East Stirlingshire fans’ favourite Nathan Shepherd set off on the road to full recovery yesterday (Thursday) when he underwent surgery following a knee injury which ended his season.
The Shire full-back damaged the cruciate ligament in his right knee during the team’s 3-1 defeat against Rangers at Ibrox last month and without an operation his prospects for playing football were bleak.
Even after it’s done the player faces a recovery programme that will take months and he might have to wait until the end of the year to pull on the club’s black-and-white jersey again.
“It’s good news for us that we can look forward to seeing Nathan play for the Shire again,” said club chairman Tony Ford. “His performances in the early part of the season were impressive and he quickly made himself popular with our fans.
“I am sure they will be delighted that Nathan will be back with the Shire next season. He will be well looked after by the club physios who will be putting together a programme to aid him back to full recovery.”
Shepherd had been one of the real finds for Shire over the summer after being released by Stranraer. But an injury picked up in a game at Clyde a few days before Christmas set him back. Ironically, the Ibrox game which ended his season was intended as his comeback from the earlier knee problem.
“At least we now know what is required to get Nathan back playing again,” said Ford. “There are no guarantees with this operation but it is now much more routine than it once was and there are plenty of examples of footballers who have made a full recovery and gone on to resume their careers.”
Shire have not had their problems to seek with injury this season. Shepherd follows Rhys Devlin in going under the doctor’s knife after the Shire utility man tore his cruciate ligament back in November.
And the club’s current plight at the bottom of the league has not been made any easier by a series of less serious injuries suffered by their key players over the last month-and-a-half.
Following Saturday’s demoralising 6-0 defeat at Peterhead coach John Coughlin counted no fewer than six signed players who he would have considered automatic starters who were unavailable to him.
And the Shire boss will again be sweating over the fitness of skipper Kevin Turner and midfielder Michael Herd for this weekend’s game against Annan Athletic at Ochilview.
The clash of the league’s bottom two teams almost certainly represents a last chance for Shire to escape consecutive wooden spoons. It is not an enviable record and something the club is determined to avoid.
“I spoke to the players at training on Tuesday and they are really in the mood for this game and determined to get the club off the bottom of the league,” said the chairman.
“There is little doubt that our terrible run of injuries has contributed to where we have ended up this season. Not only have we had key players out but we have had to play others out of position to cover for them which has meant not getting the best out of the squad available to us.”
Officials are not contemplating the potential consequences of what could happen were Shire to finish bottom again, but they know that sanctions are in place which could remove their rights to vote at SFL meetings and turn the club into associate members.
Ironically that threat would disappear if league reconstruction were to be approved in time for the 2013/14 campaign.
But Ford says the Shire have gone forwards in the last twelve months and, despite disappointing results, they are continuing to make progress on and off the pitch.
“When you look back a year we were well adrift at the bottom of the table while this time there is still a chance we can get ourselves higher,” he said. “We have won more matches and gained more points and I think would have been a lot better off if we had had a stable team full of our best players and had not been ravaged by injuries and suspensions.
“Off the pitch things look more secure but we know there are severe challenges that lie ahead. However, I think we are now better equipped to face them.”