East Stirlingshire squad is pushed to the limit by injury and suspension

John Sludden.
John Sludden.
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John Sludden is preparing to test the depth of his East Stirlingshire squad over the next few weeks as suspension and unavailability alter his selection choices.

For this weekend’s Lowland League visit to Gretna 2008 he will be without the suspended Paul Sludden and utility man Liam Allison.

And when Shire return to Ochilview next Saturday for a game against Whitehill Welfare the coach will have to do without Connor Greene and Andy Rodgers, who are both banned after picking up six yellow cards this season.

Sludden has tended to rely upon a core of his squad to form a settled starting eleven each week, but he has no fears about giving others the opportunity.

“We have always said to the boys who have found themselves on the bench that their chance will come,” he said. “Now it’s coming and we need them to step up and take the opportunity.

“It’s now up to them to show that they can not only come in and do a job but do well enough to keep their place.”

The Shire coach is comfortable that he has enough strength in depth and there have been occasions this season when he has made changes to his strongest eleven that have worked.

He gave teenager Simon White a lengthy run earlier in the season and later when regular left-back Drew Ramsay broke his wrist, Allison stepped in and then held on to the number three jersey.

One slight worry for Sludden is the lack of meaningful game time for the more fringe members of his squad.

The Lowland League does not have a reserve league and Shire don’t run an under-20 team in the Lowland League competition.

That has left him looking for midweek friendlies to give those who don’t start on a Saturday a run out and it hasn’t always been easy to find willing opponents.

“The one downside is that a lot of the players we are going to have to consider bringing in have not had the game time we would have liked,” he said. “We have organised a few friendlies but they have not been as regular as we would have wanted.

“That said, the players will just have to show in training that they are ready to step in and that they want it.”

The coach is expected to replace the suspended Sludden with Steven Brisbane for Saturday’s game at Gretna’s Raydale Park.

It’s one of the few Lowland League venues Shire have experience of visiting before – the ground was the home of the now defunct Gretna FC in the old SFL.

One thing Sludden will be asking his players is to get back to winning ways. The weather deprived them of a quick chance to bounce back from the 4-1 defeat at the hands of Spartans in their last outing when the planned trip to Preston Athletic was called off due to a waterlogged pitch.

“We said after the Spartans game that we needed to make sure we bounced back with a win. The weather denied us that chance against Preston Athletic, but the message remains the same for this game against Gretna,” said the Shire boss.

His team demolished this weekend’s opponents in the return fixture at Ochilview back in October when even a 5-0 victory failed to properly reflect Shire’s total dominance.

Nevertheless, without what Sludden would regard as his first choice eleven, and against a determined set of opponents, it will not be easy.

“First and foremost, we need to get the three points. That’s our main priority and anything else would be icing on the cake,” said Sludden.