Coughlin welcomes trio

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John Coughlin believes his table-topping squad will only get stronger as key players return to action from injury.

Shire have managed to stay at the head of the SPFL Scottish League Two pack for the first six weeks of the season despite being down to the bare bones due to long-term injury.

Often they have had to fill the bench with untried teenagers because of the lack of experienced performers but they have still managed to rise to the top.

Now the Shire coach believes his hand is about to be strengthened; the first sign of that came on Tuesday night when midfielder Michael Herd played his first competitive football since February, making a substitute appearance in a 3-2 reserve win over Stenhousemuir.

Coughlin says Herd is first in a queue of players waiting to return to bolster the squad in the weeks ahead.

“It was a surprise to us that he would be able to feature in the game,” he said. “But it was certainly a bonus and it another one we have coming back.

“Rhys Devlin will soon be back and although Nathan Shepherd is a wee bit behind the rest that gives us two quality players to bring back at the right time and I am hoping that a month down the line we are going to have real competition for places which can only be a good thing,” he said.

Even with limited resources Coughlin has not been scared to mix up what he has available to him and he raised some eyebrows by selecting Paul Quinn over skipper Kevin Turner in the lone striker role ahead of Saturday’s 2-1 win over Clyde at Broadwood.

The Shire coach ended speculation this week over the reason for that switch by admitting it was entirely tactical.

“The club captain was on the bench on Saturday because I felt that Quinn was making a bigger contribution,” he said. “I had a big decision to make there and I am sure it was one a lot of people would have disagreed with. But you have to go with your gut reaction, what you see in training and what you see on the pitch.

“The competition for that striker’s role is just one of many we have across the team and as far as I am concerned that is a good thing.”

Scottish football has been left scratching its collective head at Shire’s impressive start to the season with everyone wondering how long the perennial strugglers can last the pace.

Albion Rovers are Shire’s next opponents at Ochilview on Saturday and Coughlin says the games now cannot come quickly enough for him. He is certainly not admitting to feeling under any pressure at trying to maintain their impressive form.

“I am really enjoying it at the moment,” he said. “The big thing for me was bouncing back after the Peterhead defeat because I think a lot of people believed that would end our good run and it would just be a flash in the pan.

“So it was pleasing to overcome a determined and very good Clyde team and keep things going. Sometimes you are still pinching yourself making sure that the start we have had is a reality and now all we have to do is keep our feet on the ground and keep going.”

Saturday’s game against Albion Rovers is another acid test for Shire. The Coatbridge side were relegated last term and have made a number of impressive signings over the summer and are generally expected to be among the promotion contenders.

Coughlin now, though, is not fazed by facing that kind of opposition although he admits that Saturday’s opponents will be unlikely to regard Shire as cannon fodder.

“I think some might have thought we would be the league’s easy touches this season,” he said. “Maybe there were a few managers thinking getting The Shire early in the season gave them the chance of a good start, but I hope they are thinking differently now.

“I am really looking forward to the game and really it cannot come quickly enough. We have a good squad of players assembled who are working really hard for each other and long may it continue”.