John Coughlin says he could not have asked for a harder start to his second full season in charge at East Stirlingshire.
The club begins a new campaign with a Ramsdens Cup first round match against Ayr United at Ochilview on Saturday and will follow that up with a League Cup clash with First Division Morton eight days later.
The Shire boss says he is happy with the progress his new-look side are making but admits they will have their work cut out in two testing matches.
Just how big a challenge it will be was underlined by their 4-3 defeat against Stenhousemuir in last weekend’s Stirlingshire Cup match. Coughlin says those who try to minimise the differences between the standards of the three SFL divisions are missing the point.
“Plenty of people said to me after Saturday’s game that we matched Stenhousemuir well,” he said.
“But, for me, the point to be taken out of the game was that when push came to shove they moved up a gear and we were unable to respond.
“So, while we can take a lot of credit for our performance, we know that clubs in the Second Division have far more spending power than we do and I expect that point to be underlined again this weekend when we play Ayr United.”
The Honest Men came to Ochilview exactly a year ago for a League Cup game and won it 3-0 at a canter. Coughlin looked back on that game this week and used it to contrast how things had improved at the Shire, while noting that this week’s clash will be no less difficult.
The Shire boss recalls having to cobble together a team with almost no resources and without knowing what he was going to get from players he barely knew.
“It took us right up until the eve of the first game of last season to sign enough players to get a team on the park,” he said.
“We had guys playing for us that day who I knew almost nothing about, we had no time to figure out what our best starting 11 was or even what individual players’ ideal position was.”
This year things are far more organised. Coughlin has had the nucleus of his squad signed for weeks, they have played five warm-up matches, winning four and scoring 18 goals in the process. He has been able to attract players he knows and all well within the budget allocated to him. He has also put them through a tough pre-season training programme to get them fit.
But he still warns people not to get carried away. And he expects to get it tough in the opening match.
“The fact that we played them last season in very different circumstances I suppose gives us a chance to see how far we have come since then. But you have to remember they are a Second Division team who, in fact, were playing First Division football last year.
“They have a new manager and a group of players who will be trying to impress him. They’re a strong team.”