The satisfaction that Rangers took from this game was tainted.
The team's efforts were undermined by a group of away fans whose outbursts of sectarian chanting in the first-half were clear enough for ESPN, who were broadcasting the game live, to apologise to viewers. Rangers moved quickly to address the problem, with David Martin, the head of safety and security, admonishing the supporters involved during the interval.
There was a view that a younger, heedless group of fans were being provocative because the game was being played in England. Yet officers from Strathclyde Police were assisting the local Northumbria constabulary, and the anti-sectarian laws passed in Scotland were "enactable" anyway, according to Superintendent Tim Smith. There were only two arrests for sectarian offences, but the incidents were still an act of self-harm to the club.
Loading article content
Rangers' away trips this season have been good-natured and uneventful, although The Billy Boys was briefly sung at Hampden against Queen's Park, after a late winning goal and when some fans were attempting to bring the song back with acceptable lyrics. There was more sustained singing at this game, with No Pope Of Rome even heard at one point, a song that has long been abandoned by Rangers fans.
The second half passed without incident, but at a time when the club is attempting to rebuild and move on from a financial crisis, indiscretions from the past will infuriate Charles Green and his directors. The club issued a statement during the second half, condemning the "inappropriate singing by a section of the away support", and Rangers must be indignant that the club's reputation can still be tarnished by a minority of troublemakers who continue to consider anti-Catholic sentiment part of their identity.
The game itself kept verging on a trial of Rangers' resolve. Berwick sought to make the occasion discomforting, playing forcefully, vigorously and on the front foot. With the surface uneven and treacherous enough in places for players to lose their balance, Rangers spent the opening spell coming to terms with the conditions. By then, though, Berwick had established some momentum.
That was enough to unsettle Rangers, and Anestis Argyriou was hapless as he deflected Dylan Easton's corner past his own goalkeeper, Neil Alexander. The home side looked elated, but they could not sustain the mood. Dean Shiels cleverly drew a foul from Dougie Brydon inside the penalty area two minutes later, then converted the spot-kick himself. "The penalty decision, from where I was standing, was correct," said McCoist. "The referee was right next to it and I looked for a penalty as soon as the tackle went in."
Berwick were never cowed, and could sense that the centre-back pairing of Chris Hegarty and Ross Perry was occasionally uncomfortable. The latter ended up leaving the game with a broken nose and a torn hamstring, while Kyle Hutton was knocked to the ground after being struck full in the face by a ball hit from close range by his team-mate Lee Wallace. By then, though, Rangers were ahead.
Despite conceding passages of the game to their hosts, Rangers took the lead just before half-time, when a smart move down the left ended with Wallace crossing for Andy Little, who steered a clever volley past Marc McCallum, the Berwick goalkeeper. "That was a brilliant goal, one of the best I've seen this season, really well worked," said McCoist. "The volley was sensational, and it came at a great time for us."
There was less goalmouth activity after the interval, but Berwick accumulated near misses while Sebastien Faure was alert enough to side-foot a shot past McCallum when the ball fell to him at a corner kick to give Rangers a measure of relative comfort over the closing stages of the match. In the end, they deserved their victory, but without ever dominating or browbeating their opponents.
"The second goal was a wonderful strike, and sometimes you've just got to hold your hands up," said Ian Little, the Berwick manager. "The penalty was soft. But eventually they showed a bit of composure and quality."
Sectarian and self-harming