Brechin City: 'As bad as it gets' as they 'struggle' to contemplate third relegation
Two years ago, they were jousting with the likes of Dundee United, St Mirren and Livingston in Scottish football's second tier. Fast forward to now and Brechin City are embroiled in a battle for their very survival in the Scottish Professional Football League.
Long-serving chairman Ken Ferguson is pulling no punches about their current plight in Scottish League Two, describing it as being ''as bad as it gets'' and a "horrendous situation".
It is hard to disagree with that assessment. The rest of this season is about one thing, trying to avoid finishing bottom, dodging a nerve shredding two-legged play-off with the winners of the Highland League or Lowland League.
Ferguson says the next few months are "without doubt" among the most critical in Brechin's 114-year history.
"I can't believe we are in the position we are in, but why shouldn't we be?" he said. "There are many clubs in League One and Two that could end up in this position.
"Clubs from the Championship could slide to this position, it can happen so quickly. It is a horrendous position for the club, but we have to face what is in front of us and we have to deal with it, we have to get ourselves back up that league."
'We couldn't shake losing mentality'
It poses the question - why have Brechin ended up in their current predicament, just a few seasons after they appeared to be heading in the right direction?
The slide began the season after they surprised even themselves with promotion to the Championship via the play-offs under then manager Darren Dods at the end of the 2016-17 campaign.
"We obviously weren't prepared for a season in the Championship," Ferguson admits. It ended with the part-timers at the bottom of a mainly full-time division, with just four points and without a win - the first Scottish club in 126 years to endure an entire league season without one victory.
The slump continued last term and, despite replacing Dodds with Barry Smith in November, they suffered relegation again, dropping out of League One.
Ferguson - whose board axed Smith and brought in another former Celtic full-back, Mark Wilson, in August - admits they struggled to recover from the effects of a scarring campaign in the second tier.
"We stood by our players who achieved promotion to the Championship, but some would say, and I probably believe myself that there was a bit of a losing mentality that we couldn't shake off, so you are in League One, you have not got off to a good start, you are up against it straight away and we just couldn't shake that off," the chairman suggested
"You come down to League Two and, at that stage, it is decided to form a new team, but again, new teams take time to gel and we have a very young team. That said, they have gelled, they have come together and, week-on-week, we are now seeing improvement and we think that they are working for us, they are trying their best to improve the situation and we are starting to see some good football."
'Not willing to give in to thought of relegation'
Scottish football introduced a pyramid structure five years ago to give clubs outside the traditional league ladder an opportunity to progress through the senior ranks.
Ferguson was among those opposed to the change but accepts "it is here and we have got to live with it".
Since its inception, East Stirlingshire lost their place in League Two in 2017 after a play-off against Lowland League champions Edinburgh City, while Highland League champions Cove Rangers swept aside Berwick Rangers last season.
While the two newcomers currently occupy the top two places in Scotland's fourth tier, Shire have so far fallen short in their attempt to make a quick return and, while they currently sit third in the Lowland League, they are eight points behind Kelty Hearts having played two more games, while Berwick languish in 11th.
Brechin are battling to avoid the same fate and, perhaps understandably, Ferguson is reluctant to get involved in a discussion about the possible implications of dropping out of the SPFL and into the Highland League.
For Brechin, the only glint of light is that the Angus side are just two points behind the team sitting second bottom and who they drew 2-2 with at Ochilview on Saturday - Stenhousemuir.
The very same opponents consigned Brechin to bottom place last season with a 1-1 draw at Glebe Park in the last league game of the campaign before themselves losing to Annan Athletic in the play-offs.
"To be honest, I struggle to even have this conversation because obviously discussions are being held within the football club, but it is not one I am willing to openly have at this moment, because our complete focus is on not being in that position and avoiding that position," he added. "Once I start talking about that, I start to feel I am giving in to it and I am not willing to do that."