A job half over but not necessarily half done. East Stirlingshire seemed reasonably happy to have emerged from the first leg of their play-off final against East of Scotland League champions Edinburgh City no worse off than when they started, but they know that the hard work still lies ahead.
They maintain an outward confidence that they can finish off the job at Ochilview, where at least the surface will be more to their pleasing that the dry, bobbly, concrete-like pitch at Meadowbank Stadium.
But they also know they will have to play a whole lot better than they did on Saturday in the nation’s capital. Their opponents will be a handful, and City might feel they should have taken advantage in the opening quarter of the match, which they dominated.
“We went a goal down and I thought the boys showed a great deal of resilience to come back,” said Shire coach John Allison. “They got what I thought was a bit of a dubious penalty to go a goal but we came back at them to equalise just before half-time.
“Our keeper did make a great save on the back of the penalty but that was the only really dangerous effort they had. We came with a game plan and the boys stuck to it and now we’ll have the chance to take it back in the second game, “said Allison.
Although Shire had a genuine cause for grievance at the award of the 13th minute penalty kick that gave Edinburgh City the lead, referee Gavin Duncan’s further head-scratching decisions, which extended to two red cards late in the second half, at least provided the talking points that both sets of players failed to offer up.
“I thought the penalty was really debatable,” said Allison. Kris Faulds slipped as he tried to head the ball clear the ball and his body landed on top of it. It was far from clear to those watching whether his arm or hand had touched it as he went to ground, but the referee had no doubt. Doulas Gair scored from the spot.
“I thought it was soft,” said Allison. “From where I was it was clear Kris came down on top of the ball and there wasn’t much he could do about it.”The referee did allow the players to take centre stage for a while after that, but they failed to generate the kind of excitement his penalty award had. Shire keeper Darren Dolan did produce a superb save to touch Ross Allum’s long-range effort onto the bar and behind for a corner.
A goal at that point to make it 2-0 might have been a long road back for Shire. But instead they stuck to their task on a pitch that didn’t suit passing football and playing into the teeth of a gale and they slowly took a foothold.After 41 minutes Lloyd Kinnaird’s long thrown into the box eventually found
Neil McCabe, who passed to Max Wright. The Shire striker’s first effort was hacked off the line but he collected the rebound to shoot high into the roof of the net.
“I thought the boys came back into the game really well,” said Allison. “After the early setback to get the goal just before half-time was really good. That allowed us to start the second half positively but we did fall back a bit the longer the game went on.”
After Shire’s flurry in the first few minutes of the second period the spectacle was really very poor fair for an excellent crowd of just over a thousand. Wright had one effort saved and then hit a free-kick straight at the home keeper from 20 yards out. At the other end Dolan clutched a few high crosses and corner kicks but didn’t have a serious save to make.
Thankfully, Mr Duncan came to the rescue with a couple of comedy red cards that at least got the crowd’s tongues wagging. After 75 minutes City’s Joe Mbu brought Shire substitute David McKenna to the ground by flicking his right leg out as both men waited to try and claim an incoming high ball. The ref raced straight to the scene to branding a red card, leaving City down to ten men.
Not that Shire could take advantage as they huffed and puffed with the extra man. But there was one final sting in the tail for Craig Tully’s team. In the last action of the game Reece Donaldson was late with a tackle and again the ref showed red.
“I didn’t see the first one,” said Allison. “Someone said he took at kick at David but I don’t know. But I think the way Reece went in he was inviting what happened. He knows himself he should have stayed on his feet,” he said.