Results over the remainder of the festive period will go a long way to deciding whether East Stirlingshire’s season is a success or not.
Coach John Coughlin has two important fixtures to prepare for which he says will be crucial in determining whether the team can achieve the progress he is looking for and move away from the bottom of the league.
Prior to Christmas Shire put points on the board with Ochilview draws against Montrose and Annan Athletic, but the coach says that will have to improve when they travel to face Peterhead on Saturday and then return to Ochilview for the vital first game of 2013 against Stirling Albion on Wednesday.
“The draws were fine as far as they broke up a run of three defeats,” said Coughlin. “But you are penalised for getting too many draws in a row. What we need now are wins. We have seen the gap to the bottom close to just one point in spite of those two draws so we know the margin of error is getting smaller and smaller.”
The club is acutely aware of the dangers of a last place finish; having been bottom of the heap last term they could have sanctions applied by the SFL if it happens for a second successive season. But Coughlin remains confident they can pull out of the situation.
“We have made a lot of progress in a year,” he said. “When you look back at this time last year we were already bottom and just starting to get isolated from the rest.
“While the last couple of draws have not helped us in terms of pulling away from Stirling Albion, at the same time we are still competitive and in touch with the rest of the league. A couple of wins would put us in mid-table and that is where we want to be.”
The journey north to Peterhead might offer Shire more hope than has been the case in the past. Their hosts were due to be one of the pre-season play-off contenders but have won only once in their last five games. Coughlin says they cannot afford to be cautious.
“You might think that a draw at a place like Peterhead, to us at least, would seem like a good result,” said the Shire coach. ”But we really need to go for the win. We have had two draws in our last two games and another would do us no favours.
“We have already beaten them once this season so we know we are capable of getting a result. It is a difficult place to go and get a win but we know that is what we need to ease the pressure on us.”
Arguably, though, it is Wednesday’s derby clash with Stirling Albion at Ochilview which assumes pivotal importance in Shire’s season. Their Stirlingshire rivals have been making great strides in their bid to launch themselves off the bottom of the table, and have won their last two games.
Coughlin accepts that even if they get the right result on Saturday at Balmoor Stadium, it will still be a pressure point.
“We certainly understand the importance and the significance of the game against Stirling,” he said. “They are now starting to win games and that is not unexpected given that a lot of their more experienced players are returning from long-term injury.
“I think that has been their problem right from the start. When you look at Stirling’s squad list it is full of experienced guys who have been round the ropes and you would not have expected them to struggle.
“But most have been on the treatment table rather than the pitch and they have been forced to pack their team with inexperienced kids, which, as we found out last year, is tough when it comes to getting results.”
Results are what Shire need now to try and move away from the bottom of the table and Coughlin is more aware than anyone of the consequences of not getting them.
“It has come to the point where only wins will do,” he said. “We want to go into Wednesday’s derby with some kind of an advantage over Stirling and the only way to do that is to get the right result at Peterhead.
“After that, we want to stay ahead of Stirling going into the new year. And the best way of achieving that is to beat them. So we have to set ourselves the target of maximum points from these games.”