Like many, East Stirlingshire will not be sorry to see the back of 2016 but will seek to use its final chapter to point the way to a brighter future.
Shire’s last game of the year this Saturday sees John Sludden’s team make the short journey over the Forth to face BSC Glasgow at Alloa’s Recreation Park, seeking to extend an unbeaten Lowland League run to nine games.
Even that, though, is unlikely to make too much of a dent in the 10-point gap between second-placed Shire and leaders East Kilbride, and barring a late season reversal in fortunes for the top two, it seems hard, though not impossible, to imagine that the first team to be ejected from the SPFL via the pyramid play-off will be making an instant comeback to League 2.
Perhaps that’s one reason for the flurry of pre-Christmas contract extensions which saw seven of the current Shire squad commit for the 2017/18 campaign, including inspirational club captain Derek Ure and the three strikers who, between them, have scored more than 50 goals already this season.
Sludden perhaps has his sights set on longer-term aims, or at least on his aims becoming a longer journey than anticipated. But it shouldn’t disguise the fact that the aim remains the same.
For a club that was for so long accused of having no ambition they show a strong conviction to regain league status and won’t be put off by setbacks or shifting time frames.
There’s no indication that, for all its enjoyments this season so far, the Lowland League is where they want to settle.
It’s maybe only misfortune to have landed in the competition in a season where that competition has been so lopsided by the dominance of a rival. Shire’s form so far has been that of potential champions and Sludden is not giving up on anything.
“We have to forget everyone else round about us,” he said recently. “We need to only think about ourselves and try to get a run of wins going and see where that takes us.”
The team has acted on those words and its run of results since the start of October has been impressive. They go into Saturday’s match having tasted defeat only once in their last twelve league and cup games. Shire have, most recently, overturned their problems playing away from Ochilview, having won their last two road trips and scored 14 goals in the process.
BSC Glasgow are by no means one of the competition’s whipping boys and they gave more than a good account of themselves in the reverse fixture which, although Shire won 3-0, might have been less comfortable for Sludden’s men had BSC shown some teeth up front.
Nevertheless, Shire would be right to think that there cannot be many potential opponents who would relish a battle with them right now, although they cannot afford to be complacent.
They were given a shock to the system by Civil Service Strollers recently, who came back from 3-1 down to draw and become the only team to take a league point from Shire since the end of September.
Sludden will put his players though their paces in training this week and should be able to select his strongest possible team for an important clash.