat trick but his shot was too high.
Set piece work was a key element at training two nights earlier and in the 88th minute, it paid off. Dolan flapped away a Coultress corner for another one and from it, Lavery timed his jump to perfection to head in Berwick’s fourth goal.
Right at the end, Kevin Walker was caught off guard by a long Arbroath-style wind assisted lob from ex-Berwick man Chris Townsley. The keeper managed to turn it on to the top of his net and also tipped away the resulting corner.
There were several contenders for away man of the match. Graham for his two goals. Coultress, who played like a man determined to cement a regular starting spot. Morris, whose second half rampaging runs down the right touchline were twice abruptly halted by fouls and McKenna, who used spatial awareness to good effect to position himself or to find others.
A much needed win for Berwick who by the end were playing with a confidence so often missing this season. A sterner test beckons on Boxing Day away to second in the table Queen’s Park.
Berwick Rangers: Walker, McNeil, Crane, Notman, Wilson, Fairbairn (capt.), F.Graham, Morris, McKenna (Stevenson 82), Lavery, Coultress