They may be out of the running to clinch this season’s Lowland League title but East Stirlingshire can still end their campaign as record breakers .
If John Sludden’s men avoid defeat against Spartans at Ainslie Park this weekend it will extend their unbeaten run to 19 league games, beating Shire’s all-time record of 18 consecutive league matches without defeat set back in 1947/48.
They might also scupper Spartans’ chances of claiming the title. The Edinburgh side will, in all likelihood, need three points to be absolutely certain of pipping current champions East Kilbride to the crown on Saturday, the last day of the league season.
That’s incidental to Sludden, who, although disappointed that Shire can’t have a championship party of their own, is still full of praise for a squad who last tasted league defeat as long ago as October.
“It is a great achievement to go so long undefeated,” he said. “The players deserve a lot of praise for their hard work and commitment. No-one’s going to be thinking about summer holidays.
“We are determined to keep the run going until the league season is over and we will be going to Spartans looking to try and win the game. It’s important to try and extend the unbeaten run because that builds confidence, especially with an important League Cup match coming up.”
After Spartans, Shire will travel to East Kilbride for the start of the knock-out League Cup, a competition Sludden’s side reached the semi-final of last term. He’d like to go one stage better this time.
He said: “It is a competition we would like to win. And obviously it would help us if we could go to East Kilbride with our unbeaten record still intact.”
But, before that, Shire will have to face Spartans, a side they have never beaten in Lowland League action. Two weeks ago skipper Derek Ure struck deep into injury-time to give them a 2-2 draw against this weekend’s opponents at Ochilview and Sludden expects another tight encounter.
“I think it will be the same kind of game as we saw at Ochilview,” he said.
“It’s only two weeks since we last played and neither side will be making too many changes to personnel. It was a game we had the chances to win, although I suppose they will feel the same way. Our aim is simple – to get the three points, keep our unbeaten run going and set us up for an important League Cup tie.”
One aspect of Shire’s long unbeaten run which Sludden was keen to emphasise was underlined by the record-equalling 18th match in the sequence, last weekend’s 3-1 home victory over Whitehill Welfare.
The club’s head coach praised the effort of his bench players who came in to the starting side in for the game and says their contribution over the course of the season can’t be overlooked.
Graeme MacGregor is one who hasn’t always been guaranteed a start, but the ovation the popular utility man received after scoring his first-ever Shire goal on Saturday showed fans and team mates alike shared Sludden’s assessment.
“He’s taken a bit of a ribbing over never having scored a goal for the club so it was good to see him get one, and it was a quality finish too,” said the Shire gaffer. “But there were one or two others who haven’t been getting a lot of game time who came in and did well on Saturday and it’s good for us to have that type of player who can come in and do a job.”