It was a case of “mission accomplished” for Shire head coach John Sludden as he reflected on the weekend 7-0 win over South of Scotland League Nithsdale Wanderers in the first round of the SFA South Region Challenge Cup at Ochilview.
The coach watched on from the sidelines as all of his major pre-game objectives were met by the team, who, despite taking 43 minutes to find a way past a determined set of opponents, took the game by the scruff of the neck in the second half, scoring six more goals including an eight minute hat-trick by Paul Sludden.
The most important thing was making it through to the next round of the cup. But other plus points for the coach were seven goals scored while keeping a clean sheet at the other end, and the performance of a much-changed team.
Teenagers Aidan McKeown and Chris McLaughlin came in for their competitive debuts and both made an impression, with Chris putting his mark on the day by scoring the team’s final goal.
“It was fantastic for the two young boys and fantastic for the club to have them come in and do so well, rounding off with Chris’s goal, which was a great finish,” said the coach. “They have been involved with the club for a few months and we have been keeping an eye on their progress.
“They have done really well and we thought this would be a great opportunity for them to make their debuts in the first team and I think they can be proud of their performances.”
The coach made a number of changes to his team. Andy Rodgers was forced to miss the game through suspension but regulars Kevin Kelbie, Connor Greene, Andy Grant and Graeme MacGregor were all rested. Nevertheless, the coach was happy with the display of the team which was selected.
“We scored seven goals, we kept a clean sheet and we gave some players 90 minutes under their belt,” he said. “So you have to feel it was a good exercise for us.
“We spoke about how we wanted to play everything at a high tempo and we did that for the first fifteen [minutes] but we should have been more clinical and we could have been three or four up in that period,” said the coach.
However, after that the coach felt the game went through a “lull” in which the Shire team failed to capitalise on the early initiative and that gave a willing Nithsdale Wanderers team the chance to grow in confidence.
“We let them dictate the pace of the game and we were disappointed that we did not have the urgency and we huffed and puffed a bit.” he said. “It was fortunate we got in at half-time 1-0 ahead. It was a good delivery and a good header from Jamie [McCormack],” he said of the 43rd minute goal which finally broke the deadlock.
The coach admitted there was plenty of discussion in the changing room at half-time about how to put things right. It worked as Shire sprinted into a 3-0 advantage on the hour mark. The coach says, with the game won at that point, the team could relax a bit and simply concentrate on playing football.
“Everything needed to be done sharper,” said John of the main message from the half-time team talk. “We did that and we got our reward and then we went on and we could enjoy the last 30 minutes of the game and you saw that in their play.”
A penalty after Steven Brisbane was fouled inside the box gave Paul Sludden the chance to make it 2-0 after 57 minutes and by the time the 65 minute mark was reached the striker had a hat-trick and the team were 4-0 in front with two more strikes.
McCormack made it 5-0, Sludden got the sixth with his second penalty of the day eleven minutes from the end and McLaughlin capped a great debut on the left wing with he seventh goal after 86 minutes.
“There were some good goals scored and we created lots of chances,” said the coach.
After a season so far which has seen Shire fail to pick up as many league points as everyone would have liked, the coach is hoping Saturday’s victory might give the club the boost it needs ahead of the resumption of Lowland League action away at East Kilbride this coming weekend.
“Hopefully they will come back in good spirits [to training] on Tuesday and it sets us up for next Saturday’s game,” he said.