East Stirlingshire could be back to something like full strength for what coach Craig Tully believes could be the biggest week of their season so far.
The Shire boss is hoping to welcome back lynchpin defender Chris Townsley, top scorer David McKenna and on-loan Celtic midfielder Luke Donnelly for a run of three games in seven days which could either leave them on the cusp of the promotion play-off or fighting it out to avoid the trapdoor out of the league, which opens for the first time this season.
This weekend Shire face East Fife at Ochilview before they head on the long and difficult journey to Elgin City on Tuesday night. They follow that up with another trip, to Annan Athletic, a week on Saturday.Tully’s team has revived its fortunes in the last month; four weeks ago Shire were four points adrift at the bottom of the table but a run of four wins, a draw and just one defeat in the six games since has changed their mood and given a renewed sense of optimism.
But the coach himself knows there are no certain outcomes to the season with so little to divide seven of the ten teams in the division.
“It really is a crucial week for us,” he said. “When you look at the league table we are the same number of points from a promotion play-off as we are from being back at the bottom.
“That’s why it’s important to get as many points as we can from these three games. East Fife are the team in the fourth spot that everyone else is trying to get to, so to get a result against them would really help us.
“But the games that follow it, at Elgin and Annan, are just as important because taking points from them would push us towards our ultimate aim of getting into the top four.”
Tully is very much a cup half full man, but even he acknowledges the dangers of slipping up at this stag.
“Fear should never be a motivating factor,” said the Shire boss. “But we know that we have to keep our standards as high as they have been over the last month or we do risk getting sucked back down into the battle to avoid the bottom place.
“Everyone has enjoyed the last month but we have to stay focused and we must work as hard as we have been. There can be no slacking and no thinking the job’s done,” he said.
Tully’s job of getting Shire towards the top end of the table should be made easier by the return of some key players. They faced Clyde last Saturday without Townsley and McKenna and injury has meant Donnelly has hardly played at all. since the turn of the year.
“We have some great young players in the squad and they have done really
well, especially at Clyde who have some guys in their team who have played
at the top level.
“But you can’t easily replace the experience and influence that Townsley
and McKenna have and that’s why it’s so important to us that they play every
week. Young Luke has been a great addition and we will be better off for
having him in the squad.”
Shire’s only defeat in their last six matches came against this weekend’s
opponents. Tully wants to get back at them.
“I didn’t think there was much in that game,” he said. “It was drifting towards a
goalless draw when they got the lead out of the blue and that changed things.
“But that defeat prompted some soul-searching afterwards and since then
we are unbeaten and playing some good stuff and that’s what we want to
continue,” said Tully.