Diamond Watches: Airdrieonians 0-2 Alloa Athletic
Starting With A Bump; Defeat Against Alloa Sees Airdrie's Competitive Campaign Open With A Disappointment rather Than A Disaster
As it happens, Alloa in a cup was the first fixture I ever saw Airdrie play, so there was something serendipitous about the competitive season beginning with a game against The Wasps in the League Cup.
That initial exposure to the Airdrie bug was the 2001 Challenge Cup Final, played at Broadwood, with Owen Coyle and Mark Roberts sealing victory for The Diamonds in a match that gave this then nine year old supporter something of a false impression. Turns out my Dad was spot on; it wasn't always going to be like that.
Indeed, it wasn't like that on Tuesday night. This time Alloa, a team in the division above Airdrie these days, emerged with a warranted victory in a game that, whilst obviously disappointing, still showed reasons to be optimistic for the season ahead.
Peter Grant's Alloa side opened the game at pace and the Airdrie backline found themselves immediately tested by the attacking verve of their visitors. To their credit, Sean Crighton, Callum Fordyce, Kyle MacDonald and Leon McCann were standing up well to the test, and it took the preposterous hand ball rule to give the Wasps their sting. Craig Thomson was the unfortunate victim of the nonsensical regulation as the ball bounced off his arm at close range on the byline. What precisely the midfielder was expected to do with his arm, shy of detaching it at will, remains to be seen, but by the daft letter of the naff law, a penalty it unfortunately was.
Alan Trouten took his spot kick well and the visitors had the lead, but Airdrie responded quite encouragingly to falling behind and began to push back against their ever dangerous opponents. Paul McKay wasn't far away from getting a stud onto a Dale Carrick cross, who flashed it tantalisingly into the Alloa box after diligent work down the flank by Leon McCann.
The pace of player and the speed at which Alloa moved the ball continued to pose danger for The Diamonds, and Trouten will feel he should have had a second goal when he bore down upon the Airdrie goal. Instead, he screwed it quite badly wide with a surprisingly snatched first time effort. A response was fashioned neatly by the home team as Ally Roy's irrepressible movement saw him spin off the Alloa defence and thunder one wide, much to this viewer's chagrin; it looked for a moment like it was flying in.
Having hit the ground running in Pre-Season, Roy was looking likely here to repeat the good return he managed in the same competition last season. Alas, the on form forward literally hit the ground in what immediately seemed a sore one, landing nastily on his arm. the sight of the stretcher was a dispiriting one for us all, i'm sure, as was the eventual news that the forward had suffered a dislocated AND broken wrist. Here's hoping for a speedy recovery and that Ally can pick up where he left off before too long.
Currie adapted well at short notice to keep out Adam Brown's deflected shot and Callum Fordyce's header was taken comfortably by Parry in the Alloa Goal as the pace ramped up towards halftime, which came hot on the heels of Gallagher shooting wide. On as a replacement for Ally Roy, last season's top scorer did well to fashion a shot from a tight angle after a good pass from Craig Thomson, but the striker couldn't quite get it on target. Scoring past Parry from that angle, though, would have taken quite some doing.
The second half saw a bright, bustling start from Airdrie, who attacked with real intent as they hunted an equaliser. They pressed Alloa with good intensity very high up the pitch, with Neil Parry forced into a poor kick out which Carrick picked up outside the box. His shot was well struck but met comprehensively by Parry, who showed an impressive strength of wrist to push it up and over for a corner kick.
Gallagher should have scored after some more vivacious attacking play from Airdrie, with Carrick and Mckay linking well before the ball was put in the box, only for the unmarked frontman to head it down well but agonisingly wide of the left hand post. Gallagher threatened again in the 54th minute, with a ferocious shot from distance proving too powerful for Parry to hold. Nonetheless, the former Diamond managed to push it out for a corner kick, again thwarting his former club.
62 minutes in and Sean Crighton took a wander up the Airdrie right after good ball winning in an congested middle of the park. The Captain sent across a dangerous ball that was bagging to be met, but found only the leg of an Alloa defender who managed to turn it away from goal and out for another corner kick to the home team, who just couldn't make the pressure count as they turned the screw on their visitors.
The inevitable sting in the tail arrived in good time, of course, but Airdrie cannot say they weren't well warned as Alloa's Robert Thomson hit the outside of the post a few minutes before Griffin Sabitini made what might well be his first and only mistake in an Airdrie shirt thus far. Despite the complaints of the again excellent (if slightly more biased) commentators, the midfilder was too easily dispossessed deep in the Alloa half. Having had a sterling night overall, it was just typical that one false step proved fatal. Right enough, having dominated the opening 20 minutes of the second half without making it count, Airdrie suffered a sucker punch that doubled as a knockout blow, with Hetherington driving into the Airdrie half before laying it out wide on Airdrie's left. The excellent deep ball in from Jon Robertson was gleefully seized upon by Robert Thomson, who this time found the right side of the post with a header which evaded a despairing Max Curie and nestled into the home goal.
It was a sickening lesson in efficiency, a hit to the solar plexus that The Diamonds never quite managed to recover from. Credit must go to Peter Grant, who responded to the period of Airdrie pressure by making a triple substitution that reignited his side and forged that killer second. The Championship team saw out the remaining 25 minutes or so with relative comfort, notwithstanding a clipped Crighton effort spinning off the post and behind in the 74th minute from a clever near post corner.
Substitute Thomas Robert skipped into space from a corner and fired narrowly wide in the 86th minute before combining promisingly with fellow sub Eoghan Stokes, only for Parry to smell, and subsequently smother, the danger well.
And so, despite acquitting themselves well and feeling hard done by with the early penalty award, Airdrie came away empty handed. In a classic case of failing to score when you're on top, The Diamonds were beaten by an Alloa side who carried real attacking threat and played at times very neat football. That there was little between the sides for large swathes of the game, that Airdrie dominated a spell in the second half and competed diligently throughout, will have pleased Ian Murray and should not be lost on the watching support, who were understandably hoping to kick off the competitive action with a positive result.
The squad will have to wait to get it out of their system, with the next game away to Stenhousemuir on Tuesday 13th. The Warriors defeated Edinburgh City 4-2 on penalties after a 2-2 draw, leaving Airdrie playing catch up as the only side on zero points in Group H.
Emerging victorious from Ochilview would be just the ticket ahead of opening the League 1 campaign at home on Saturday to a Peterhead team who have managed an impressive 1-0 victory at Tannadice against top flight Dundee United in their own League Cup group, so let's see how The Diamonds fare come Tuesday night. Idle Hands Man of The Match goes to Griffin Sabitini, who showed real class once more despite his role in the concession of the second goal. Ally Roy's absence will be felt, of course, but we might see a debut for new striker Kyle Connell, on loan from Kilmarnock.
Whichever team the manager puts out, there's plenty positives to build on from this game. In the meantime, I'll make sure to remember that the same rule applies to this game as it did my first exposure to Airdrie versus Alloa; it won't always be like that.
Airdrie For The Cup. Whit Cup? Any Cup.