The bluntness of Ally McCoist was a further indictment of his players. The Rangers manager was in no mood to be sparing because his team had presented him with no option. It was Berwick Rangers who were to be commended since their performance was so spirited and effective that it exposed the flaws in their opponents. Rangers' insecurities were made glaringly obvious.
They have now played two away games in the third division, and been fortunate to draw them both. The circumstances have to be accommodated, but the players have shown little aptitude for adapting. On a tight pitch, with long grass that held up the speed of the ball, Rangers were too circumspect. Berwick sought to be measured, too, but they understood the need to shift passes forward quickly and sharply.
They were also unabashed. Lee Currie was booked after just four minutes for a heavy foul on Ian Black, but that was caused by recklessness rather than intent. In their own half, Berwick hustled and closed the visitors down so that no attack could gain any foothold. It was unsettling for Rangers, but also an approach that they will need to find the means to overcome.
"I can't tell you how disappointed I am with the performance," said McCoist. "I'm in agony. It was well short of what any Rangers supporter or coach expects from the team. It was unacceptable. We didn't look confident. There were a lot of aspects of our play that we are far from happy with. That has to be a big concern.
"There's a lack of sharpness and there's a lot of hard work to be done. I'm up for it and I'll make sure the players are. Brechin was a jolt, Peterhead was a jolt, Falkirk gave us a good game. How many jolts are they wanting? That's four away games and every one of the teams has had their sleeves rolled up and been in our faces. We're not reacting to it at all well."
The match was a constant toil for Rangers. What taxed them was their own lack of authority, since it was the home side who set the tone of the encounter. Berwick imposed themselves by being industrious, but also allowing room for ambition. Darren Lavery was stationed up front on his own, but the isolation never perturbed him. He was capable of troubling Rangers' defence single-handedly, and Carlos Bocanegra was made to look cumbersome as the Berwick striker shrugged him aside, but then shot weakly at Neil Alexander, the Rangers goalkeeper.
These surroundings will always be capable of causing Rangers anxiety. It was 45 years ago that Berwick knocked them out of the Scottish Cup at Shielfield, but the result remains the worst in the Ibrox club's history. This spell in the third division, and the financial calamities that preceded it, are chastening in themselves, but the club continue to rely on the resources and personnel of a top-flight club. Berwick recognised the fragility of their opponents' spirit, and were unforgiving.
"I'm really pleased with the way we played, we wanted to keep possession and go forward whenever we could," said Ian Little, the Berwick manager. "We relaxed into this game and you have to be mentally strong. In the first quarter of the season, these games are going to be eye-openers for Rangers. They will come on stronger and still win the league comfortably."
There was a residue of accomplishment in the visitors' ranks. Rangers opened the scoring on the cusp of half-time, when Black's well-flighted free-kick was headed back across goal by Lee McCulloch and Andy Little was in the right place to turn a shot beyond Youssef Bejaoui, the Berwick goalkeeper. That breakthrough ought to have galvanised Rangers, since the run of play had mostly favoured the home side.
Berwick might have been deflated, but they retained their composure. They benefited, too, from the introduction of Fraser McLaren as a substitute. His pace and willingness to run in behind the Rangers defenders caused a different problem. While the visitors were coming to terms with it, McLaren stole in behind Emilson Caribari and steered his effort into the corner of the net. The striker had been released by Currie's astute pass, and the Berwick player outshone all of his opponents in midfield.
Rangers were ill-served across the team, although defender Ross Perry's error-prone display, Emilson's occasionally poor positioning and Fran Sandaza's sluggishness in attack were conspicuous. Even Black, who tends to be unrelenting, lost possession to McLaren, whose fierce shot had to be tipped over. From the resulting corner, Chris Townsley thought he had scored the winning goal with his header, but referee Mike Tumilty penalised McLaren for a foul on Alexander instead.
"I was just standing my ground and the keeper ran into me," said the Berwick forward. "It should have been 2-1, but we'll take the draw anyway. We're a good side, we played our own game anyway. It's a massive game for everybody."
Berwick's regrets about the disallowed goal will have soon dispersed. The plaudits still belonged to them.
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