FORFAR Athletic fans can look forward to the excitement of the promotion play-offs for the second season in succession.
The Loons clinched their place in the end-of-season format to challenge for a place in the Scottish first division when they narrowly defeated Brechin City in the latest derby duel at Glebe Park in Saturday.
The result takes Dick Campbell’s men on to the 55-point mark for the season, one behind second-placed Ayr United and four ahead of Brechin City side in danger of slip, slip, sliding away after being up there in the vanguard for most of the campaign.
Dale Hilson was the Forfar hero on Saturday, taking advantage of a keeper slip to notch the all-important goal in the 58th minute.
By that time, the home side were playing with ten men, David McKenna having been shown a straight red amid confusion, apparently for an off-the-ball incident that few fans witnessed.
Despite the man advantage from the 25th minute and enjoying the lion’s share of possession, Forfar struggled to put the game to bed.
Still that solitary counter just before the hour was enough to earn all three points, much to the delight of Loons gaffer Dock Campbell.
“It was a typical derby and it was a mistake that led to their goal,” he commented after the game.
“However, I don’t think anyone could deny that we were the better team.
“Anybody watching the game who knows anything about football would have to agree with that.
“Our goalkeeper had only the one save to make and territorially we were well in charge.
“It’s all about getting the three points in what is always a difficult game.
“Brechin have had their suspension problems but we are all in the same boat.”
Campbell went on to express his delight at achieving the Loons’ goal of reaching the promotion play-offs for the second season in succession.
“Don’t forget that, of the teams who have been up there challenging, we are the ones who got there through the play-offs last season.
“There is an expectation-level about Livingston, and the likes of Ayr United and Airdrie United. There is not an expectation-level about Forfar.
“A couple of years ago we were sitting bottom of the third division, and yet we have competed in the top four in the second division all season.
“We have achieved what we set out to do - and if we don’t get promoted through the play-offs this time round we will try again next year.”
Having made the knock-out stage with two games to spare, the manager will have the luxury of resting some of his players for what, apart from looking to finish second in the table, are pretty meaningless games.
Forfar are at home to Peterhead on Saturday and then finish the league campaign with a trip to Dumbarton the following Saturday.
Chris Templeman, who had to leave the field injured in the first half at the Glebe, misses the next two games through suspension anyway, while the manager may opt to rest the likes of Martyn Fothringham, Mark McCulloch and Michael Bolochowekyj, with the trio a card away from a ban.
Reflecting over Saturday’s derby joust, there wasn’t expected to be much between the two sides, and that’s how it panned out over the ninety minutes.
Jay Redman had a headed opportunity in Brechin’s early forays, but Forfar had quick players on the break, with Hilson and Dow keeping the make-shift reds defence on its toes.
There was an almighty scare for the home side in 15 minutes when Craig Nelson made a hash of an attempted clearance, thumping the ball against Graham Gibson. Fortunately for the keeper, Hilson wasn’t able to take advantage.
The game threatened to become somewhat of a stalemate until, midway through the first half, a moment of controversy left the home side a man short.
The far-side linesman had his flag up as both teams battled for possession in midfield, and, when play was brought to a halt, a chin-wag between referee Northcroft and his assistant led to a march infield by the man in charge to deal with the situation.
It appears he was relayed dud info and, for a minute, it looked as if Forfar’s number ten Ross Campbell was in hot water. The ref had a rethink before delving into his pocket, and wandered back for another chat with the man who had brought the incident to his attention.
This time out came the red - and off went David McKenna.
It seemed harsh but there are those in the vicinity who claim they witnessed an off-the-ball misdemeanour by the player who walked.
That should have provided Forfar with the opening to go on and take control, but they continued to struggle to create any clear-cut opportunities, despite having the bulk of possession.
Half time came and went with the teams still locked at nil-nil, and it was Brechin who made the early second half running, a McKay shot bringing out the best in Forfar keeper Duffy.
That close call seemed to spur the Loons into action and, when they did go in front, it was courtesy of a rare Nelson error.
The keeper seemed to have Ross Campbell’s low cross into the area under control, but somehow managed to let the ball slip from his grasp, Dale Hilson reacting quickest to bundle over the line for what was eventually to prove the winner.
Their tales up now, Forfar were expected to go for the jugular, but, for all their pretty play, they were unable to break down the City rearguard again.
They really should have had one other gilt-edged opportunity when Dale Hilson appeared to be tripped by goalkeeper Nelson as he burst clean through on goal.
Okay, if referee Northcroft, who had a dodgy ninety minutes, not helped by a dithering far-side assistant, didn’t see it as a spot-kick, but never in a million years did Hilson dive, as the whistler suggested when he brandished a yellow card.
In the latter stages of the game, play became a tad scrappy, and, while Brechin gave it one last go in search of a little bit more breathing space between themselves and the late-rallying East Fife, Forfar rarely looked in danger of relinquishing their grip on proceedings.
So, for Campbell and co. it’s onwards and upwards.
While there will be little pressure on the players for the final two league matches, there is one financial carrot in that, if Forfar can overhaul the Honest Men to finish second, they will have the second-leg of the semi-final play-off at home.