East Stirlingshire’s promotion play-off prospects need a lift going into this Saturday’s Ochilview clash with bottom side Queen’s Park.
The closeness of the top half of the table was underlined last week by Shire’s 2-0 defeat at Montrose. The result left John Coughlin’s men further adrift of the top three but with the teams in the three places below them getting ever closer.
A win over the Glasgow amateurs combined with a defeat for Stirling Albion would once again push Shire back into the top four but they then need to be able to back that up with good results over the next few weeks if they want to stay there.
The good thing for Coughlin is that his injury struggles appear to be over. Nathan Shepherd has started the last two matches and played well in both and his two main strikers are nearing a full comeback.
Kevin Turner and Paul Quinn both made appearances off the bench at Links Park last weekend and there is a chance that both, or at least one, could make a start against the Spiders.
Club captain Turner has been the big miss for Shire since the turn of the year. His absence with an ankle injury has forced Coughlin into some innovative tactical alterations.
Some of those alternatives have produced results despite Turner’s absence but there is little doubt the Shire head coach would much prefer to have the strong target man in his team every week.
There is little doubt Shire will start favourites for Saturday’s game even though their opponents registered an impressive 4-0 victory over Albion Rovers last weekend.
Queen’s Park have toiled with the loss of so many players to the professional ranks over the summer and have been unable to find the right calibre of player to fill their boots quickly enough.
Nevertheless, apart from a comprehensive 3-1 win over Saturday’s opponents on the opening day of the league season, Shire have found Queen’s Park quite a handful during the campaign.
Although it took an injury-time goal to get the Hampden men a 1-1 draw on their last visit to Ochilview in October, few who were at the game would have grudged them a share of the points. And in their last clash, a 0-0 draw at their temporary home in Airdrie back in February, Queen’s Park again looked anything but no-hopers.
Even though Albion Rovers fielded a below-strength side last weekend the result shows that new boss Gus McPherson is starting to find the right blend.
Shire will take them lightly at their own peril and know that only a win will do their stated aim of getting into the play-offs any good.
Their inability to turn clear-cut scoring chances into goals has been a problem for Shire at various points throughout the season and was certainly a major contributory factor to last week’s defeat.
Coughlin, and all Shire fans, who have enjoyed a season so far that has had many more ups than downs, can only hope that the players find their shooting boots in time for a vital run-in.
After Queen’s Park it is Clyde who will come calling and a win in both these matches could go a long way to clawing back the gap that currently exists between Shire and the top three.
Trips to Albion Rovers and Berwick Rangers follow on and good results there will help strike a blow against those clubs’ ambitions at overtaking Shire in the league table.