Edinburgh City boss James McDonaugh lamented a lack of intensity as his side were comprehensively beaten 4-1 by Stenhousemuir at Ainslie Park.
First-half goals from Harry Paton and Colin McMenamin gave the Warriors at two-goal cushion at half time, with Stenny debutant Andrew Dallas adding a third on the hour mark. Cameron Blues pulled one back for the Citizens with 20 minutes remaining but Dallas doubled his tally to extinguish any faint hopes City might have had of a comeback.
Although the home side started brightly enough, they were undone by two goals in the opening 20 minutes for the second time in a week. A brief period of sustained pressure after the visitors had gone three goals up did produce the goal, but too often the final ball was lacking.
McDonaugh emerged from the dressing room nearly an hour after the final whistle.
“It was a bad performance,” he admitted.
“In the first half, we lacked intensity – you could have thrown anything at us, in terms of what we lacked. In the second half we picked it up a wee bit, showed a bit more intensity but we were picked off. It was a poor day.
“Apart from the goal, I thought there were very few positives to take away from the game.
“The players know what’s at stake [next week against Elgin City], so we need to prepare as best we can and work hard through the week. We can’t do anything about today’s result now but we need to make sure we influence next Saturday’s.”
Matthew Shiels made his debut for City after signing an emergency loan deal from Rangers Under-20s during the week, while there was a home debut for fellow new boy Lewis McLear.
The first chance of the day fell to the hosts, Craig Thomson forcing Chris Smith into a smart save with a fierce shot from the edge of the box after just three minutes.
Stenny took the lead just four minutes later as on-loan Hearts midfielder Paton danced through the City defence before slotting the ball past Calum Antell, taking his tally for the season to six.
Eddie Ferns nearly made it two with a shot from distance, before veteran striker McMenamin doubled the advantage, getting on the end of Ross Meechan’s throw-in and finishing from close range. It was largely one-way traffic for the remainder of the first period, with City limited to a John Dunn effort that was never going to trouble the keeper.
The second half began in a less frantic fashion than the first period, but Stenhousemuir extended their lead just shy of the hour mark, Dallas finishing past Antell after good work from Ferns.
The loss of a third goal seemed to spark City into life, Grimes flashing a shot wide of the right-hand post Smith fumbled Scott Shepherd’s effort from a Shiels cross, with Blues on hand to lash the ball into the net to reduce the deficit.
Grimes went close again as City searched for a second and McDonaugh threw on Farid El Alagui and Graham Taylor for Dunn and Scott Shepherd, but Dallas added his second, and Stenny’s fourth, on 79 minutes with a well-taken finish after a neat through-ball from on-loan Hibs youngster Innes Murray.
City had another couple of half-chances as the clock wound down, Taylor firing in a shot that Smith did well to tip over the bar while Grimes went close from the resulting corner.
The result leaves City level on points with Berwick Rangers, who have two games in hand and seven ahead of basement side Cowdenbeath, who registered a vital 1-0 win over Clyde.
The City boss knows there can be no slip-ups between now and the end of the season.
“We’ve got a seven-point lead [over Cowdenbeath], so it’s up to us to hold onto that,” McDonaugh added.
“I always thought Cowdenbeath would come back at some point. They had a brilliant result today against a very good Clyde team, so their tails will be up. They’ll think they can do it but we need to stand up and be counted.”
Edinburgh City: Antell, Scullion, Garcia Tena, Morrison, Thomson, Laird, Blues, Dunn (El Alagui 78), Shiels, McLear (Grimes 57) Shepherd (Taylor 73). Subs not used: Morton, Beattie, Hall, Rodger.
Stenhousemuir: Smith, Meechan, M Dunlop, R Dunlop, Donaldson, Ferry, Ferns, Paterson, McMenamin, Paton, Dallas. Subs not used: McMinn, Halleron, Longworth.
Ref: G Beaton.