Stranraer will still be wondering how they contrived to come away from Stair Park last weekend with nothing.
They dominated most of the play against a Berwick side that had arrived low on confidence following an indifferent recent run of results. However, the visitors engineered a fine victory by soaking up the Blues’ pressure and showing the home side how to find the route to goal.
Stranraer burst out of the blocks when Scott Taggart surged towards the bye-line and delivered from the right only to see Conner McGlinchey make a clearance. There were immediate follow up attempts by Sean Winter and Craig Malcolm but these were blocked by desperate Berwick defending to thwart the Blues early opportunities. The visitors responded rapidly and forced Winter to lose possession after Stranraer rushed a goal kick and although Fraser McLaren struck his effort well, it sailed over the top. Stranraer pressed again and Stephen Stirling played a lovely ball through for Martin Grehan to chase and although he beat Steven Tulloch in the race, goalkeeper Jamie Barclay had raced out to win a crucial challenge and another chance was gone. Steven Noble then created an opportunity with a dangerous cross that was half cleared but fell to Stuart McColm who blasted high and wide from a good position admittedly distracted by Chris Townsley who lunged in with a desperate last ditch block. Berwick, although under the cosh, still plugged away and Darren Gribben picked up a loose ball and made a chance for himself but his shot wasn’t a great concern for David Mitchell. Winter and Taggart were combining and creating at will on the right flank and when Taggart crossed, Grehan headed towards the target but without enough venom to test Barclay. Berwick replied with their best effort so far came from Townsley attempted a shot through a crowded goalmouth that David MacGregor deflected away. The visitors returned the ball quickly towards the penalty area and Jordon Forster had a chance but screwed it wide. Although Stranraer has controlled most of the play, Berwick had gathered some impetus and demonstrated to the home team how to take advantage by grabbing the lead against the general run of play. Stranraer conceded possession cheaply on their left when McLaren robbed Winter, looked up, and crossed into the middle where Stuart Noble was waiting, enjoying the freedom of the Royal Burgh and he neatly poked the ball past the helpless Mitchell. Stranraer continued to press but could only create a difficult chance for Chris Aitken and although he got a shot away Townsley continued his impressive defensive display at the heart of the Berwick back four with a timely intervention at the expense of a corner. Taggart delivered another cross from wide that Winter miscued from a tight angle but Berwick almost snatched another when Lee Currie collected a Gribben pass and turned John Kane before only just failing with an audacious chip over Mitchell that landed on the roof of the net. Stirling was the next to misfire for the Blues by slicing high and wide from the edge of the box and just as it looked as though half time would arrive with the home side frustrated by their profligacy in thye final third the equaliser duly arrived. Winter galloped clear down the right and squared across goal for Stuart McColm who timed his run from the back post area and smacked the ball into the net. The same man almost scored again moments after the restart when he picked up a pass from Malcolm but shot just wide and the score stayed level at the break.
Little was to change after the interval and the match statistics will show that Stranraer were in the ascendency on territory and possession but as before, they didn’t hurt Berwick in the danger area and faced with stubborn resistance from their defence, struggled to break the visitors down. They in turn appeared happy to soak up the pressure until a chance arrived, which to their credit they achieved successfully. MacGregor had a snap shot when a corner fell at his feet and it was Townsley, once again with the heroics whose presence blocked the ball just short of the goal line. Aitken delivered a succession of corners and when one fell to Grehan his header bounced clear off the top of the crossbar. A chance that he would expect to have buried had he been enjoying anything other than the poor run of form in front of goal he is trying to dig himself free from. Aitken then shot over from a good position just outside the box before Tulloch earned the only booking issued by the referee for a crude challenge on McColm that gave a dead ball chance to Stirling but his effort was wasteful. Gribben continued to look hungry each time he got good possession and he skipped past Taggart but shot tamely at Mitchell who saved easily. He found himself in acres of space minutes later but Noble delayed in finding his strike partner and when the ball did arrive at his feet the chance had gone as MacGregor could intervene. Stranraer should have got themselves in front with the best move of the match in the 65th minute. McColm was creator when he won the ball on half way, turned and raced forward before delivering a pinpoint cross for Grehan to attack. Although he made good contact his effort was slightly too close to Barclay and he hurled himself to his left and produced a fantastic save which would prove to be a real turning point in the proceedings. Gribben had been the most potent threat all day and he created an opening for McLaren on the right who took aim from a tight angle but Mitchell was equal to the task. Almost immediately Gribben was involved again and this time an incisive pass split the Blues defence and ran perfectly for Fraser McLaren who completed the job by tucking the ball past the once again exposed Mitchell and the visitors were back in front. This signalled a power shift in the game and Berwick grew in confidence showing some great character and resolve to play out the final twenty minutes or so by restricting Stranraer to speculative efforts from longer range. Stranraer, of course, made some attacking changes but continued to toil to little effect with the notable exception of a dipping effort from Stirling that Barclay beat away and Berwick patiently waited for their opportunity to kill the game on the break. Gribben had been forced to hobble off after taking a knock to be replaced by John Ferguson and it took the substitute only 6 minutes to notch his first goal for the club which made the points secure. He cut in from the left and jumped through a joint challenge from Kane and Taggart before calmly curling the ball round Mitchell and into the far corner with some style and panache. Stranraer did conjure up a couple of Michael Moore efforts late on but never looked likely to influence the result and Berwick were able to celebrate a victory that was possibly slightly harsh on Stranraer but nevertheless earned with a hard working performance.
Ferguson was delighted with the brilliant feeling of getting the club back to winning ways and particularly pleased to have grabbed his first goal in a Berwick jersey. He was quick to acknowledge the efforts of the defensive unit for their contribution to the result.
Ian Little was impressed with the performance and how the side had grabbed their goals at crucial times. He had to make changes to counter Stranraer’s early pressure was quick to praise the effort and character showed throughout by his side.
A rueful Keith Knox bemoaned the poor defending that had once again seen Stranraer give away soft goals that the opposition had not had to work hard enough to get. This has become the story of the season so far and continues to frustrate. Something that must be addressed before the massive task faced on the trip to Galabank to play Annan Athletic this coming weekend.
Stranraer: David Mitchell, Scott Taggart, Steven Noble, David MacGregor (Nathan Shepherd 75), John Kane, Chris Aitken (Angus Cochrane 78), Sean Winter, Stephen Stirling, Craig Malcolm, Martin Grehan (Michael Moore 69), Stuart McColm. Subs Not Used: Dean Agnew, Ryan Marshall
Goal: McColm 45
Berwick Rangers: Jamie Barclay, Jordon Forster, Conner McGlinchey, Steven Tulloch, Chris Townsley, Lee Currie, Fraser McLaren (Richard Walker 72), Steven Notman, Darren Gribben (John Ferguson 74), Stuart Noble, Ross Gray (David Greenhill 64). Subs Not Used: Michael Deland, Gavin Sorley
Goals: Noble 26, McLaren 67, Ferguson 80
Referee: E Anderson