Shire will welcome SPFL League 1 leaders Ayr United to Ochilview on Wednesday for a first round IRN-BRU Cup match which coach John Sludden says will be an important test of the abilities of his players.
While Shire have yet to fire on all cylinders in the Lowland League, their visitors have started the season at full pace, winning their four Betfred Cup group games, including one against local rivals from the Premiership, Kilmarnock, and claiming maximum points from their first two League 1 matches.
The coach, a former Ayr United player who won the old SFL Division Two with the Somerset Park club in 1987/88, is clearly looking forward to the game against his old team and says the players should be up for the cup as well.
“It will be a real test for us,” said John. “We often are going into our league games as favourites so this will be a different challenge for us and we will look forward to it.
“We want to go and show we are a good team with good individual players and we want to look to get a result,” he said.
The coach is aware that the challenge of facing Ayr United will be of a different order to that of most matches in the Lowland League but says they shouldn’t need to raise their game for the big occasion.
“We want to play at our best every week no matter who you are playing against,” he said. “Every game you play you want to play to your max, it doesn’t matter who your opponents are.”
The game will be the fourth meeting of the teams in this competition, which began life as the Centenary Cup in 1990.
In the previous three games Shire have yet to lose in 90 minutes to The Honest Men – the only one of those three clashes where Shire did not progress to the next round was at Firs Park in the 1994/95 season when Ayr United won on penalties after a 1-1 draw.
That was the last time the teams met until the first game of the 2008/09 season, Shire’s first competitive fixture since moving to Ochilview from Firs Park that summer.
It was played in sweltering heat and Ayr United looked as though they would progress leading 1-0 with four minutes to go.
Then Dean Richardson levelled things with a wonder strike before Andy Rodgers scored a last-minute winner for Jim McInally’s team.
Andy later joined Ayr United for a season but this week he will be one of two men in the line-up, the other is Shire skipper Derek Ure, who played for the club that day back in 2008.
“If the weather’s like it was that day I’ll take the number 12 shirt on Wednesday,” he joked when recalling that last-gasp Shire win. “Hopefully I’ll be able to breathe this time.
“That was another day where no-one gave us a chance and, in fairness, they probably played us off the park for 89 minutes but we dug in and that’s what we will need to do on Wednesday night, just work hard and try to stay in the game.”
“We’ve got absolutely nothing to lose,” said Andy. “Ayr have started the season really well but we can go out with no expectation on us and hopefully put them under a bit of pressure.”
Much the same was true the last time the two teams met in this competition back in 2012 when John Coughlin’s side, playing its first game of a new season, was not expected to trouble Ayr United.
But two first half Michael Herd goals gave Shire a platform which allowed them to withstand an Ayr United comeback and seal a 3-1 win with a great Scott Maxwell strike.
Andy Rodgers remains hopeful. “We have got quality players and we just need to create chances and hopefully someone can take them,” he said.
Shire will be in their usual black and white with visitors Ayr United in a change all-yellow strip. Kick-off on Wednesday evening is 7:45pm and both extra-time and penalties will be used if required. Admission is £10.00 for adults and £5.00 concessions and programmes, price £2.00, will be on sale.
Home fans are reminded season tickets are not valid for this game.