'Cost us immortality': Arbroath manager Dick Campbell seeking play-off fillip on scene of damaging defeat against Inverness

Watching Kilmarnock abruptly end Arbroath’s cinch Championship hopes last month left Dick Campbell feeling unlike anything he’d ever experienced over three decades of management.

Then empty, he’s now raring to go again, seeking a fillip for his team’s epic promotion journey at a venue where their fairytale season previously took a plot twist.

Arbroath’s last visit to Inverness, in March, ended in a 3-0 defeat and in the words of their manager Dick Campbell, “cost us immortality”.

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They had already slipped from top spot a week earlier but the damaging defeat gave up more ground on Kilmarnock and a lead in the league that couldn’t be overcome. The Lichties’ promotion dream is still alive though, through the play-offs and a semi-final which begins in the Highlands tonight [Tuesday] before the second leg at Gayfield later this week.

“We’re well prepared for the game,” Campbell told The Scotsman. “It will be a monumental effort for us to do it over the two legs but we have made a record of proving everyone wrong all season.

“My whole process has been geared to keeping the game alive into Friday.

“The last time we played up there I don’t think we lost through any superior play – we conceded two poor goals and I just feel we didn’t play well overall.

“That’s probably the game that cost us the immortality.”

Arbroath's Chris Hamilton (L) challenges Inverness' Billy McKay (r) during a cinch Championship match between Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Arbroath at the Caledonian Stadium, on March 12, 2022, in Inverness, Scotland. (Photo by Paul Devlin / SNS Group)

However, his pool of players have already earned their place in club folklore for their efforts this season, taking the part-time team to the brink of the Premiership. It is a squad, recruited and developed by Campbell which has drawn praise from all quarters and every player who has served him so well this season and the campaigns prior have a role in taking their fairytale season further.

The strength built in reserve allowed several to be rested for the final game of the Championship season, but still did not disrupt Arbroath’s form with a convincing win over Morton to round off the remarkable campaign.

“I made nine changes last week. Now I have a problem because they won 3-0 so half will be looking for a place in the team [on Tuesday],” Campbell admitted.

"I have one decision to make in my mind, but every player – all 20 of them – have a part to play, but I know my team in my head.

Arbroath need all 20 of their squad to play a part says Dick Campbell, including forward Jack Hamilton. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

"We have still got that bit of momentum and have gone alright this season. I think we’ll take a big crowd up there on Tuesday and I expect an even bigger one in Arbroath on Friday.”

A huge band of 1500 Arbroath fans made the trip to Kilmarnock last month, but Campbell feels many more have bought into the dream and will be backing his team in the Highlands aiming to right their previous wrongs and take their second chance.

“In 33 years of management, that was the emptiest I have ever felt [defeat to Blair Alston’s injury-time goal which won Kilmarnock the league]. It felt like the whole country was behind Arbroath that night.

"Tam Cowan told me about a speaking gig he was doing that Friday, at a cricket club in Dumfries. They asked for dinner to be put back to 9.30pm so they could watch the game and were singing ‘There’s only one Dick Campbell’ when we scored. It shows you the whole country was behind us and I do feel that support is still there.

Arbroath manager Dick Campbell said defeat in Kilmarnock left him feeling the emptiest in his 33-year management career. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

“If the tie is still really tight then I think we’ll have a big crowd at on Friday at Gayfield, I believe that. I am really looking forward to it. I think it will be a massive night, but we have to deal with the game [in Inverness] first and foremost.”

Hopes are equally high in Inverness that Caley Thistle can repeat last month’s performance to win a place in the play-off final after two victories over Partick Thistle set-up a second-versus-third clash.

Billy Dodds’ team inflicted two of Arbroath’s five defeats in the regular season and the manager says his squad will be ready after their 3-1 aggregate success made it four wins in a row, and eight from their last 10 games.

“It will be different having the home leg first and maybe I would prefer the second leg to be at home, but Arbroath finished second and all credit to them and they have the home tie second.

“But my boys will be ready,” the Inverness boss said. “We have done fairly well against them this season. Even although they finished above us in the league, we’re evenly matched.

“The boys know we are so close to getting a crack at a Premiership team, and it’s looking like that would be St Johnstone.

Inverness manager Billy Dodds saw his side book a semi-final place with a 3-1 aggregate win over Partick Thistle last week. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

“There might be a wee tweak here and there but we know what Arbroath are about and they know what we are about.

“It’s about who can handle the nerves and occasion the best. That is what will decide which side goes through to the final.

“It wasn’t easy against Partick Thistle, but we did handle it. Partick showed a great energy and Alex Jakubiak looked sharp when he came on.

“There were periods where we really had to defend properly and concentrate. I felt we could have maybe caught them on the break a few times, but we managed the game brilliantly in the second half.

“I just wanted us to be a wee bit more clinical to finish them off so me and my staff could enjoy it a wee bit more. But the main thing is we got through.”

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