Inverness, meanwhile, march on to a play-off final against St Johnstone after some sensational drama by the seaside and no little controversy.
Kirk Broadfoot, that old warhorse, struck the decisive penalty as the visitors triumphed 5-3 on penalties. Bobby Linn, the veteran who is, or at least was, enjoying his testimonial season, was the fall guy. The Arbroath winger saw his rushed effort brilliantly tipped wide by Inverness ‘keeper Mark Ridgers.
Nine-man Inverness were getting to the stage where they did not have any more players eligible to take penalties. All this late excitement compensated for the awful football. Both managers might agree on that if little else as Billy Dodds' team were left to play out the 90 minutes with just nine men – and then the last eight minutes of extra-time.
Confused? It’s complicated. Though maybe the identity of the referee, Willie Collum, might provide some explanation.
Shane Sutherland’s unfortunate injury after 85 minutes – he collapsed to the turf clutching his knee while in pursuit of the ball – proved potentially ruinous for the visitors, who had already stopped play the limit of three times while making four subs. New rules meant they could send on a fifth sub only at the start of extra-time – if this additional period was required.
To no-one’s great surprise, it was. These teams managed to produce no goals in 210 minutes of football over two legs. Though still a man short, Inverness were given a boost at the start of extra-time with Lewis Hyde able to join the fray.
The part-time hosts could not make the most of the numerical advantage even when Inverness were reduced to nine again when substitute Wallace Duffy was harshly red carded for a second bookable offence after a sliding challenge on Linn after 112 minutes. For a while they were even three players light. Broadfoot needed treatment off the field for a head wound.
The game lacked quality but was not short on endeavour. Neither was it short on controversy thanks, as ever, to Collum. Inverness defender Danny Devine was adjudged to have denied Jack Hamilton a goalscoring opportunity while colliding with the Arbroath striker with 25 minutes of normal time left.
The hosts will rarely get a better chance to reach the top flight – and they know it. Colin Hamilton saw a header a hit the bar in the dying moments of extra-time. Substitute Craig Wighton could not capitalise on the rebound.
Even a sun dappled spring evening on the east coast of Angus is liable to carry menace. Any golfer can attest to that. And so it proved here in terms of the challenging breeze.
It’s all part of the fun at Gayfield. The conditions were always likely to play a part in the outcome. Not that they persuaded anyone to stay away. Arbroath had stopped selling tickets in the afternoon. A remarkable crowd of 5,154 were in attendance. There was a sizeable number from Inverness. “Where were you when you were shite?” they wondered at one point. The home fans responded with an ancient terrace chant. “We are Arbroath, Super Arbroath. No one likes us, we don’t care,” they chorused.
It didn’t seem entirely accurate. Arbroath have been love-bombed by many up and down the nation. Their story of a part-time team standing on the brink of the Premiership has captured the interest of even non-football fans. They could count on the support of the majority of neutrals.
But there was always the feeling that it would have to end somewhere. Just not here, not now. Dick Campbell’s side had given themselves every chance of progressing to a two-legged Premiership play off final and they certainly looked like the team which had enjoyed the less intense recent schedule. Inverness had of course overcome Partick Thistle en route to this stage. This was their fourth game since last Tuesday. The tiredness became particularly apparent after they were reduced to ten men and then, twice, to nine.
Fatigue along with the fact they were playing into the wind might account for their struggles in the opening 45 minutes. They finally managed to get a shot on target three minutes before the break when Austin Samuels tested Derek Gaston though even that looked as though it had meant to be a cross.
Arbroath skipper Tam O’Brien tried his luck in the opening few minutes but saw his shot sail high over the bar – and nearly terrace roof. He laughed it off with Shaun Sutherland, one of the strikers he was charged with patrolling. It was a nice moment to observe in such a high stakes encounter. But sometimes you just had to laugh at the awfulness of the fare. Not all of it was down to the weather.
The best chance of the opening 45 minutes fell to Chris Hamilton who should have made more of the opportunity to shoot from the edge of the box after the ball had dropped invitingly at his feet. He fired wide, however.
Such moments had to be seized. The second half proved livelier and more end to end. Arbroath should have gone ahead but there was no one to tap the ball into the net after Jack Hamilton flashed a cross into the goalmouth. Shane Sutherland should have finished the job off himself at the other end but shot into the side-netting with the away fans behind the goal already in the midst of celebrating. Back down at the Inverness goal, Scott Stewart miskicked when in a good position after a cross from James Craigen. The packed Seaforth end of the ground groaned.
Then came the first red card. Both Jack Hamilton and Devine had their eyes fixed on a long clearance from O’Brien, with the former getting his head to the ball. Devine could do little else but clatter into his opponent who ended up sprawled on the floor.
Collum interpreted this as denying a goalscoring opportunity, with Devine having been the last defender. The referee pulled the red card from his top pocket. He used it again moments later to send Inverness assistant manager Scott Kellacher packing after his seemingly valid protests.
It was not the first time Collum had visited either bench. He booked Dick Campbell’s twin brother, Ian, in the first half. Surprisingly given the referee involved, it wasn’t a case of mistaken identity.