Coughlin prepares to mix it up

Shire manager John Coughlin will have to reshuffle his pack
Shire manager John Coughlin will have to reshuffle his pack

John Coughlin’s first significant changes will be forced upon his revitalised East Stirlingshire team that has gone three matches unbeaten.

Skipper Kevin Turner and midfielder Michael Hunter will both have to sit out the next game against next-to-bottom Clyde with one match suspensions.

Defender David Cane is still struggling to shrug off a groin injury creating a major headache for the Shire boss who believes his team’s mini-recovery in fortunes springs from continuity.

“We have lost one of our last four games and ten of the starting eleven have been the same for all four,” said Coughlin. “We have only now reached the stage where we are happy with a settled team and they are starting to produce for us.

“There is no doubt that having to make a number of changes will interrupt that continuity and there is a risk it may blow us off course.”

Coughlin will be heartened that the one switch he has made in the last month has not had a negative impact on performances. The injury to centre-half Cane at Annan two weeks ago prompted him to promote Rhys Devlin from the substitutes’ bench and move Iain Chisholm from right-back to the centre of defence.

“David Cane was playing well for us prior to his injury and was starting to form a good partnership with Steven Jackson,” he said. “But his absence has not been as damaging because Iain Chisholm has done such a good job in there.

“I worried he was a bit short to play centre-half but he has done well and Rhys has slotted in to the side also and has not let us down. In fact, he looks a really good acquisition for us,” said Coughlin.

But the absence of Hunter, a virtual ever-present in the centre of midfield, and Turner, the main target man up front, means the coach may have to alter the way the team plays to accommodate replacements who are not quite like-for-like.

Coughlin has not yet made up his mind on how to solve the issue and, in any case, options are limited by the size of his squad. But he remains confident that the team can go back to the scene of their worst defeat of the season and make amends.

That was back in October when Shire lost 7-1 at Broadwood, a day Coughlin still sees as one of the blackest in his short time in charge at the club.

“We certainly do not want to see anything like that again,” he said. “That defeat left me feeling particularly low but, hopefully, we are a lot better now then we were back then.

“When we played Clyde at Ochilview just before Christmas we were only seconds away from beating them and were denied the three points due to an injury-time goal.

“So while I like to think that we have put that behind us we should not lose sight of what happened the last time we played there and should use it as a motivating factor to help us win the game.”

Victory would cut the deficit at the bottom of the table to a more manageable four points and give Shire hope of avoiding the wooden spoon at the end of the season.

Coughlin is realistic enough to know that is the limit of their ambitions but, for all that, says it is an important target for the club.

“We knew this season was going to be an uphill battle given the financial constraints at the club,” he said. “But there have been signs of real hope in recent weeks when we have taken points from clubs with far greater resources than us.

“The players have shown what they are really capable of in the last month and we need to keep that going. It will be difficult to claw back the advantage other teams have on us but I do not think it is impossible,” said the coach.