It could have been a title decider and is now no more than a dead rubber, but East Stirlingshire coach John Sludden says the team’s final Lowland League game of the season against champions-elect East Kilbride is still one he wants to win.
That said, the Shire coach is not one for billing Saturday’s Ochilview clash as a ‘grudge game’ and won’t be attaching any significance to the occasion other than the need to end the campaign with three points.
While Sludden had high hopes that his team could claim the league championship and maintained that they could catch the runaway leaders until it was no longer arithmetically possible, he is first to accept that Shire’s visitors this weekend deserved the prize.
“It certainly would boost our confidence if we were to get a result against the league champions,” said Sludden. “That is certainly our aim. It’s a game you want to go and win but it is just another game. It would give us a lift going into the League Cup the following week but there’s nothing else at stake really.”
Shire and East Kilbride, along with Spartans, were the only sides with a realistic prospect of claming the league crown. While all the attention was set on Sludden’s team as the first ever side to be demoted from the SPFL to the Lowland League, East Kilbride went about their business with a real purpose from game one in July and ran up a sequence of 14 straight victories in their first 14 games.
Sludden says that turned out to be the deciding factor. It was a run Shire simply could not match. “They are worthy champions,” he said of Saturday’s opponents. “They got off to such a fantastic start. It was a great achievement to win so many games in a row no matter what level of football you play at. And that run set them up from the rest of the season and they just continued with that consistency throughout the season.
“It was very hard for the rest of us to try and catch up.”
Sludden never gave up hope but he had to concede that his expectation that the leaders could be reeled in over the course of a long season just never materialised.
“You expected maybe that they would experience that wee dip but it didn’t happen and you have to say they are worthy champions.”
Sludden will have to face East Kilbride without club captain Derek Ure who starts a two match suspension after being red carded at Dalbeattie. He is also waiting on a fitness check on Liam Allison who limped out of last weekend’s game after less than half an hour.