FORFAR last night took a major step to returning to Scottish football’s second tier for the first time since the 1991-92 campaign.
Scorers: Forfar Athletic - Kader (10), Templeman (57), Travis (90); Alloa Athletic - Benedictus (82)
Dick Campbell’s ultra-experienced side, who only missed out on the League 1 title on the last day of the regulation season, deservedly seized command of the Championship play-off final.
A late counter by Kyle Benedictus gave Alloa some hope after Omar Kader and Chris Templeman had put the hosts in command. But after Michael Travis’s stoppage-time goal for the Loons, the Wasps will now need to win by at least two clear goals in Sunday’s second leg at Recreation Park if they are to have any chance of surviving in the Championship for a third consecutive season.
Dick Campbell, the longest-serving manager in Scotland, sent out a Forfar team containing seven players 31 or older, including fortysomething pair Rab Douglas and Darren Dods.
There was no hint of tired legs in the home ranks, however, as they started in sprightly fashion and took the lead with the first attempt of the match after nine minutes. Martyn Fotheringham’s fluffed shot from the edge of the box was diverted goalwards by Danny Denholm and, after goalkeeper John Gibson could only parry, Kader, the former Spartans player, followed up to prod in the rebound from six yards out.
The hosts’ tails were up and three minutes later, Fotheringham volleyed over from 15 yards after Kader had helped a Gavin Swankie cross into his path. Swankie then tried his luck with a chipped effort from the edge of the box which was clutched by Gibson.
It was then the turn of Douglas to be called into action, the former Celtic and Scotland goalkeeper having to dive to his right to keep out an angled shot by Kevin Cawley at his near post after quarter of an hour. At the other end, Templeman’s low shot from the edge of the box was well saved by Gibson five minutes later.
Douglas produced a brilliant save to deny Liam Buchanan from seven yards out in the 22nd minute and seconds later he was at it again when he raced from his goal to block at the feet of Michael Chopra when the former Newcastle United striker was clear in the box.
Douglas was eventually beaten in the 27th minute when Buchanan lobbed the ball over him from outside the box and into the net, but the visitors’ celebrations were cut short when the goal was disallowed for a push.
Buchanan, who had been visibly frustrated by seeing his side have a couple of decent penalty claims waved away, then drifted a chip from the edge of the box just beyond the far post.
Alloa made a strong start to the second half, but after failing to convert their pressure into any tangible reward, they fell further behind in the 58th minute. After Kader got in behind the away defence and miscued his lob from outside the box, Swankie eventually seized on the loose ball and delivered a perfect cross from the left for Templeman to power home a close-range header.
Alloa should have responded immediately but Chopra shot straight at Douglas after finding himself with a golden opportunity six yards out.
With seven minutes remaining, the visitors hauled themselves back into it when Benedictus headed in a Mark Docherty cross. But Travis restored Forfar’s two-goal advantage at the end when he nodded in a corner by sub Gavin Malin.
Forfar Athletic: Douglas, Travis, Kennedy, Malcolm, Dods, Young (Dale 84), Kader, Fotheringham (Malin 76), Templeman (Smith 86), Swankie, Denholm. Subs not used: Dunlop, Hilson, Hay, King.
Alloa Athletic: Gibson, Hetherington, Docherty, Gordon, Benedictus, Flannigan, Cawley, McCord, Buchanan, Holmes (Spence 80), Chopra. Subs not used: McDowall, Ferguson, Meggatt, Hynd, Asghar, Layne.