Runners Up, Running Well And Racing Into The Playoffs; Trebles All 'Round As Airdrie Fell Fallow Falkirk
Airdrie made it 9 points out of 9 from pre-season favourites Falkirk, who fell to 5th place and out of promotion contention as the wilted under the pressure of a must-not-lose.
Montrose, playing a Partick Thistle side who were home and hosed already with the title tucked under their arm and heads that must have been bouncing, had Airdrie to thank for a second favour as The Diamonds dumped Falkirk into 5th place.
You'd not have thought the game had much riding on it until the last half hour, but it was Airdrie who wanted it more, Ina Murray clearly determined to clinch second spot and more importantly keep the good run, and subsequent momentum, going into the playoffs.
Falkirk huffed and puffed at times, putting pressure on Airdrie towards the last third of the game, but Max Currie has had many a tougher game than this one, despite the magnitude of the Falkirk need.
A long throw inside the 12th minute brought the first serious chance, with Robbie Mutch saving Calum Gallagher's header after Dean Ritchie had lofted a second ball back into the box. It should have been 1-0 Airdrie two minutes later, after excellent tenacity from Gallagher regained possession and a deft through ball by Ritchie put Kyle Connell in behind the defence. Bearing down on goal, Connell drew Mutch out, but the strike was too straight-on and the keeper blocked with his legs. It was a let-off for the beleaguered Bairns, who couldn't match their hosts for appetite, energy or impetus.
Another came just before half-time, when a quick-thinking flick form Gallagher threatened to turn Ritchie's strike home, but Mutch was down sharp and there wasn't enough purchase on the flick to beat him.
The second half would surely see something more from Falkirk.
Eh. Maybe a little bit.
Kyle Turner was winning every midfield battle he went in for, driving through the heart of the Falkirk side at will, and scooping an effort narrowly over inside the 54th minute. The hour came and went without Falkirk putting much of a press on, but Callumn Morrison showed why he's such a dangerous player with an excellent surging run 67 minutes in. It was a good break from the visitors, and Morrison played a good ball into the run made by Kai Fotheringham, but Scott Walker, who had out a power of running in to get back, did brilliantly to shield the ball and snuff out the threat. Brian and John on commentary were right; it was very impressive defending from the young defender, who has really come onto a game.
70 minutes in and an exquisite long pass from Josh Kerr, who had strolled through the game, nearly got substitute Patrick Pyott in on goal. He took an immaculate touch of his own to send his defender for the messages and took his shot early, perhaps overly so. He could and likely should have taken the ball a stride or two forward before taking his shot but, as it was, his snapshot didn't have the requisite venom and Mutch held it easily.
Sadly, the young prospect tweaked something in the effort and needed subbed after only being on for ten minutes. Falkirk were pushing now, at long last seeming to actually want to win the game against this now much changed Airdrie team, having been intent to try and see out a draw up to this point. Connor Sammon got in behind the Airdrie rearguard but shot wide, when he had Callumn Morrison lurking in space on the other side of the box.
They wasted a promising corner kick when Sean Kelly headed badly off-target at the back post and Airdrie were right up the other end 30 seconds later when an excellent chipped pass by Dale Carrick set Ally Roy away. The substitutes pace left the Falkirk defence in the dust as he zipped a powerful effort just wide of Mutch's left-hand post. It looked like it was arrowing straight in, too.
A good free-kick delivery by Kyle Turner found Josh Kerr free in the heart of the Falkirk box, but he didn't get a proper contact on the ball and Mutch gathered with minimal fuss. That really should have been 1-0 and you could tell Kerr knew it as the clock ticked over into the 80th minute.
The game was properly stretched now and Callumn Morrison went on another cleaving run, scything his way in from the left, beating two men but curling his effort well wide. 82 minutes on the clock and with scores level both in Airdrie and at Links Park, it was looking like Falkirk were going to get away with it afterall.
Then word filtered through that, inside the 87th minute, Montrose had gone 3-2 up and were looking like they would do their bit, afterall. Over to you, Airdrie.
Clearly The Diamonds were listening. Knowing that the Loons were indeed doing their bit, Airdrie almost immediately piled the misery onto Falkirk with a great big dollop of get-it-roon-ye. A minute after the Montrose winner, Paul McKay and Thomas Robert worked a throw-in to Craig Thomson who picked it up on the edge of the box. He swiveled away from the despairing lunge of Sean Kelly and, a half-step inside the box, curled a sumptuous left-footed finish into the top corner.
What a goal.
Falkirk had two minutes and change to rescue their season. Airdrie were on the cusp of a second place finish.
In desperation, Falkirk flew forward and Mark Durnan should have secured them the point they needed with a header just inside the 91st minute after a good cross from Kelly, but he glanced it wide. Airdrie set about seeing out the final minutes, with Robert retaining possession well from a Kyle Turner throw in beside the corner flag on the Falkirk right.
It did come loose after some pressure, though, only for Kyle Turner to pick it up himself and drive towards the Falkirk goal with only seconds left. He was running parallel with the by-line and so it was no surprise when his initial effort cannoned off Robbie Mutch, but Turner collected the rebound himself and, with Dale Carrick screaming for it, the Dunfermline loanee did his best Dean Ritchie impression. He retained possession, danced out of reach of two flailing Falkirk defenders, not to mention the goalkeeper, and smacked it home to get his first Airdrie goal.
2-0, game over.
Falkirk fell, Airdrie roared, Montrose cheered and the rest of Scottish Football fell off their seat laughing.
The Diamonds finished the regular (well, highly irregular) league season in second spot, 2 points behind title winning Partick Thistle. With 12 wins, they have won more matches than any other side in the division and have secured the home second-leg in the impending play off with third place Cove Rangers.
Undeniably a successful season, exceeding the expectations of every bookmaker, commentator and casual observer who expected Falkirk and Thistle to leave the rest for dead, with Cove the candidates for dark horse.
The playoffs await and Airdrie have promotion firmly in their sights.
Buckle up, Diamonds.