Berwick Rangers 2 Queen’s Park 3

Almost exactly five years ago Queen’s travelled to Berwick for a Challenge Cup tie. Little did we know at the time, but July 28, 2012 was to prove a big day. Making his debut was a certain Andrew Robertson, who has since gone on to great things, earning international recognition along the way.

It was also a bit of a cup tie in its own right, finishing 2-2 before the Spiders won an eventful penalty shoot-out 3-2. Tony Quinn missed out on a hat-trick when he failed with his penalty, while keeper Neil Parry did score from the spot – and then set off on a victory lap, before he realised there was still a penalty left and he had to nip back between the posts to complete the job.

On a personal level, it was also a night to remember for Gulliver as he and his wee geordie chum had failed to factor penalties into their train timetabling, so both missed their respective connections and had fairly chaotic journeys back to base.

So tonight’s tie had a way to go to live up to that drama, but most in the QP camp who made the journey into foreign parts would have settled for another victory to round off our Betfredcup for 2017.

It certainly started off in intriguing fashion, with a packed Shielfield car park greeting the fans on arrival. But there was no danger of the “Ground Full” signs going up as the bulk of the visitors were there to see the circus which had rolled into town. Gus wouldn’t have been laughing as some comic-cuts defending allowed our hosts to take the lead with just 24 seconds on the clock.

Queen’s may have taken the field along familiar lines (Willie Muir; a back three of Ross Millen, Kevin Green and Bryan Wharton; David Galt and Michael Bailey in the wingback positions; a midfield trio of David Green, Dominic Docherty and Anton Brady; and Ewan MacPherson and Thomas Orr up front) but they looked all at sea as Lavery found acres of space on the left and crossed for Rutherford to plant the ball behind Muir.

Not the start we wanted, and given previous experiences in Berwick, it looked like being a long night. However, the mood lightened when Queen’s won a free-kick on the right after eight minutes. As Galt swung the ball in, there was some shirt-tugging and pushing going on, and referee Ross decided it was bad enough to award the correct punishment and Ross Millen stepped up to do his usual confident, competent job from the resultant spot kick.

That was us back to where we started, but it was clear from the way both teams responded that it was never going to finish at just 1-1.

Galt and Docherty produced neat footwork to give firstly Brady a shooting chance which he dragged wide, and then MacPherson just failed to get on the end of Dominic’s teasing cross.

The home side were also going for goal and it took some brave defending by Green and Wharton to block follow-up efforts from two corners won in quick succession.

Things really heated up about the halfway point. A lovely move down Queen’s left gave Brady the chance to drive in a cross, which was hammered against his own bar by Waugh as he tried to clear. Seconds later, an awful clash between Scullion and David Green left both players in a crumpled heap. Thankfully, they both resumed after treatment, but Scullion only lasted a few minutes more before limping off to be replaced by Thomson.

Still the action went from end to end. Wharton produced a lovely sliding tackle to deny Rutherford and then a Docherty cross was headed goalwards by Bailey and had to be tipped behind by McRorie for a corner.

Galt was having a fruitful night on the right and he engineered the goal that put Queen’s in front after 32 minutes. A wicked cross eluded everybody but Bailey who dived in at the far post to rocket a header into the net.

And six minutes later, the lead was doubled. Galt picked up a loose ball just outside the Berwick box, meandered along the 18-yard line, and fired a left-footed shot low beyond McRorie.

That was almost the end of the action in the first period, but right on the whistle, Brady talked himself into a yellow card.

Half Time: Berwick Rangers 1 Queen’s Park 3

The home side made their second change at the interval, replacing Cook with Murrell, but it was the Spiders who started better this time. MacPherson was denied by the keeper only five minutes in after being set up by another ball from Galt.

Thomson had a chance to make an impact moments later, but sclaffed his shot wide from a good position. Then it was back to Queen’s on the front foot as Orr and MacPherson both went close as the Berwick defence got themselves in a bit of a tangle.

Although chances were more scarce than in the first period as the game progressed, both teams had their moments. Just after the hour, Wharton went close with a header from a Queen’s corner, before resuming defensive duties to head away one effort and then produce a remarkable clearance as he hooked the ball clear while running towards his own goal. Keeper Muir must have been as relieved as the QP faithful to see that one come off.

Gus made a double change with 20 minutes left, replacing Orr and MacPherson with William Mortimer and debut boy James MacLennan.

The Spiders should have tied the game up with just over 15 minutes left. Bailey had gone close with a curler from outside the box, and then Queen’s won a corner. A training ground routine saw Galt burst onto the short ball, drive to the byeline and cut it back to the waiting Mortimer. But the striker’s close-range effort lacked the necessary power and was scrambled clear.

That escape gave Berwick hope of salvaging something and Stewart had one goalbound effort blocked before Muir came to clutch a corner with Rutherford poised.

It was the striker’s last action of the night as he was replaced by Fairbairn, while Gus introduced Luke Whelan to proceedings, giving David Green a well-earned rest for the last 13 minutes.

The sub made his mark quickly, capitalising on more good play from Galt to fire off a shot that was heading goalwards before it was blocked by Fleming.

Queen’s were still in control, but after the Cappielow finale last Tuesday, there was no room for silly mistakes. So naturally, with seven minutes left, some more sloppy defending gifted Berwick a second goal – Thomson tapping home to make it 2-3 after being set up by Murrell.

Thomson was certainly having an impact – and straight from the restart found himself again at the heart of things as he was booked for tugging back Brady.

It could have been Deja Vu for the Spiders in the dying minutes as first Donaldson shot into the side net from a tight angle and then a real old stramash in the QP box was finally ended when Muir gratefully grabbed the loose ball to settle the nerves.

Galt spoiled his evening a bit by getting booked for time wasting. (Mind you, it was a neat bit of keepie-uppie he displayed on his way to taking a corner).

Thankfully, the whistle went soon after and the Spiders had recorded back-to-back victories in their final outings of this competition.

We’ve now got a blank Saturday as Gus finalises his preparations for the league kick-off at Gayfield on August 5. There’s no denying that he has still got a bit of polishing to do, but he is in the enviable position of having choices for just about every position on the field. We look in a better place than we did at this time last year, but who knows how things will pan out?

One wee thought to bear in mind. Andy Robertson was starting out with Queen’s on our last cup visit to Berwick just those five years ago (It was also our last victory at the ground). His next competitive outing may well be in the colours of Liverpool before a passionate Kop. Could anybody from tonight’s QP squad follow his rapid rise?

That’s certainly the dream, and part of the reason why we all Keep the Faith.