If Connor Greene was feeling a little sore from heading the ball during East Stirlingshire’s Scottish Cup draw at Annan Athletic then it would hardly be surprising.
The central defender’s performance at Galabank was emblematic of a new steely defensive resolve about John Sludden’s men; this was their fourth shut out in a row and they haven’t conceded a goal from open play in a month. The only time keeper Jamie Barclay has been beaten in the last five games is from a solitary penalty kick at Spartans.
Saturday was certainly a far cry from a harem-scarem early part to the season when Shire couldn’t buy a clean sheet.
“At the start of the season we were just trying to outscore teams,” said Greene. “We were maybe just a bit too attacking but we’ve sorted it out now. We know we’re going to get chances in games and we need to take them. We have boys up front who can win games and it’s up to us at the back to keep other teams out and make sure we don’t lose games before we have a chance to win them.”
Although, on this particular day, Shire ought to have established a lead and then have given the defenders something to cling on to.
The early part of the match made a mockery of any distinction between League 2 Annan Athletic and Lowland League Shire. The visitors were in the mood to prove they were every bit as good as their elevated opponents and, with a bit of good fortune, they ought to have been in control of the game by half-time.
But the bit of luck you need in cup-ties would not go for them. After three minutes a corner from the left was only half cleared as far as Shire skipper Derek Ure but his shot smacked off the post.
And you can’t make allowances for the opposition goalie playing a blinder.
After 17 minutes Blair Currie dived full-length to prevent a net-bound Kris Faulds effort beating him. His fingertip save to prevent Andy Rodgers’ flashing header opening the scoring was superb and he had to throw himself across his goal to paw away a Paul Sludden shot as well.
“We said before the game we wanted to be aggressive and in their face,” said Greene. “They may be in a league above us but we wanted to prove we’re
good enough to play at that level and I think they got a bit of a fright.
“Their keeper kept them in it in the first half but in the second half they went a bit more direct although I felt we stood up to it pretty well.”
The second period was much more of a challenge to Shire. Nine minutes in home danger man Darren Ramsay flashed a great shot just across the face of goal and wide.
Late on French striker Jean Guy Lucas missed a glorious chance to score with a shot that skimmed Jamie Barclay’s crossbar from the edge of the box and then Ramsay tried a volley from a great position but his effort bounced on to the roof of the net.
Greene conceded there had been a bit more work to do defensively for Shire after the interval . ”I think I headed the ball more than I kicked it, which is probably in my favour,” he joked. “But that’s what the back four are there for – to put our heads on the line and let the other guys go and win the game for us.”
It wasn’t for a want of trying that they couldn’t achieve that aim and Shire will now have to settle for a replay at Ochilview on Saturday.