FORFAR Athletic manager Dick Campbell has conceded that any hopes his side had of reaching a promotion play-off spot this season are gone (writes Alan Ducat).
Following the latest home reverse at the hands of Stenhousemuir - Forfar going down by the odd goal in three - Campbell admitted the focus had now turned to trying to keep the club in the Scottish second division.
It was a week of mixed fortunes for the Loons, with an excellent midweek performance and victory over East Fife, followed by an uphill struggle at home to a very ordinary Warriors side on Saturday.
Speaking after the two-one reverse at home to Stenny, Campbell said: “Any thoughts about getting into a promotion play-off spot have gone for us now.
“We have got to get the elbow grease out and completely focus on staying in the second division.”
Of the game itself, the manager felt his side started off pretty well, only to be undone by a goal that should never have stood.
“We did well in the opening ten minutes but then went behind to a goal that was yards offside.
“Decisions like that can turn games and from then on until half time Stenhousemuir had the upper hand.
“We got the players fired up at the break, and there was only one team in it throughout the second period.
“We had enough possession to score goals, but failed to clear our lines properly and lost a second goal.
“David Mowat did well in the game, but his mistake buried us.”
The result plunged the Loons deep into the relegation mire, especially with Stirling Albion recording a second successive victory in a week when they got the better of Albion Rovers, the other side in the battle to avoid the drop.
Forfar and Stirling Albion are locked together on the 26-point mark, three ahead of Albion Rovers.
At least, that was the position when the Forfar Dispatch and Kirriemuir Herald went to press on Tuesday morning, hours prior to the all-important meeting of Forfar and Stirling at Forthbank Stadium that same evening.
By the time you are reading this you will know what the update position is and what the Loons are going to have to do to avoid the possibility of the drop back into the third division.
The games don’t get any easier, with another derby fixture this coming Saturday when Brechin City are at Station Park.
While the Loons are desperately looking for life-line points, City have not yet given up the hope of a promotion play-off spot, a task made much harder for them over the course of the past week, when they could only pick up one point from six.
Forfar can, of course, get out of the mire if they can produce more performances like the one last midweek, when they got the better of East Fife by three goals to two.
The Loons sizzled in the opening 15 minutes and could have been four goals up before East Fife got into the game.
They forced a succession of corners, hit the bar and saw a great shot saved by the keeper.
It was no surprise when the fired-up home side took the lead in four minutes, Nicky Low angling home a cross by Iain Campbell.
The lead was doubled in 16 minutes when Chris Templeman cracked the ball home from the penalty spot after Martyn Fotheringham had been felled by Robert Sloan in the area.
If that spot-kick was easy to call, the one the ref gave at the other end three minutes later was rather dubious, Mark McCulloch judged to have impeded Hislop in the area and Sloan stepping up to give Greg Paterson no chance.
It was a set-back for the home side, but they continued on the ascendancy and could have added to their tally by the break.
East Fife had a couple of great chances to level at the start of the second period, but Paterson kept them out.
Forfar all but bagged the points midway through the half when Chris Templeman fastened on to a Campbell cross and fairly lashed the ball high past the East Fife keeper from eight yards.
When substitute Craig Wilson fouled Johnson in the box deep onto injury time, Ryan Wallace stepped up to convert the third spot-kick of the game, but the strike came too late for the Fifers to stage any sort of come-back.
Buoyed by that win, Forfar went in search of a home double in the space of five days when Stenhousemuir came calling on Saturday.
But this was a more dogged affair, with the visitors taking full advantage of a poor decision and capitalising on a horror clearance by Mowat to build a two-goal lead.
Nicky Low reduced the leeway for the Loons, but, with the Warriors camped deep in their own half and prepared to use every time-wasting trick in the book, there was no way of salvaging even a share of the spoils.
Once again, Forfar started the game as if they meant business, and Chris Templeman had a chance to open the home account after a couple of minutes, his low angled drive flashing wide of the post.
Gradually, Stenhousemuir got to grips with things, and the tide turned in their favour in the 13th minute when the stand-side assistant allowed Kenny Deuchar to play on despite the good doctor being yards offside when he took possession.
It was a really poor decision, but the Loons appeared to get things under control only for Mowat to lose possession in the area, opening the door for Brown Ferguson to pick his spot past Paterson for the opening goal.
The strike put Forfar on the back foot and, for the remainder of the first period, they struggled to get out of first gear.
They were not helped by the showboating of referee Mat Northcroft, an official that has never impressed at Station Park.
Whatever Dick said to his troops at the break appeared to have the desired affect, for they took charge from the restart and camped themselves in the Stenny half.
But the visitors stood firm and, for all Forfar’s possession, there were few clear-cut chances.
There was one at the other end, however, the Warriors taking full advantage of another howler clearance by Mowat to score a second, Stewart Kean curling the ball past Paterson and into the corner of the net from the edge of the area.
That seemed to be that, but Forfar had other ideas, and went straight up the park to create an opening to reduce the deficit.
Greg Ross did immensely well on the right, working his way to the by-line and crossing for Nicky Low to emerge late on the scene to crack the ball home from ten yards.
That should have been the signal for the Loons to up the ante, but Nicky’s goal was to be the only crumb of comfort on a disappointing Saturday afternoon, leaving Forfar Athletic to contemplate how they are going to go about keeping their place in the Scottish second division division in the final quarter of the campaign.