TEN-MAN Alloa Athletic staged a remarkable second-leg recovery to win the Championship play-off final and remain in Scotland’s second tier for a third consecutive season.
Alloa Athletic - 3
Chopra (45), Buchanan (67), Meggatt (84)
Forfar Athletic - 0
Alloa won 4-3 on aggregate
Referee: W Collum
For long periods at the rainy Indodrill Stadium last night, it was hard to envisage anything other than Forfar Athletic winning promotion to a division they last graced in 1992. Leading 3-1 from last Wednesday’s first leg, they appeared in total control until the last action of the first half, when Michael Chopra’s opener, against the run of play, hauled the Wasps back into the tie.
Liam Buchanan levelled on aggregate after a gift from the Forfar defence midway through the second half. And after losing Graeme Holmes to a straight red card with 19 minutes left, Danny Lennon’s never-say-die side conjured an unlikely winner with six minutes left, scored by Daryll Meggatt in his last game before joining Dundee.
“If there’s a hard way to stay up, then we’ve certainly done it,” said Lennon, shouting into microphones as Alloa’s jubilant players and supporters partied on the pitch behind him. “It was all about belief and hard work. It’s been a collective effort and I include Barry Smith [the previous manager] in that. I told them in my teamtalk that they could be heroes if they became the first Alloa team to stay in the second tier for three consecutive years and they’ve done it. I never felt it was beyond us.”
Despite the inconvenience of a Sunday teatime kick-off, timed in order to accommodate live television coverage on BBC Alba, around 400 expectant visiting fans made the trek south from Angus hoping to savour one of their club’s greatest achievements.
Backing in such numbers at an away match is not the norm for players more accustomed to the support of only a couple of dozen travelling fans at most. Not that this will have been totally alien to some of those in white shirts and dark blue shorts. The likes of Derek Young, Rab Douglas and Darren Dods spent the peak years of their career in Scotland’s top flight. The presence of this veteran trio alongside Martyn Fotheringham and 35-year-old pair Chris Templeman and Stuart Malcolm meant the Forfar starting XI contained six players aged 32 or older.
With such experience in their ranks, it was no great surprise that they effectively nullified any potential early Alloa onslaught. Indeed, aside from allowing Ryan McCord a tenth-minute shot which was easily saved by Douglas, Forfar, without creating many clear chances themselves, were comfortable throughout the first half.
They had Alloa flustered in the 28th minute when Danny Denholm burst clear down the right and drew a foul from John Gibson who had raced outside the box, but the goalkeeper escaped with only a yellow card from referee Willie Collum. From the resulting free kick, taken by Fotheringham, Mark Docherty, without knowing much about it, headed dangerously over his own crossbar.
On the half-hour, Alloa defender Ben Gordon had to boot a goalbound Templeman header, from a Denholm cross, off the line.
Alloa were barely in the game as an attacking force until Chopra flashed a 43rd-minute shot just wide from 25 yards. Despite having endured a frustrating first half, the hosts made the breakthrough in stoppage time before the break when Chopra planted a clinical low shot from 15 yards out beyond Douglas from a low Iain Flannigan cross.
Alloa came out with their tails up after the break but Forfar held firm in the opening exchanges. The visitors soon started to reassert themselves and seconds after Fotheringham pinged a 25-yard free kick agonisingly wide in the 56th minute, Meggatt had to make a brilliant saving tackle on the edge of the box just as Omar Kader looked to have burst clean through on goal.
Alloa levelled the tie out of nothing, however, in the 67th minute. Hesitancy between Dods and Douglas in dealing with a bouncing ball allowed Chopra to nip in and force the ball square into the path of Liam Buchanan, who thumped low into an empty net from the edge of the box.
Just as the hosts appeared to have seized the initiative, though, they relinquished it. Four minutes after Buchanan’s goal, Holmes slid in recklessly on Kader as the Forfar winger threatened to break down the right. Collum flashed the red card and the pendulum swung back in favour of the Loons.
Not that they were able to capitalise on this advantage. With six minutes left, Meggatt, who last month signed a pre-contract with Dundee, powered home a header from a Docherty corner to win the tie and leave Dick Campbell shellshocked. “I did not see that coming,” said the 61-year-old Forfar manager. “I’m absolutely gutted.
“For 45 minutes we were in total control. I think the gods were looking towards Alloa. You can’t tell me Forfar are not as good as Alloa. We’re a good team and we’ll be back next season.”
Alloa: Gibson, Doyle (Holmes 33), Benedictus, Gordon, Meggatt, Docherty, McCord, Buchanan, Chopra (Asghar 86), Cawley (Hetherington 71), Flannigan. Subs not used: Spence, Layne, Hynd, McDowall.
Forfar: Douglas, Travis, Kennedy (Hay 86), Malcolm, Dods, Young, Kader, Fotheringham (Malin 78), Templeman, Hilson (Smith 86), Denholm. Subs not used: Dale, Dunlop, Clark, King.