It is the last day of the Scottish Football League season and we are at Station Park, Forfar, where the home side hopes to sneak the last available Division 2 Play Off place. We have made it here in good time, despite a horrendous and uncharacteristic wrong turn at Perth!
Normally when you approach any given venue you can spot the floodlights in the distance, but having negotiated some intricate roundabouts and been told by the satnav “you have arrived at your destination”, we still could not see the ground! We parked on a busy main road and then spotted fans heading down the one street, so like sheep, decided to follow them!
To encourage more locals to come out and support the team for this game, the club announced earlier in the week that the admission prices would be halved. That meant £5 for adults and £3 for concessions, which was a welcome bonus for us. With about twenty minutes before kick off, we had a brief walk past the Main Stand side before going back round to the terracing turnstiles.
As we paid in and got through, programme sellers were notable by their absence. We asked someone selling half time draw tickets where we could get one, before hearing the dreaded words ‘sold out’! We asked in at the club shop, but they did not have any left and tried our last option, the pie stall. Again, they had sold their allocation too. This is the first game we have attended without getting either a teamsheet or programme, disaster!
I then thought about asking the Forfar Chairman, Alastair Donald, via social media site, Twitter. I had been communicating with him and Radio Clyde Sports Reporter, not mention Forfar Athletic fan, Alison Robbie, in the lead up to this fixture. Fortunately for us, the Chairman came good having got us a programme from the boardroom and I agreed to meet with him at full time!
The opposition for this game are, the now very familiar, Ayr United. They are safe from relegation and are just off mid table, so it was an opportunity for their Manager, Mark Roberts to tinker with his side. Forfar on the other hand are managed by the well known, bunnet wearing, Dick Campbell and it appears there are quite a few of his family in the playing squad too!
Forfar play on a modern synthetic surface and have had a good season. They have Darren Hill in goals and he has been the number one choice for most of this calendar year, replacing veteran, Derek Soutar. The key men in defence are Captain, Mark McCulloch, Iain Campbell and Michael Bolochoweckyj. The industrious midfield includes, Gavin Malin, Danny Denholm and Dale Hilson, with Ross Campbell supporting the far travelled, Chris Templeman up front.
Unfortunately for Dick Campell, he had to make do without the services of Steven Tulloch, Martin Fotheringham and the influential, Gavin Swankie. For Ayr United, players like, Kyle McAusland, Jackson Longridge, Aaron Wylie and Anthony Marenghi got starting places. They replaced the very experienced, John Robertson and Austin McCann along with Liam Buchanan and David Winters.
As the game kicked off, it was surprising to find the ball played in the air, especially against a relatively strong wind. Forfar created the first decent chance after five minutes when Ross Campbell’s shot from six yards out was deflected for a corner following an Iain Campbell free kick.
With twelve minutes gone, we got the opening goal of the game and again it started from an Iain Campbell set piece. His twenty five yard direct free kick was fired in at goal and it required a smart save from Graeme Smith, as he turned the shot away for a corner. Gavin Malin’s out swinger on the right was flicked on by Danny Denholm, for Athletic’s own version of Peter Crouch, Chris Templeman to head the ball into the net from close range.
Ayr struggled to get going and they never put the hosts under any real threat. A Scott McLaughlin run and cross which drifted harmlessly over the bar was all they had to show for their early efforts.
Forfar then created two chances in quick succession on twenty five minutes. Gavin Malin’s shot from the edge of the box was cleared for a corner and from the resultant kick, Ayr managed to clear their lines under pressure, despite what looked like an infringement on their goalkeeper.
After half an hour, Ayr were beginning to get a hold of the ball more. Anthony Marenghi floated a dangerous free kick into the box, but was cleared, before Jackson Longridge’s shot was comfortably saved by Darren Hill.
At the other end, Forfar nearly and quite possibly should have doubled their lead following a counter attack. Danny Denholm burst clear on the left, but he opted to square the ball into the centre when he may have been better getting a shot away himself. The move broke down and within seconds Ayr were level, albeit very fortuitously.
Robbie Crawford’s cross on the left was intended for the back post, but Forfar’s centre half, Michael Bolochoweckyj attempted to intercept it and only succeeded in slicing the ball past his own goalkeeper. The big stopper was very unlucky and only moments earlier, he had expertly controlled a difficult bouncing ball, under pressure from two Ayr forwards with a piece of skill Franco Baresi would have been proud of!
Ayr were struggling with some of the high balls being played into their box by Forfar. Two minutes before the break they blocked another attempted shot for a corner, before we had a defining moment in the game, right on the half time whistle.
A long ball into the box for Templeman, saw him tussle with Darren Brownlie. The Ayr stopper was alleged to have bundled the striker to the ground and referee, Craig Charleston awarded the penalty. It was a relatively soft award, which Brownlie was also red carded for, leaving the away side to play the full second half with a man less. Iain Campbell stepped up and smashed his shot low into Smith’s right hand corner to restore Forfar’s lead.
We had started watching the game from just below the Main Stand, but decided to move round to the opposite side of the ground, just before the penalty was awarded. Similar to the procedure at Gayfield, Arbroath, the fans switched ends at the break, so they were behind the goal their respective team was attacking in the second half.
Ayr made a change following the red card, with Chris Smith on for Anthony Marenghi. Two minutes after the game restarted, Forfar replaced Bolochoweckyj with Mick Dunlop.
Ayr came out the traps hungry for an equaliser and nearly got one from the normally deadly, Michael Moffat. He controlled a through ball just inside the Forfar half as the home team attempted to play offside. He was bearing down on goal, then stalled, as if he was unsure what to do with it next. His hesitation bought the Forfar defence time to track back and the chance had gone.
Forfar then forced a couple of corners, but did not threaten the Ayr goal. At the other end, Darren Hill comfortably handled a couple of tame efforts at goal from the visitors. As Forfar had to win the match to have any chance in participating in the Play Off’s, a slight nervousness crept into their play and Ayr could almost sense it.
With twenty five minutes to go, Ayr had a great chance to equalise following Scott McLaughlin’s corner on the right. Nobody in the Forfar defence seemed to pick up Chris Smith and his header went just over the crossbar. Ayr went even closer five minutes later, when another McLaughlin corner, this time on the left, was delivered to the back post and was headed across goal by Michael Donald. He picked out Kyle McAusland and his shot went just over the bar.
With thirteen minutes left, Darren Hill had to look lively again when he was forced to tip a Neil McGregor header over the bar from a McLaughlin free kick. Anything Ayr created, McLaughlin seemed to be at the heart of it. In the last quarter of the game, he hit a shot from twenty yards out that Hill easily held. The midfielder then put a dangerous cross to the back post, but there were no takers, following a poor refereeing decision to award Ayr a free kick in the first instance.
Forfar were uncomfortable with the ball in possession and latterly tried to run the clock down. They created a couple of attacks which led to corners, but none of them threatened the Ayr goal. Some nice hold up play down the left for the home side saw Templeman cut into the box and his shot was deflected for a corner.
At the other end, Hill parried a McLaughlin shot but it was cleared to safety, before the moment every Forfar supporter held their breath. With four minutes left, an Ayr cross on the left was not cleared by the Forfar defence, the ball broke to Michael Donald who had a clear shot at goal. Instead of a composed finish, he went for power and blazed his shot over the bar. The irony was, word had filtered through that Alloa had scored at Arbroath, meaning that if Forfar could hold onto their lead, fourth place and the last Play Off spot was theirs.
Forfar managed to see out two minutes of stoppage time and win the game. As the players left the pitch, a hush descended among the supporters as it was announced over the tannoy that Forfar would be at home to Dunfermline during the week in the first leg of the Play Off. We made our way round to the Main Stand to meet the Chairman and collect the match programme. After a brief exchange, we then left and set about getting back on the road home.
Station Park is quite a basic ground, but homely and traditional at the same time. The Main Stand runs for approximately half the length of the pitch, with a seated upper tier. There are approximately eight supporting pillars which may obscure your view slightly, depending on where you sit. Instead of a bottom tier, there is a kind of sharp drop, with an all brick facing that gives some standing space below, like an old enclosure.
The dug outs and players tunnel are situated in the centre of it and there are two flood light pylons situated at either end of the roof, with one on each side of the stand too.
Opposite this, is the South Stand which is a covered terrace that runs the length of the pitch and is predominantly used by the home support. On the far side is the East Terrace, a slightly elevated, open terrace which is normally for the away following and has some industrial units over the back of it.
Directly facing this end is the West Terrace, this is slightly smaller meaning it has less capacity and you will find toilet facilities, along with the club shop. Behind this end of the ground is the main access route to Station Park. It looks like it could get pretty muddy in some choice weather conditions as a tractor plant is situated next to it.
The admission pricing at Forfar is reasonable, as is the food and service. The staff and local people we spoke with were friendly and went out their way to help us, especially in trying to locate a match programme. We were treated to a decent game of football and overall, this was an enjoyable day out.