East Stirlingshire’s hopes of gaining promotion this season took a hit as they splashed, slid and slumped to a 1-0 defeat at home to Kelty Hearts.
Kelty front man Nathan Austin snatched the winner in a game bereft of attacking quality or composure. Steady rain also stifled the much-anticipated encounter with both sides unable to replicate the type of performances that have propelled them up the table.
Jamie Dishington, fast becoming one of Shire’s stand out performers this season, could have given the hosts an early lead. However, Ben Mackenzie denied the winger at his near post.
Shire continued to probe for the opener against a Kelty side showing early signs of nerves. However, most of the hosts’ attacks lacked the necessary punch to make the breakthrough with Matty Flynn marshalled closely by Tam Scobbie and Fernandy Mendy.
Barry Ferguson’s side, having remained second best for much of the first half, almost took the lead. Dylan Easton hit the byline before pulling a teasing ball back into the six-yard box, but veteran Eddie Malone got a crucial touch to deny the on-rushing Austin.
With both sides cancelling each other it seemed as though one goal could settle the game. Shire very nearly got it on the stroke of half time when Martin Orr found Nicky Low with a pinpoint cross.
However, Mackenzie was on hand yet again to deny Derek Ure’s side an opener.
Shire could be forgiven for feeling unlucky after being denied twice by the inspired Mackenzie, but football can be cruel sometimes. It got even crueller when Kelty went ahead shortly after the interval. Scott Linton’s effort seemed to be comfortably saved by Jamie Barclay, but Austin reacted quickest to the rebound before tucking away his 19th goal of the season.
It almost got worse for a shocked Shire when Austin beat the offside trap however, the red-hot striker inexplicably missed the target when even Shire fans had expected the net to ripple.
Sean Brown was introduced by Ure in the final stages. The decision was very nearly vindicated in the dying moments when the target man teed up Orr, but the right back’s left footed effort drifted a foot wide of giving Shire a crucial point.
The result leaves Ure’s side 8 points behind the new league leaders with a trip to Spartans up next.