East Stirlingshire are hoping club captain Kevin Turner will be back to help put with their promotion play-off push soon.
The striker has been out since January with an ankle injury but made his return as a late substitute in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Stirling Albion. He was due to play in Tuesday’s reserve game against Raith Rovers before that was postponed by the weather and there is every chance he will be part of the squad for this weekend’s match at Montrose.
Shire have badly missed his physical presence up front but his return could not have come at a better time. The victory over Stirling lifted Shire back to within touching distance of the top four and, with Nathan Shepherd also back in the line-up after a year out injured, coach John Coughlin has two automatic starters to add to his pool as they approach some vital matches.
The next two games, starting with the trip to Links Park, will be crucial for Shire if they are to have any hope of finishing in the top four. Neither Montrose or their next opponents, bottom side Queen’s Park, are in any position to be in the running for the promotion places. Victory against both would be a huge boost and anything less could open the door to Stirling Albion and Berwick Rangers to take advantage.
Montrose have been a tough nut to crack for Shire in their two meetings this season with defeat at Links Park earlier in the season the starting point for a rapid decline in form that saw them move from first to seventh place in the league table before they recovered.
In general, the Angus town has always been a bogey place for Shire with their historical form there as poor as its has been anywhere on the road. That said, they will be in good heart after last weekend’s important victory against their derby rivals.
The fact that their injury problems are sorting themselves out just in time for the final push of the season is an important motivation for Shire as well. Michael Bolochoweckyj’s first appearance in four matches was important in dealing with the threat Stirling Albion posed on Saturday but was also a significant morale boost.
The central defender was taken off in the second half of the game as a precaution after a collision with an opponent but it is hoped he will be fit to face Montrose.
The importance of a good result this weekend and a win against the league’s bottom side can’t be overstated. Shire could be in a strong position to ward off the challenges of others with six points against their name, and that challenge will come over subsequent weeks with all the other top six, with the exception of leaders Peterhead, to be faced over the following six Saturdays.
Self-belief is not something Coughlin lacks and there is a clear sense that the addition of Bolochoweckyj and Chris Townsley has had the desired effect. Not only have they added experience and class on the pitch they have transmitted a winning mentality to other players off it.
But the league is tight and results are seldom predictable. The safety-first attitude of many of the coaches, Coughlin included, has to be understood in that context.
Saturday’s match may have been almost unwatchable in terms of a spectacle but that was of little importance to the Shire fans cheering in the stand at the end, and who now have been given a real sense of pride in the club’s achievements this season.
The return of key players like Turner and Shepherd just as the run-in gets underway may prove crucial in making sure that sense of pride ends in something tangible.