Back-up for the backline is Coughlin’s top priority

PIC LISA FERGUSON 02/09/2010'FHS, 'EAST STIRLINGSHIRE FC TEAM PIC, SEASON 2010/2011'STUART BEVERIDGE
PIC LISA FERGUSON 02/09/2010'FHS, 'EAST STIRLINGSHIRE FC TEAM PIC, SEASON 2010/2011'STUART BEVERIDGE

East Stirlingshire could have at least one fresh face in their line-up for Saturday’s vital bottom of the table clash with Peterhead.

Coach John Coughlin is making an experienced centre-half his top priority and has already begun his search for the kind of player he thinks is key to improving the club’s fortunes.

The Shire boss has been struggling to find someone to hold his young back line together since the re-call of 35 year old Craig Winter by Cowdenbeath from his loan spell, and Coughlin says Saturday’s defeat at Elgin City made the case for finding a replacement all the stronger.

“At Elgin I thought that defensively we were quite poor, especially in the first half,” he said. “We got better as the match went on, but when you look back at it the reason we lost was individual errors which led directly to Elgin’s second and third goals.

“The only thing we can look to do is try to find a replacement for Craig Winter. I have been given a couple of leads I am following up.

“It would be nice to think we could get something tied up in that department ahead of Saturday’s game because you only need to look at the league table to see how important it is for us.”

Coughlin’s defensive woes have not been made any easier with the news that centre-half Stuart Beveridge is to take a leave of absence from the club to concentrate on important university exams.

The player is a chemical engineering student at Strathclyde University and has asked the club to temporarily excuse him from twice weekly training and Saturday matches so he can devote extra time to his studies.

“Stuart spoke to me about his situation and it is hardly a request we can turn down. He is only 19 years old and has his whole life and career in front of him.

“These exams are vitally important to that and football is really just a hobby. That said, central defenders are something that we need at the moment and that is why it is really important we get something sorted out soon.”

The month that Shire had Winter on loan from Cowdenbeath convinced Coughlin that a wise head at the heart of the Shire defence might be all it takes to turn their season around.

“I was surprised that the impact of just one player could have on the whole team,” he said. “The younger defenders immediately became better players, we looked less panicked, we stopped making silly mistakes and we started picking up points.”

The Shire boss says he is prepared to consider a loan deal with a team from a higher division or he could look to bring in the kind of player he is looking for permanently.

He has managed to trim down his squad since the opening of the transfer window and that has allowed him to offer a deal to the right man, if someone is available.

“There is not a lot of money available, but if I have to work with a smaller squad to improve the quality in a key area then that’s what I’ll do.”

Saturday’s long trip north falls into the must-win category for Shire if they want to avoid being stranded and the bottom of the Third Division table.

Peterhead have been surprise strugglers this season, but have shown signs of improvement under Coughlin’s predecessor, Jim McInally, and the gap which was one point before Christmas is now up to six.

Their hosts this weekend won plaudits for their defensive display against Celtic in the Scottish Cup, but Coughlin says the league encounter will be completely different.

“The way Peterhead set themselves up against Celtic will be completely different to how they approach the game against us,” he said. They will have Rory McAllister suspended which is a big bonus for us.”