Michael Andrews was so often a stand-out for Shire last season. So perhaps the visiting fans should not have been surprised that he was the man who did most to deny his former team victory when John Coughlin’s side visited Montrose on Saturday.
The former Scotland under-21 international produced three brilliant saves to help preserve Montrose’s narrow advantage until the full-time whistle. Shire contributed just as much to an entertaining encounter as their hosts but could not garner the bit of luck they required to take something from the game.
Coach John Coughlin stuck to received wisdom and did not change a winning team; sticking with the same starting eleven as had taken the field in the previous week’s Scottish Cup win at Buckie Thistle.
But the Shire defence was quickly at sixes and sevens with Montrose almost taking the lead within the first minute as Martin Boyle made a beeline for goal only to be denied by a last-ditch saving tackle.
Montrose only had to wait until their next attack to find the back of the net, though. Scott Johnston took the ball into the box, raced past a couple of ineffective Shire challenges and shot low past Calum Antell from just outside the six yard box.
The home team continued to bombard the Shire penalty area and the visiting defence looked vulnerable to every Montrose attack. They were lucky not to concede a second goal after eight minutes but Steven Pierce got his shot all wrong when well-placed and it flew over the bar.
There were several lucky escapes in a torrid opening ten minutes but when Shire got the ball out of their own half for almost the first time in the match they produced a move that ended with an equalising goal.
A decent passing move around the edge of the Montrose penalty box ended with a pass which released Scott Maxwell down the left and his low centre was turned into the net past Maxwell by Andy Stirling from point-blank range.
The Shire goal had a lucky escape on 31 minutes when Dougie Cameron sent over a cross which was flicked towards goal by a Montrose head and only some desperate goal line defending stopped Shire once again falling behind.
That said, Shire were unlucky themselves not to go in ahead at the interval. Three minutes before the break the ball fell nicely for Maxwell on the far edge of the box and he cracked in a powerful shot that seemed bound for the back of the net only for Andrews to pull off an instictive reflex save.
The second half opened with a flurry of Shire pressure and Ally Love brought Andrews into early action with a save from a dipping 20 yard free-kick after 55 minutes later.
But it was the home team who took the lead in controversial circumstances three minutes later. Terry Masson headed a deep right-wing cross behind for what seemed an obvious goal kick and players from both teams moved back into position ready for Calum Antell to re-start play.
But referee Kevin Graham bemused everyone by awarding Montrose a corner. Shire protests fell on deaf ears and worse was to follow as Jonathan Smart got on the end of Cameron’s flag kick to head the home team in front from six yards out.
Shire responded and Andy Stirling went on a great run after 65 minutes but his shot from the edge of the penalty area was well-saved by Andrews.
At the other end some poor defending provided Martin Boyle with the chance to increase the Montrose lead on 70 minutes but he shot straight at Antell despite only having the keeper to beat.
Four minutes later, though, Shire should have been level. Ally Love’s high ball into the Montrose penalty area was met by a net-bound Stuart Beveridge header which was pushed behind for a corner by a brilliant one-handed save from Andrews.
From the resulting Shire corner Montrose broke upfield and Boyle was quickly round the keeper with an empty net to aim at. Fortunately for the visitors his shot hit the inside of the far post and was collected by the grateful Shire keeper.
In the closing minutes Bradley Coyne hit a great free-kick just wide of the target and with barely a minute left he hit an even more powerful shot from further out that seemed certain to find the back of the net only for Andrews to deny Shire with another wonderful save.
MONTROSE : Andrews, Crighton, Cameron, Smart, Campbell, Msson(McNally 78), Crawford(Winter 68), Lunan, Boyle, Johnston, Pierce.
SHIRE : Antell, Chisholm, Dingwall, Beveridge, Jackson, Hunter, Stirling, Maxwell(Team 72), Turner(Gibson 72), Coyne, A. Love.
REFEREE : K. Graham.