Top and bottom slip-ups have cost title challenge for Shire

East Stirlingshire FC v Vale of Leithen FC, 17/03/2018, Stenhousemuir, Ochilview Park, Falkirk District, Scotland, _DSC1547.JPG, 4.4MB, , NIKON CORPORATION, NIKON D3S, Alan Murray,   2nd Half   Credit Image: Alan Murray Photography  Pic by Alan Murray Tel: 01877 331266 Mob. 0751 111 23919
East Stirlingshire FC v Vale of Leithen FC, 17/03/2018, Stenhousemuir, Ochilview Park, Falkirk District, Scotland, _DSC1547.JPG, 4.4MB, , NIKON CORPORATION, NIKON D3S, Alan Murray, 2nd Half Credit Image: Alan Murray Photography Pic by Alan Murray Tel: 01877 331266 Mob. 0751 111 23919

It’s a statistical blip which has annoyed East Stirlingshire for weeks and has possibly cost them a closer chance of capturing the Lowland League title.

But there is at least the opportunity to set the record straight when they visit Hawick Royal Albert on Saturday.

Since the end of October Shire have dropped points in just two league matches – a 1-1 draw with current table toppers and reigning champions East Kilbride, and an identical result at home against Hawick, who are bottom and won only once all season.

Head coach John Sludden put the result down to “just one of those days” but, with just four games of the campaign to go and any championship aspirations now depending on others dropping improbable points, it still irritates everyone at the club.

The truth is that very little, apart from keeping Shire’s amazing unbeaten league run going, rests on the weekend trip to Albert Park. Other than getting it right second time round.

“That result was a real disappointment,” said Sludden. “But it was just one of those days that happen in football sometimes.

“However, you could not fault the players for their effort and application that day. When you analyse it we had 15 or 16 attempts on goal and any other day might have scored four or five.

“It wasn’t the result we wanted but it would have been more of a concern if we had played poorly and hadn’t created anything by the way of a clear cut scoring opportunity. Hopefully we will learn from the last time and will be better prepared this time round.”

But if only misfortune and bad luck was to blame for such an eye-opening outlier in such a fantastic run of form, what exactly can Sludden and his players change from the last time they faced a Hawick side now managed by Craig Tully, the man Sludden replaced at Shire?

“Their counter attacking caused us problems at Ochilview and that is something we will need to subdue on Saturday,” he said. “They used that tactic very well against us and it is something we will talk about in the run-up to the game.

“We know Hawick will be well-organised and they have not been losing by as big margins as they were at the start of the season and we know they will be difficult to play against. But we have to make sure we get it right this time.”

Shire have not dropped a single point since the Hawick match but had to battle not just a determined set of opponents in Vale of Leithen, but also the weather, to register a narrow 2-1 victory at Ochilview last Saturday.

An Andy Rodgers goal seven minutes from the end was all that separated the sides in Shire’s 2-1 victory, but Sludden says a freezing wind and driving snow during parts of the match made life hard.

“I think both sets of players deserve credit for battling the elements,” he said.

“We were delighted with the three points but there’s no doubt the weather played a big part in the outcome.

“We got the early goal and created a lot of chances but their goalkeeper had a great day. I think we also knew they would get opportunities from set plays and that’s how they got their equaliser.

“But we kept plugging away in the second half. The players were patient and although the goal came late the most important thing was that we collected three very good points,” said Sludden.