It seems like East Stirlingshire are caught up in one big game of snakes and ladders right now.
A week earlier they threw the dice, landed on a ladder, and took heart from an improved performance at Montrose. On Saturday the dice rolled again and Shire moved onto what seemed like the biggest snake on the board.
That falling feeling was about more than just a result. No-one would argue that Arbroath didn’t deserve their win, they did. Shire were comprehensively outplayed and were lucky to get away with a 4-0 defeat.
But as much as that hurt it was the collateral damage that cut to the quick. Six minutes into the second period, with Shire still at least theoretically in the game with Arbroath 1-0 ahead, Connor Greene’s clumsy penalty box challenge on Andy Ryan gave the visitors a penalty kick and Greene a red card.
After going two down the ten men quickly found themselves three behind and then coach Craig Tully found himself banished from the technical area for something he said to the referee.
After it became 4-0 Billy Vidler came off worst in a tackle late on and ended up being removed on a stretcher. Of course, by this point the ten men had used all three substitutes and so ended the game as a nine.
A defeat is a defeat, just like the four that Shire had suffered before this game. But they will now have to face Berwick Rangers without the suspended Greene and Vidler, whose knee injury could leave him on the sidelines for as long as six week.
It’s also highly likely that Tully will be unable to direct operations from the dug-out and his exchange with referee Alan Newlands will, in all probability, lead to a touchline ban.
And all of these factors, given the club’s current injury sidution, will make it harder for them to reverse a decline in form what sees them already occupy the trapdoor position which pre-season pundits were loudly proclaiming the club would fall through in May.
A defeat at Montrose the previous week was, counter-intuitively, the cause of some optimism based on performance rather than outcome. Tully and the club’s supporters must have turned up with at least some degree of confidence. But that was swept away in a tidal wave of Arbroath attacks during the opening 45 minutes and Shire reached the interval fortunate to be just the one goal behind.
That came after just six minutes when Ryan simply side-footed Bobby Linn’s right-wing cross past Richie Barnard from the six yard line.
Ryan hit the crossbar with a shot and Barnard saved Shire’s bacon a few times with some smart saves.
At the start of the second period Shire seemed to take the confidence you always get when you know you’ve dodged a bullet and within a couple of minutes Reece Donaldson fired Nathan Shepherd’s cross against a post. That might have heralded a brighter phase but not long after Greene was left trailing after Ryan as the striker bustled into the box. The Shire man put a hand on the forward’s back and the two players tumbled to the ground.
The referee’s assessment that Greene had pulled Ryan to the floor as they fell wasn’t unreasonable but the red card seemed harsh. Linn made short work of the penalty kick and, just two minutes later, Ryan found plenty of space inside the box for a shot to make it 3-0.
Arbroath could have turned the screw tighter but they suddenly became wasteful in front of goal, especially Ryan, who spurned some decent opportunities for a hat-trick.
However, his replacement from the bench, Martin Grehan, did the job for Ryan after 77 minutes, getting on the end of a defence-splitting pass from Mark Whatley to shoot low past Barnard for the fourth.