East Stirlingshire face their toughest test of the season when they travel to face pre-season title favourites Peterhead on Saturday, according to assistant coach Matt Kerr.
Although Shire are currently three points ahead of the rest of the division at the top of SPFL League Two and six clear of Saturday’s opponents, Kerr says the Blue Toon, managed by former Shire boss Jim McInally, deserve their bookies’ favourite tag and will pose a real measure of the Bainsford side’s own aspirations.
However, Shire have one of the best away records in the league this season and Kerr is keen to point out that their last road trip, to Annan Athletic, seemed just as formidable beforehand but did not stop them winning the match 2-1.
“Peterhead is a big one for us,” he said. “They beat us convincingly at home and I don’t think we have won up there for a few years. They were everyone’s favourite at the start and I suppose with the squad Peterhead have available to them they will have to turn it on at some point. However, if we show the same attitude and determination that we showed at Annan then I am sure we can get the right result.”
A Shire side flying high with good levels of confidence and some decent league results in recent games should ordinarily have little to fear, especially as they have lost only once on their travels so far this season.
Peterhead, by contrast, have not been the force so far that everyone presumed they would be. Primarily that has been down to injury and selection problems. However, they demolished Shire 4-1 at Ochilview earlier in the campaign and have in Rory McAllister and Andy Rodgers perhaps the best striking partnership in the division. Kerr is under no illusions.
“It is always very difficult to go there and get anything,” he said. “When you look at the squad and the resources they have available it will always be hard for us to get anything, and that is irrespective of how they are playing right now, with so many saying they are underperforming.
“The league right now is no respecter of league position. We may be top but everyone is capable of beating everyone else. It is up to use to look positively on the challenge.
“We went to Annan and showed a very high level of commitment and determination to win what was a very difficult trip. What we have been trying to do is get the players to understand that we need that sort of performance on a consistent basis and I suppose there is pressure on the boys to achieve that standard regularly.”
Kerr is not giving defeat on Saturday any thought. That said, Shire have lost every visit to Balmoor Stadium that they have undertaken in the last 12 years and some of them have been brutal.
John Coughlin’s men are a changed side this season and should be capable of giving Peterhead serious competition at a time when their hosts have such an extensive list of personnel out for one reason or another. Kerr says the Shire players should not lack motivation to come home with the three points.
“Every week that we have been at the top of the league we have made the point to the players that their incentive to win their next match is to stay top. That will not change on Saturday and that should be enough motivation for them.
“We are no longer a surprise packet. We are top of the league on merit and people are starting to realise that we are not a passing fad.
“After the Raith Rovers game their players and coaches were very complimentary and said to us that they thought we looked good enough to be where we are. We take a great deal of encouragement from comments like that and we will be giving it everything we have at Peterhead.”
Shire will still be without the injured Max Wright and Paul Quinn but should be similar to the team that fought back twice to ensure a 2-2 draw against Stirling Albion last weekend.