A major tactical re-think has been the driving force behind the revival of East Stirlingshire’s flagging league fortunes over the past few weeks.
Coach John Coughlin has admitted a drab 0-0 draw with Queen’s Park convinced him that it wasn’t enough simply not to lose matches if his team was to progress. Coughlin then gathered his players together and put a new plan in place and that has yielded two of their most impressive displays of the season, and two vital victories against Elgin City and Annan Athletic.
The club now could go second in the table behind Peterhead with victory this Saturday in their important encounter with Berwick Rangers at Ochilview, and if they do then Coughlin says it’s because they could no longer simply rely on a strong defence to get them through.
“There was definitely a sea change on my part,” he said. “I pulled the players in after the Queen’s Park game and told them that we had a choice; we could go the rest of the season doing what we did against Queen’s Park and make sure we didn’t lose and have a mid-table finish.
“Alternatively, we could throw a little bit of caution to the wind and start attacking teams and see where that might take us. And that’s the route we have decided to take. We are more adventurous and are committing players further forward and we have done a lot of work on the training ground on that.”
And no-one would deny the change in policy has so far been a success. For two games now Shire have battered their opponents with some very attack-minded play and it has brought both goals and two welcome wins.
But in both the games against Elgin City and Annan last Saturday there were fears that Shire’s attacking play might not be converted into proper superiority on the score sheet. On both occasions late goals have eased those fears, especially so at Galabank where, despite their superiority, Shire trailed 2-1 with just 15 minutes of the game to go.
“It was disappointing to find ourselves behind at Annan especially as we had played so well,” said Coughlin. “I thought we had to take the game by the scruff of the neck and win it early but we didn’t take our chances and that sucker punch could have de-railed us.
“However the comeback was good and we didn’t give them any time to respond with the third goal coming so late. All-in-all, it was a very good afternoon’s work,” he said.
Now Shire will hope to keep that good work going against a Berwick Rangers team who had appeared resurgent under new manager Colin Cameron until their surprise home defeat against second-bottom side Elgin City last weekend.
The Wee Rangers got a real lift from the appointment of the former Scotland international and they will be looking to close the gap on Shire on Saturday.
But Coughlin says it’s not just Cameron’s qualities as a coach and a manager that must be respected, but his influence as a player as well.
The 41 year-old is likely to be in Berwick’s starting line-up at the weekend and that is something that the Shire squad will have to be aware of and try to combat.
“Colin Cameron is a top player and that is as big an obstacle that we have got to get over as anything,” said the Shire boss. “He is a really good footballer and although I haven’t seen them play since he took over I have no doubt that he is the man who is making them tick.
“Their form has been good prior to the Elgin match and they should be in good spirits despite that. There’s no doubt they will be looking for the three points and try to get themselves into the top four.
“But we have our own agenda. We are playing good football, we are winning football matches and we just have to make sure that continues on Saturday.”