The return of Rhys Devlin to the East Stirlingshire team after more than a year of injury nightmare was the one high point of Tuesday’s disappointing Stirlingshire Cup exit at the hands of Stirling Albion.
Devlin took to the pitch as a second half substitute in the 3-1 defeat and although his performance couldn’t help Shire into the final, it was another small step on the road to full recovery.
It was the player’s first competitive football in 13 months following a serious knee injury which required surgery. Coach John Coughlin admitted it may be a while yet before the former St. Mirren and Airdrie United utility player is back challenging for a first team place but his comeback is nevertheless significant.
“Rhys was thrown in at the deep end because he wasn’t even scheduled to play in the match originally,” he said. “But he got about 20 minutes on the park and I thought came through it with flying colours. It puts him ahead of schedule and it was great to see him get time on the park. We are all delighted to see him back in action and we will be monitoring his progress closely.”
The Shire boss chose to field many of his young reserve team players in the Forthbank clash while his Stirling Albion counterpart, Greig McDonald, put out what amounted to almost his entire first team.
It took Albion until the half-hour mark to make their decision tell with the opening goal and after the break the young Shire team, supplemented with the likes of Kevin Turner and Michael McGowan, battered their hosts but couldn’t find the net.
Ricky Miller gave away a penalty ten minutes from the end from which Albion settled things with a second goal and they put a gloss on things with a third. Paul Quinn got Shire’s consolation from the penalty spot in the final minute.
Coughlin admitted the team he chose for the game fitted his own priorities which were to keep players ticking over with a gap in the fixture list caused by the postponement of this weekend’s game with Annan Athletic in mind.
“I took the decision to mix up some of the young reserve players with a few of the more experienced members of the squad to give the younger players the chance to play at a higher level.
“Stirling viewed the game differently and put out most of their first team and that effectively cost us the tie, but for me it was about giving the younger lads the chance to learn.
“I think a few of them got a rude awakening about what the standard is like at this level, but all you can hope is that it will stand them in good stead.
He gave some of the squad a run-out at Forthbank while others will take part in a closed-door friendly against Livingston on Saturday. Coughlin would far have preferred to be heading to Annan on Saturday, especially in the light of Sunday’s 6-0 Scottish Cup win over Threave Rovers.
But they will face Livingston instead due to Annnan’s Ramsdens Cup semi-final on Sunday against Raith Rovers taking precedence. Ironically, Shire drew Raith in the next round of the Scottish Cup in a match to be played at Ochilview on Sunday 3rd November. However,Coughlin’s priority right now is to try and ensure his players don’t lose the head of steam they have built up through some very good recent victiories.
“I don’t like enforced breaks and I would much have preferred to play a league game on Saturday,” he said. “I like the continuity of playing Saturday to Saturday and trying to roll out results. We have been doing really well lately and I don’t want to break the momentum.
“There is a danger when you take these bounce game that they are not played at 100% and people can go into a little lull. So it’s our job to get the players ready and make them aware that this game on Saturday is an important part of the preparation for the next league match.”