FORFAR Athletic have been hit with a goalkeeping blow for a vital part of the season (writes Alan Ducat).
On-loan Ranger Scott Gallacher was carried off with what looked to be a muscle problem after injuring himself trying to clear at Ayr United on Saturday.
If, as looks likely, there is a tear, the custodian could be on the sidelines for the remainder of the league programme.
That will mean Saturday stand-in Neil Duffy taking over between the sticks, with the Loons having to rely on the services of the youth team keeper on the bench as they continue the bid to secure a promotion play-off spot.
As the games come thick and fast, the Loons had to settle for three points from six in their double-header with Ayr United over the course of the past week.
However, with Airdrie United going down one-nil at Alloa and Brechin losing at home to East Fife, the race for the three spots behind runaway league champs Livingston remains wide open.
At the time of going to press on Tuesday (yesterday) Dick Campbell’s men were gearing up for another crack at Stenhousemuir that same evening.
It was an important match in that, if the Loons could gather all three points, they would be closing in on the security of a top-four slot, whilst any other result opens the door for the chasing pack.
By the time you read this, you will know how Forfar fared, but, no matter the result, there is still plenty to play for in the weeks ahead.
Next up is a home joust with an Alloa side that has fallen away after having high aspirations of being in the hunt at the top, with a derby trip to nearby Brechin City on the programme for a week on Saturday.
Forfar will then face a home game against relegation favourites Peterhead, with a trip to Dumbarton to bring the curtain down.
By then, all going well, there will be a two-legged play-off joust to look forward to.
Forfar will be hoping to regain their consistency before then - for the form’s been a bit up and down of late.
The Loons did well to twice come from behind at home to Ayr United to secure victory in a thriller of a match played in windy conditions on Tuesday evening of last week.
Substitute Martyn Fotheringham was the home hero, with two second half strikes - one an absolute cracker - in a three-two success.
Playing with the wind in the first period, the Honest Men twice came close to taking an early lead, Gallacher brilliantly saving from Michael Moffat and then a Mark Roberts flick striking the crossbar.
At the other end, Ryan Dow screwed a shot wide after great work down the right by Ross Campbell and a good lay-off by Paul McQuade.
Ayr took the lead against the run of play in 36 minutes, Roberts breaking clear down the left and crossing for Alan Trouten to scramble over the line.
Forfar levelled courtesy of a superb Ross Campbell strike from a Chris Templeman lay-off five minutes in to the second period.
Mark McCulloch was inches away from giving the Loons the lead with a clever chip before Ross Campbell’s great solo run was ended with a block, Deasley’s follow-up effort somehow scrambled away from the line.
Then came a moment of controversy, as referee Gary Hilland made a midden of dealing with what was a straight-forward situation.
Deasley’s trickery on the left flank had three players trailing in his wake until centre-back Martyn Campbell blatantly blocked him from going any further.
A yellow card to the centre-back, who had already been carded, and a foul to the Loons was the obvious decision, but dithering Hilland wandered about the half-way line lost as to what to do while a number of players clashed in the aftermath of the incident.
The bungling ref picked out a player from each side to caution, and allowed the centre-back to get away with as cynical foul as you’re ever likely to see.
Meanwhile, the action continued at pace and Ayr were back in front in 70 minutes, Scott McLaughlin wheeling and sending a great show wide of Gallacher into the net from the edge of the box.
But, just as it was looking like another of these nights for the home side, enter the Fox!
Substitute Martyn Fotheringham got a great ovation when he took the field and he paid the home faithful back in buckets with two priceless strikes.
The first was an absolute corker, a free-kick from 25 yards curled high over the wall and into the postage-stamp corner of the net for the leveller,
The winner soon followed, a short corner on the left allowing Foxy the angle to flight over a dangerous ball which eluded everyone in the are to nestle in the corner of the net.
The result got the Loons back on track in their bid to make the top-four, and they must have had high hopes of making it a clean-sweep of league victories over the Honest Men when they headed west on Saturday.
But, the home side had other ideas. They were lightening out of the traps and were two goals in front after only 13 minutes.
Firstly Andy Rodgers set up Stuart Bannigan to net from close in the eighth minute, then, five minutes later, Mark Roberts showed good strength to fire home from the edge of the box.
Thereafter, the half belonged to Ayr United as Forfar struggled to get into the game.
Forfar were nearly three goals down at the start of the second half when Mark Roberts squandered a golden opportunity, firing his shot high over the bar after good set up play by Andy Rodgers.
Forfar’s day was to take a turn for the worse when Scott Gallacher went to ground whilst clearing a pass back.
The custodian failed to recover and was replaced between the sticks by Neil Duffy.
Gradually Forfar fought their way back into the game and both Graham Gibson and Paul McQuade saw efforts blocked by home keeper Alan Martin before Michael Bolochoweckyj glanced home a fine header from a Martyn Fotheringham corner fifteen minutes from time.
That strike gave the Loons hope but these hopes were soon extinguished as Ayr added a killer third, Davie Crawford setting up Stuart Bannigan to fire home his second and Ayr United’s third goal of the game with eight minutes remaining.
Forfar assistant boss Ian Campbell accepted his side weren’t good enough on the day.
“Ayr deserved their victory because we defended so poorly,” he commented after the game. “We handed them the points on a plate.”