After a nightmare start to the season there is now light at the end of the tunnel for East Stirlingshire.
That’s the assessment of coach Craig Tully after a week which saw the return of three of his most important players to duty in last weekend’s 0-0 draw at Stirling Albion.
Ross Gilmour, Chris Townsley and Reece Donaldson were all expected to be automatic starters for Shire at the start of the season. But the Forthbank game on Saturday marked Gilmour’s first appearance of the campaign, it was Townsley’s first full 90 minutes of competitive action since April and Donaldson was back in the side after a poor disciplinary record had him kicking his heels on the sidelines.
The summer signing has been warned to clean up his act by the Shire management and Donaldson appears to have taken that on board and got through Saturday’s game without picking up his customary yellow card.
But it was the return of Gilmour, and especially Townsley, from injury nightmares that gave Tully most of his grounds for optimism.
“Townsley is such an important player for us and to have to do without him for the entire season until now was such a big blow,” he said. “But he made such a difference just by being in the team at Stirling. The other guys get such a lift from him being there and using his experience and knowledge to keep things tight at the back.”
Gilmour was one of Tully’s better performers at Stirling and the Shire boss knows the utility man is someone who very rarely is found wanting when asked to perform a variety of roles.
“Ross was shaping up to be a key player for us when he picked up his injury in pre-season, so for him to miss out on so much has deprived us of somebody who is able to give us a lot,” he said. “We are pleased to have him back and ready to contribute again.”
Tully had mixed views on Saturday’s draw; it was a second league game without defeat, something Shire hadn’t managed so far this season, and it was a second successive clean sheet for keeper Darren Dolan, who again excelled himself at Forthbank.
But the Shire gaffer has some cause for regret that his team had not made it back-to-back league wins. The game itself was far from the typical 0-0 draw, with chances galore at both ends, and Tully thinks his side might just have shaded it.
“We had some great chances, especially late on,” he said. “Max Wright had two great opportunities, Nathan Shepherd blasted one over the bar and we could have won it with a chance in injury-time. But overall, it was a pleasing performance.”
Shire face a big task in stretching the unbeaten league run to three games when they face Queen’s Park at Ochilview on Saturday. The Spiders gave Tully’s men their biggest mauling of the season at Hampden back in September, winning 5-1, but the Shire boss says even that black cloud had a silver lining.
“That result really sent us back to the drawing board and we had a long hard think about where we were going after it,” he said. “Since then we have tried to introduce a whole culture change at the club and while that will take time, I think it is moving us in the right direction.
“But if I were any one of our players on Saturday I’d want to get back at Queen’s Park and I hope we will be fired up for Saturday,” he said.