A game of two halves may be a cliche but it does not stop it being a true reflection of how a game of football went.
Shire’s opening league match of the 2011/12 season turned on a half-time change made by coach John Coughlin after he had watched his team struggle in the opening 45 minutes.
Having abandoned a 4-4-2 system favoured in the first period, Shire looked a lot better after the break and took the three points on offer after Steven Jackson converted a 76th minute penalty.
But it was a tight enough game for the home team to be able to thank on-loan keeper Calum Antell for two wonderful saves which preserved their advantage to the full-time whistle.
With Ryan Frances serving a one match suspension, Stuart Beveridge was drafted into the centre of defence while Antell took over in goal from Gavin Sorley who had picked up an ankle injury in the League Cup defeat against Ayr United seven days earlier.
The rest of the Shire line-up was unchanged which, once again, meant that Joe Savage was on the substitutes bench.
Shire created the first opportunity of the game after six minutes but Jackson’s free-kick from 20 yards out, although on target, was palmed round the post for a corner by Montrose keeper Michael Andrews.
Another former Shire favourite, Scott Johnston, created a moment of danger after nine minutes with a great cross which Martin Boyle headed wide of Antell’s goal from close range.
Montrose had the upper hand the longer the game went on and after 18 minutes they ought to have taken the lead when David McGowan found himself clean through on goal after a great pass from Jamie Winter.
But the striker’s effort was brilliantly saved by the Shire keeper to prevent the visitors going in front. It wasn’t the last time in the game that Shire’s last line of defence was to come to the rescue.
Antell looked beaten on the 30 minute mark when Dougie Cameron’s long-range half-volley flew towards goal and the Welsh youth international seemed relieved that the experienced defender’s shot just cleared the crossbar.
Four minutes later a strong run down the left by Andy Stirling ended with a low centre for Ally Love, but the Shire man could not get any pace on his shot and the Montrose defence managed to hack the ball clear to safety.
Montrose’s teenage striker Boyle was their real danger man and he ended a mazy run after 37 minutes by squaring the ball to Winter who cracked in a powerful 20 yarder which Antell did well to hold into.
With two minutes of the first period remaining Michael Hunter tried his luck from long-range but his curling shot just shaved the top of Andrews’ crossbar and that left the scoreline blank at the interval.
Shire changed formation at the start of the second half and that seemed to do the team a lot of good. The opening minutes of the period showed the team was prepared to take the game to Montrose and their outlook was generally more positive.
The home side almost took the lead in 50 minutes in the strangest of circumstances. Jackson fired in a huge up-and-under towards Andrews’ goal and the Montrose keeper looked very relieved indeed to see the ball drop just over the bar rather than just under it.
A huge clearance by Antell almost set up Ally Love on 58 minutes but the Shire midfielder’s shot was well saved by Andrews at the keeper’s near post.
Love was becoming the Shire danger man and in 61 minutes he sent over the most perfect left wing cross that required just the simplest of touches in the middle to give the home team the lead but no-one was close enough to supply it.
It was no surprise that Love was involved in the move that led to Shire taking the lead. The midfielder jinked his way into the Montrose penalty area only to be pushed to the ground by the visitors’ Jonathan Smart.
Referee Barry Cook correctly pointed to the penalty spot but then surprised everyone by showing Smart a straight red card, which seemed an extremely harsh decision.
Once all the arguments over that had subsided Jackson stepped up to take the resulting penalty kick and smashed it past Andrews into the back of the net to give Shire the lead.
They were not home and dry by any means. Even with ten men Montrose showed a real desire to get themselves back into the match and, with ten minutes left, they had a great opportunity to level the scores when Boyle was played clean though.
It seemed as though the visiting striker could not possibly miss but his effort was brilliantly saved by Antell whose outstretched leg deflected the ball wide and preserved Shire’s advantage until the final whistle.
SHIRE : Antell, Chisholm. Dingwall, Cane, Beveridge, Hunter, Jackson, Stirling, Turner(Sheerin 75), Lurinsky, Love(Team 85).
MONTROSE : Andrews, Crighton, Cameron, Campbell, Smart, Masson(Lunan 83), Johnston(Pierce 75), Crawford, Boyle, Winter, McGowan(McPhee 64).
REFEREE : B. Cook.
ATTENDANCE : 282.