Montrose manager Paul Hegarty is eager to see how his players respond to their first home defeat of the season against East Fife.
The Gable Endies had won every game at Links Park before the weekend and had only conceded a solitary goal, the previous week to East Stirling, but defensive errors cost Montrose big as Gary Naysmith’s side ran out 4-1 winners on their way to the top of the League Two table.
It was a rare instance of the side’s young defence struggling - though they looked excellent for much of the first half - and Hegarty is keen to see how they bounce back from this setback.
He said: “We’ve really got to regroup, it’ll be a real test to see how they react and respond to that defeat. We’ve praised them, helped them, now they’ve got to dig deep to see how they react.
“The goals we lost we were more than capable of defending. We were poor defensively, poor shutting people down, and we got ragged.
“Our two centre backs are young and on their learning curve. It’s an expensive learning curve, especially when you lose a goal like that. We never had the depth, we never had them covering each other.
“And Nathan Austin, very quick over the ground, destroyed us there. He’s got 50 yards to run into. They were well told prior to the game that they had to cover each other and provide decent depth, so if that occurred as it did then they’ve got a few yards on the player. Nathan has been excellent in his run and it’s quickly became a goal.”
Montrose had dominated the game until the 43rd minute, going close on a number of occasions in addition to Gary Fraser’s excellent opener on the 20th minute.
But it was a sucker punch when Austin levelled affairs just before the interval.
And though the hosts began the second period on the front foot it was Austin who put the Fifers into the ascendancy when he scored again.
The shellshocked Montrose players were left furious when Greg Pascazio was given a straight red card for a high-footed challenge on Kyle Wilkie, and though the foul was reckless it was widely agreed by managers and players of both teams that a straight dismissal seemed harsh on the young centre back.
Hegarty said the referee told him it was given for dangerous play, leaving the boss disappointed and donning the thinking cap to work out what to do with his back four when he takes his team to face Queen’s Park at Hampden Park this weekend.
One option would be to move Andy Steeves inside to centre half with Ryan Kenneth at left back, with Steeves impressing in that role when called upon.
Nonetheless Hegarty will hope his players - whoever he selects to take on the Spiders - will show the same workrate and attitude as they did against East Fife, with their application something he found praiseworthy despite the defeat.
Paul added: “We’re very disappointed, especially with the second half. First half I thought we played some excellent stuff up until they scored the goal just before half-time.
“Until then there was only one team on the park, I thought we were excellent.
“Their teamtalk changes because they get the equaliser right out of route one.
“My teamtalk changed because we’ve gone from dictating the 43 minutes to level. We’re really disappointed losing that goal late on.
“After that we started bright again but when you get someone sent off, I’ve spoken to the ref and he says it was dangerous play, we thought the guy had put his head down.
“It’s an expensive lesson for us as a team, Greg misses next week against Queen’s Park at Hampden. So we’ve really got to get our thinking caps on to decide what we’re going to do with the back four.
“After that it was an uphill struggle. We changed it towards the end but by that time the game was over. We had a few flurries.
“Their attitude and workrate was excellent, we can’t fault that. We’ve got to question the defenders in how we handled certain situations.
“I’m sure East Fife are delighted to come away with three points, especially seeing how we played the first 43 minutes.”
A tough outing for Montrose but certainly one from which their young players can take a lot of lessons going forward in this highly competitive season.
Eyes turn to Hampden Park now and the players will look to record their first points on the road after narrowly missing out on them on a few occasions.