It has taken him more than half the season to work out but East Stirlingshire coach John Coughlin says he is now as sure as he will ever be of his strongest starting eleven.
The Shire boss claims Saturday’s 3-0 defeat at Clyde only firmed things up in his own mind after a display which was overshadowed by the absence of key players.
Both Michael Hunter and club captain Kevin Turner will be back in the squad for this weekend’s match with Queen’s Park, and Coughlin says it is just as well.
“There was no doubt both players were badly missed on Saturday and they will go straight back into the squad after serving one game bans,” he said. “It has taken us a long time to find a blend that was capable of getting results but we seemed to be getting there until both players were suspended.
“We could see things starting to come together just after the new year,” he said. “Although the team that played at Peterhead lost the game it looked as though we were getting there.
“I let the same side start the game against Montrose the following week and my hunch was proven right as we won 3-1. From there on in I saw little point in changing things and we were starting to see the benefit. But there was little doubt that the changes we were forced to make for Clyde were disruptive.”
Shire know they have a task on their hands when they face the men from Hampden on Saturday. The Spiders are on a fine run of form that has catapulted them into third place in the league.
While their hosts were losing 3-0 at Broadwood, Gardner Spiers’ men were demolishing Montrose 5-0 at Hampden. Shire have also been on the end of two comprehensive defeats at the hands of Queen’s Park this season and Coughlin knows they will have their work cut out. However, he is not entirely without hope.
“If you look at our best performances and best results this season they have come against the teams at the top of the league. Queen’s Park are the only team in the top half of the division we have failed to take at least a point from this season,” he said.
“I know we are capable of doing something. You only have to look at our performance in our last home game against Stranraer when we came within a couple of minutes of beating the team in second place. We have also gone to Alloa this season and were just a few minutes from winning there.
“All of our better performances have come against the teams challenging for promotion and that gives us something to hang onto.”
Shire certainly need the points if they are to stand any chance of avoiding a last place finish in the league this season. They have the final third of the campaign to try and make up an eight point gap on Montrose, something the coach knows will be a hard task.
“We always knew that trying not to end up bottom of the table would be the top priority,” he said. “The club has been engaged in a battle just to survive and winning that fight this season was always going to take priority over the football.
“The club’s directors made that plain to me before I took the job and I was under no illusions about how hard it would be to get results under the financial restrictions that they imposed.
“However, we have now reached the stage where I think we have a team that is able to compete and pick up points. It has taken us two-thirds of the season to get there and we have had to take a number of wrong turnings,” said Coughlin.
“But we have to retain a sense of optimism and return to the self-belief we were just starting to show prior to the Clyde match. If we do that then I think we stand a chance of winning any match.”