Airdrieonians 2-4 Partick Thistle
Airdrie Collapse After Fast Start To Lose Second Game After League Restart
Having started so poorly away to Peterhead, Airdrie kicked off their meeting with Partick Thistle full of intent. Clearly, they players were keen to show a reaction to that damp squib at Balmoor the week before.
The Diamonds tore into their visitors from the kickoff, employing pace down both wings to push back and pick off a Thistle side who had come out on top in a tight affair at Firhill back in October. 20 seconds in, Tomas Robert put the press on Richard Foster, winning the ball off him, and driving towards the box before showing great strength to shrug off the former Aberdeen, Rangers and St Johnstone man, then laying it back to Paul McKay. Deployed at right back, McKay's cross nearly fell for Calum Gallagher, then Euan O'Reilly, before being cleared for a throw in wide on Airdrie's left.
Paul McKay fired in a familiar long throw which Thistle entirely failed to combat. Callum Fordyce cleverly nodded it on to Jack McKay who dispatched it with no small amount of gusto into Kieran Wright's net.
There was one minute and eleven seconds on the clock.
It was entirely too early to be able to claim that Airdrie were well worth of their lead, but for a good half hour they were looking good value for it. Granted, Calum Gallagher did head a Thistle freekick onto the base of his own post but Airdrie were the ones posing most of the danger. Just inside the 11th minute, Euan O'Reilly showed great endeavour to pick up a Dale Carrick knock-on just inside the Thistle half and surged towards the right-side corner of the away box, where he was bumped off the ball. Or, as the referee saw it, where he dived to try and win a penalty or freekick. The impressively direct and pacey winger was booked for simulation by Craig Napier and the honest truth is I really can't tell what happened, even after a number of views on DTV. I can't even really tell if it was inside the box or not.
A couple of minutes later, O'Reilly was at it again. He intercepted a loose ball from Stuart Bannigan just inside Airdrie's half, sparking a brilliant one touch passing move with Dale Carrick and Calum Gallagher, setting O'Reilly off. The Thistle defence was all at sea, caught flat-footed and flat-out by O'Reilly's pace. He was bearing down on goal and a one-on-one with Kieran Wright beckoned.
The first touch, though, was far too heavy. O'Reilly only needed to nudge it forward and into his stride, but instead put too much on it and saw it run straight through to the goalkeeper and Thistle were let off the hook.
33 minutes in and Paul Paton, making a tidy and industrious debut, smashed a long ranger from distance, only to see his on-target pop deflected wide and out for a corner kick, thus commencing a sequence of events which would fundamentally change the unfolding game.
Robert sent in a corner which we met by Shea Gordon, who made a mess of his attempted clearance, heading it up but not away. Kieran Wright chose to come off his line to try and claim it before realising that this was never going to happen, leaving him badly exposed and the goal-line unguarded. He took another shot at getting his hands either on it or too it, but flapped badly as Calum Gallagher kept it alive. The ball fell to Jack McKay who seemed certain to double his tally and the Airdrie lead, only for the Thistle keeper to redeem himself with a remarkable reaction save, getting a strong hand to repel the ball despite having to make the safe on the retreat.
McKay tried to head it over the line from a prone position but couldn't generate the necessary power and out the ball came to Dale Carrick, who looked to tee up Callum Fordyce for a strike at goal. Bannigan intercepted, though, moving it sharply to Joe Cardle. Thistle's number 7 fired a long ball deep into Airdrie territory for the onrushing Livingston loanee Scott Tiffoney. Showing the sort of delicate first touch O'Reilly needed earlier in the half, Tiffoney raced towards goal, his pace leaving the Airdrie defence toiling to make up the ground. Max Currie rather sold himself short as he rushed out and had the ball not ended up in the net would surely have been off the park.
So having looked like they were about to take a commanding two goal lead, Airdrie found themselves back level with a visiting Thistle who were rejuvenated by their lightning bolt equaliser. They finished the half strongly, Brian Graham missing inexplicably with a close range header, and it felt like there had been a significant turning of the tide by half time.
This feeling, it turns out, was entirely correct.
Thistle scored an early goal of their own, Brian Graham making up for his earlier miss with a good header after Richard Foster had dispossessed and out-paced Paul McKay down the Airdrie right. The cross was a good one, but could and should have been stopped at source, with McKay only offering a half hearted leg in opposition.
47 minutes in and 2-1 down, Airdrie were far from out of contention. There was plenty time to settle back down, get a grip of the game again and force an equaliser of their own. And hey, at 2-2, it'd be anyone's game in the final exchanges.
2 minutes later, though, Sean Crighton badly missed the ball with an attempted clearance. He wasn't under an undue amount of pressure, but still, Tiffoney seized on the unexpectedly loose ball and passed it square to Connor Murray, who finished well into Currie's bottom right corner.
49 minutes in and Airdrie were 3-1 down. Having led and led well, having survived the late first-half salvo from a resurgent Thistle to get into the dressing room for a regroup, it was a perplexing spectacle.
With Airdrie having caved in themselves, the roof duly followed.
Beyond a lovely disguised turn from Thomas Robert on 55 minutes, where the Frenchman left Richard Foster looking confused as the Airdrie man darted away from him through the heart of the Thistle half, Airdrie offered little in the way of a fightback. Foster recovered enough to barge Robert to the ground on the edge of the box but the resultant freekick wasn't Tam Rab's best effort.
The fourth Thistle goal arrived entirely expectedly given the way the second half was progressing. Williamson got away from O'Reilly too easily and lofted a cross into the middle of the box, finding Scott Tiffoney who was inexplicably free on the six yard line. His second goal might have been a gift, but it's hard to begrudge the former Morton and Clyde man on the basis of his performance. He'll be a handy signing at League 1 level.
A triple substitution was the response from Ian Murray as Thomson, Connell and Roy were introduced for Gallagher, Robert and Carrick. It was Ally Roy who seized the opportunity to reduce the arrears, taking advantage of some excellent perseverance from O'Reilly who forced the Thistle backline into an error. This allowed him to flick the ball into the path of the on-running Roy, who finished well.
That was just inside the 71st minute. 19 minutes plus injury time to go. Had Airdrie just seized back the momentum? Was an unlikely comeback about to be mounted?
In a word; no.
Sean Crighton put paid to any such farfetched notions when he was shown a straight red in the 78th minute. He had done really well, to begin with, cutting through the heart of the Thistle side as ran in from a wide left position. He was approaching the box when he took a heavy touch and tried to recover with a lunging tackle that really didn't look good and could have hurt Mohammed Niang. The captain complained, but he didn't really have a case.
That was pretty much that. Thistle were denied a fifth goal at the death when the referee over-ruled the linesman to give offside against Brian Graham.
Having had the better of the first 30 minutes, Airdrie endured a calamitous collapse in the second and couldn't recover in the third. That left the side sitting in 7th place at close of play and with plenty work to do to get back into playoff contention.