David Grant struck twice in the space of five first half minutes to give Shire victory over Stirling University at the Falkirk Stadium on Friday evening – goals which extended Shire’s unbeaten run to ten league and cup games and took Grant’s personal season tally to 26 goals.
But it was hard work as, for a second week, opponents frustrated John Sludden’s men by putting nine players behind the ball when they had possession.
For Grant this was hardly a surprise. He says it was only a matter of time before teams made stopping a free-scoring Shire attack their number one priority.
“After scoring forty-odd goals in eight games teams are going to sit in and try to make it difficult and as hard as possible for you to score,” he said. “Teams are going to try to do that and it’s going to take time to try and break them down It’s going to take a bit longer than we have been used to.”
For all that, it was at least an improvement on Shire’s previous attempt at combating all-out defence – a 1-1 draw with Edinburgh University which frustrated their ambition of closing the gap on leaders East Kilbride. Apart from a brief flurry in the opening five minutes when the students might have taken the lead with a header from Andrew Gillen that skimmed the top o he crossbar, they were happy to surrender possession to Shire and dare them the break through a defensive thicket of green jerseys.
It took 23 minutes to find the key to unlock the door. Drew Ramsay’s incisive run into the box took him past two defenders and his low cross found Grant lurking at the back post to knock the ball into the net.
Five minutes later Paul Sludden fired the ball into Grant and the striker, with his back to goal, turned and shot low past the keeper into the opposite corner of the net.
On other days this season Shire might have used that as a platform for more goals but this wasn’t one of those days. Their opponents, for one thing, didn’t tire as the game wore on, as others have, and they were always willing.
Shire too failed to slip through the gears. “In the second half we were huffing and puffing a bit,” said Grant. “I’ve seen us play a lot better but the boys know that and we just need to get ready to go into the next game.
“There were some clear-cut chances, I could have had a hat-trick and we had a shout for a penalty, but we got the job done in the end.”
After 43 minutes Grant might have claimed his fifth hat-trick of the season as Ramsay again fired in a left-wing cross but the striker’s near-post snap shot went just wide.
The students made a big surge at the start of the second period to get back into things but Jamie Barclay saved a Rory McEwan header, Chris Geddes fired high and wide when well placed and Lewis Hunter’s header was net-bound but blocked by Kris Faulds.
With the storm weathered Shire might have added more to their tally. Sludden looked like he might add to the advantage but his effort was blocked. Andy Rodgers hit a rasping volley just wide and, after 76 minutes, Grant clearly had his jersey pulled by Jack Nixon inside the box but referee Gavin Ross wasn’t interested in awarding a penalty kick.
Shire withdrew Grant and Sludden late on to hold on to what they had but Geddes, Stirling’s star striker, might have upset the plans with two great efforts in injury-time but he missed both chances and Shire claimed a welcome three points.