FORFAR appear to have struck a real flat spot in the bid to secure a top-four finish in the Scottish second division (writes Alan Ducat).
A couple of weeks ago Dick Campbell’s men were in the comfort zone, but a string of poor results has allowed on-song Airdrie United to move within two points of the Loons.
The Diamonds struck two of the blows themselves, following up a three-one home win over Forfar by edging all three points when the two teams met in a re-arranged fixture at Station Park last Tuesday evening.
Then Campbell’s troops blew a great chance to get back on track when Stenhousemuir were visitors to town on Saturday.
A goal up, they appeared to be in control when the visitors were reduced to ten men early in the second period, but they rarely looked like putting the game to bed and were made to pay when the Warriors grabbed a leveller out of nothing.
At the time of going to press on Tuesday (yesterday), the Loons’ fate remained firmly in their own hands as they prepared to host top four contenders Ayr United that same evening.
You will know the result by the time you read this, but whatever the outcome there are still important fixtures in the pipeline.
Forfar head west to take on Ayr again this coming Saturday, while next Tuesday gives Campbell’s men another home crack at Stenhousemuir.
However, if they are to be in there pitching come the end of the season, they really need to recapture the form that got them into the top four in the first place.
And, they really can’t afford to blow opportunities as they did last Tuesday evening.
Having recovered from being stunned in nine minutes when Ryan Donnelly was allowed to ghost past the Forfar back four to angle the goal wide of Scott Gallacher into the corner of the net, there were ample opportunities to take the lead before being hit by a late sucker-punch.
Forfar certainly saw plenty of the ball in the opening period and it was no great surprise when they levelled just prior to the break.
From a free-kick on the left a Michael Bolochoweckyj header had the visitors’ keeper scrambling to block and Paul McQuade was on hand to blast into the roof of the net from close range.
That should have provided the platform for the Loons to go on and win the game - but it was to be a real evening of frustration for their loyal fans.
Perhaps the best opportunity to take the lead came six minutes into the second period when Ross Campbell found himself clean through on goal - but the striker was stretching and somehow managed to screw the ball wide of the target.
Forfar had other half chances to get ahead, but couldn’t take them and, late in the game, a surge by Airdrie United paid dividends.
The warning signs were there, Ryan Donnelly forcing a great block by the keeper and then Jamie Stevenson clipping the post.
In the game’s dying embers, the ball broke kindly for Scott Morton in the area after a raid down the left and he despatched the ball past Gallacher for what proved to be the winner.
Loons assistant boss Ian Campbell accepted the side was going through a worrying sticky spell.
“We started by giving away a horrible goal and then brought ourselves back into the game, but all credit to Airdrie, they kept working hard and hit us with the sucker punch.”
With Airdrie now breathing down their necks in the race for a play-off slot it was important that Forfar got back on track when Stenhousemuir were visitors on Saturday.
And, despite the blustery conditions and the fact that the Warriors had more brawn than soccer finesse, things looked to be going according to plan for most of the game.
True, chances were few and far between, but having got their noses in front before the break, and with Dick Campbell back at the helm, things appeared to be going ok.
Forfar were far from setting the heather on fire, but the one really good piece of football they produced in the 16th minute carved open the visitors’ defence, allowing Ryan Dow to turn and fire home from 16 yards.
With Stenhousemuir more content on breaking up play, by fair means and foul, the match became fairly scrappy for a spell after the opener, but there appeared to be nothing for the home fans to get their knickers in a twist about in that first half.
And, when Hilson and Dow began to run at the Warriors back four, the match swung further in the home side’s favour on the hour mark.
As Dow weaved his way through the middle he was unceremoniously dumped on his backside by a woefully late tackle, resulting in Mike Devlin getting his marching orders.
Alas, the Loons huffed and puffed in their bid to take advantage and created very few clear-cut chances, despite enjoying the lion’s share of possession.
And, with such a slender lead there was always the chance that ‘Muir would break from their bunker and snatch a leveller.
That they did with 12 minutes to go. Grant Anderson got the better of Jamie Bishop in the chase for a long ball upfield, turned the Forfar defender and belted the ball past the substitute Forfar keeper, who had come on for the injured Scott Gallacher at the start of the second period.
The goal was a real duller for the Loons, and not much went their way thereafter.
Indeed they were denied a stone-wall penalty kick when Bryan Deasley was hauled down in the area after weaving his way into a threatening position.
A spot-kick was probably the only way Forfar were going to get back into the lead, and the Forfar manager agreed.
“We had waves and waves of attack but their goalkeeper hardly had a save to make,” he commented after the game.
“If we had gone on to win the game no one would have denied us the three points.
“We dominated the game from start to finish, but I am disappointed in our second half performance in terms of not making their goalkeeper make saves. I am also disappointed at the goal we conceded.”
Forfar now need to re-group and, no matter how the game on Tuesday evening (last night) went, get sufficient points from the remaining three games at home and three on the road to earn a place at the play-offs.
Hopefully, suspensions and injuries will not hurt them too badly for the run-in, especially with the squad having been trimmed over the course of the past week - the club confirming that Alistair Divine has been released from his contract and that Kevin Fotheringham has moved on a permanent basis to St. Andrews United.
In addition, striker Paul Watson has moved to Forfar West End an emergency temporary transfer until May 7, although he will remain available to the Forfar Athletic management team during that period.