There have been times this season when East Stirlingshire could have played without a defence and still have won but Saturday’s game against Edinburgh University was not one of those days.
John Sludden’s men may have got into the habit of using overwhelming firepower to blow opponents away but they needed a complete team display to gain their fifth successive road victory in their latest Lowland League outing.
“It’s important we all do our job and we all do our bit,” said right-back Graeme MacGregor afterwards. “Everyone had a part to play in keeping them out and that’s what we did.”
Shire were hardly under siege from an Edinburgh University team who only attacked as a last resort. But they found their defence to be every bit as impenetrable as they had two weeks earlier at Ochilview.
And, as they learned to their cost that day, if you can’t get past them then you leave yourself vulnerable. A frustrating 1-1 draw was the price paid for that lesson and it was one Shire were in no mood to repeat.
“They are a stuffy team and play in two solid banks and they get men behind the ball. We just had to stay patient and try to break them down,” said MacGregor.
Shire did that after 12 minutes when MacGregor started the move which led to the game’s only goal. His cross was only half cleared to Liam Allison, who fed Paul Sludden the ball which he then dinked over the top of the defence for David Grant to sweep into the net.
But, despite having the pressure in the first half and meeting an inspired goalkeeper in the second, who kept Edinburgh University in the hunt with some incredible saves, a one goal advantage never fully removed the threat that it might not be enough.
“Everyone’s going to get a time in the match when they are on top,” said MacGregor. “They had their time and we just had to stand firm and keep them out.”
Shire did that and keeper Jamie Barclay only really had one save to make in the entire game. But avoiding a repeat of the result two weeks ago meant every bit as much to him, and the team, as scoring ten at Gala in December.
“We came for three points,” he said. “Sometimes you can’t play pretty football and it’s a battle first and foremost and that’s what we did.”
Shire’s most accomplished displays this season have come on days when the game’s been put to bed early. The struggles last time out against the Edinburgh students were almost entirely down to a failure to do that.
So it was encouraging for the noisy band of travelling fans that their team made a really good start. Within a couple of minutes Andy Rodgers had a clean sight of goal and although his effort was blocked, Paul Sludden fizzed the rebound just over.
Then David Grant played Rodgers in but he hit his shot wide, although the nerves looked calmed after Grant’s goal. That said, Shire then lost their way until after the break.
And in the second period they perhaps should run in a few more but they didn’t factor in display of university keeper Mark Tait.
His reflex saves to deny a point-blank shot from Rodgers and a net-bound Connor Greene header were superb, and he also made a brave diving save to prevent Sludden from scoring.
And Sludden missed a chance to turn in David Grant’s cross. But the misses didn’t matter because the defence, this time, did its job and closed the game out.
SHIRE : Barclay, MacGregor, Ramsay, Greene, A.Grant, Faulds, Rodgers, Allison, D.Grant(White 90), Sludden, Glasgow(Brisbane 80).