Andrew D Duffy
Diamond Watches: Airdrieonians 1-0 Queens Park
Airdrie Escape The Spiders' Web, And Weave Themselves A Victory In Final Warm-Up Game
Rumours of Pre-Season having come to an end proved to be greatly exaggerated, as the oldest club in Scottish Football visited the Penny Cars Stadium in place of Cowdenbeath, who were initially lined up for the final game.
Without wishing to cast aspersions on the Blue Brazil, one expects The Diamonds were given a sterner test by Queens Park than that which the Central Park men would have provided. Airdrie kicked off with what looks like being the starting XI come the resumption of the real stuff on Wednesday night, an 11 that was identical to that which commenced the 1-0 victory over Queen Of The South. They were faced by a very strong looking Queens Park line-up, a side who carried an intent, pace and ball retention that belied their League 2 status; no surprise, given the number of relative signing coups they've been able to orchestrate.
Nonetheless, it was the home team who managed to get the first shot off in the 7th minute, with a lovely long pass from Sean Crighton collected well by Dale Carrick, who cut in well and forced a low save from Queens Park keeper Willie Muir (formerly of Airdrie's parish).
Carrick continued to link well with Ally Roy, a working relationship that shows real promise at this early stage for Airdrie, with a clever ball almost playing the one man goal fest in, only for Muir to get out well and wallop clear.
After a busy start form The Spiders, who scuttled quickly and busily around the pitch, Airdrie started to get a hold of the ball and established a real foothold in the game. They moved the ball intelligently, passing with real composure, patience and even some panache. It was an encouraging watch and their enterprising play very nearly bore fruit from a 12 minute corner.
Thomson worked it short to Carrick, who drew his marker out and immediately cut it back to the corner tacker, who made use of the newly crafted space to venture a low ball into the infamous zone of uncertainty. Queens Park did well to smuggle it behind for a second Airdrie corner, which came to nought.
The Hampden side continued to look threatening on the break as Airdrie went about their business, but struggled to win the ball off a home side who clearly enjoyed spreading the ball from side to side. Another shot from Dale Carrick actually emerged from an Airdrie break, with some excellent ball winning by Eoghan Stokes presenting the ball to Roy deep inside the Queens Park third. Roy fed Carrick, who shot narrowly wide this time.
The visitors registered their first shot off the back of a good move, Longridge just not catching a loose ball the way he intended. His wayward effort narrowly escaped David Galt, who would surely have turned it home had he been able to prevent it going behind.
Airdrie responded with another good break, as short, sharp, quick-fire passing almost got Thomson in, but for some good defending to stop him in his tracks. On the 22nd minute, Ally Roy managed to beat himself after a cunning bit of skill to befuddle his marker left him with space to shoot, only for the striker to trip at a crucial moment.
32 minutes in and a poor Queens Park freekick nonetheless earned a corner, with Fordyce heading behind a ball that was always sailing serenely out regardless. Thankfully, Lyons corner was well repelled.
Airdrie made copious hay down their right all half, with Thomson a constant menace and Roy darting right across the face of the Queens Park defence, perfectly happy to take it into feet or to offer in behind. on the 36th minute he did excellently to work a shot which was blocked out well for a third Airdrie corner, again taken short, but without repeating as effective a result.
A really impressive passage of Airdrie play lead to a freekick inside the 38th minute, but Kerr's drive was blocked comprehensively. A delectable bit of Sabitini skill earned another freekick on the 40th minute, with the swish Swiss lobbing the ball over the head of an onrushing Queens Park defender and back onto the Airdrie man's toe. Josh Kerr had a crack, but Muir held it comfortably.
Bob McHugh's tame flick was no real test for Max Currie in the first Queens Park shot on target, but the Airdrie keeper had a real question to answer 2 minutes later. After a really good move which looked destined to end in a goal for the visitors, Currie saved well from a decently hit shot, but Queens Park will feel they really should have given the keeper no chance.
In stark contrast to every other game in the Pre-Season diet, and befitting the fact that it's the final warm up before League Cup action gets underway, no changes were made at half-time for either side. Queens Park gave Airdrie a really difficult opening five minutes, stepping it up with some really good, incisive play, applying significant pressure which the redoubtable Airdrie back line did well to withstand.
This looked like being rewarded in the 52nd minute after a good move released Ally Roy, who got away and was bearing down on goal. Alas, his shot was too close to Muir and too weak to avoid the goalie holding it comfortably.
Really good covering from Leon McCann conceded a corner on 58 minutes that lead to a header on target, albeit one which was meat and drink for Max Currie. Two changes for Airdrie then followed on the hour mark, with Kyle MacDonald and Eoghan Stokes replaced by Paul McKay and a Trialist midfielder. It looked like the Diamonds might have switched to a back 3 at this stage, although one must confess it was difficult to tell.
Bob McHugh, a player who was keeping the Airdrie centre halves busy all afternoon, did well to be first to a Galt cross after a good run down their left. This was a source of threat all second half, with the visiting left back finding a lot of space in which to surge down. Thankfully the McHugh shot was wide of Currie's right hand post and Airdrie's goal remained intact.
68 minutes in and Ally Roy pounced on a disastrous switch off by the Queens Park defence from their own throw in. The pass from centre half to keeper was woefully underhit and Roy was gifted an easy chance which he gobbled up with glee, ghosting in between goalie and defender to slot home and take full advantage.
It was good from Roy, seizing on the opportunity with the predatory instinct one would expect from a player so high on confidence, but it was most assuredly a calamity from Queens Park, in a game which always looked like being decided by a mistake.
Having blinked first in concession of the first major error, Queens Park set about trying to restore parity whilst The Diamonds rang further changes to get some extra minutes in the leagues of the squad. Gallagher and O'Reily replacing Carrick and Thomson on 70 minutes and David Hutton replacing Currie in goals on 73.
Airdrie were briefly down to 10 men after Sabatini took a knock on his ankle. Worryingly, he had to be replaced by Dean Ritchie, so we'll have to cross our fingers that this was precautionary, or at worst a knock than can be shaken off by Wednesday evening.
In the 79th minute, Queens Park very nearly got the equaliser their second half display probably warranted, again exploiting space down the Airdrie right, whipping a ball across and seeing the resultant header smack off the the crossbar.
It was as close as the visitors came to getting on the scoresheet as Airdrie saw out the 90 minutes to finish their unbeaten Pre-Season with a well earned victory in a pleasingly competitive, highly watchable and closely contested fixture.
Sean Crighton finished the warm ups with an Idle Hands Man Of The Match award, after emerging the victor from a well fought battle with Bob McHugh and the Queens Park attack.
With Pre-Season now definitely over, we've seen Airdrie come through a shortened schedule which has included two games with Albion Rovers, an away trip to Kelty Hearts and two real tests against Queen Of The South and Queens Park in particular. Our final visitors have a squad that would comfortably compete in League 1 and of whom much is expected as they seek to win League 2, a task which, on this showing, they are more than up to.
For Airdrie, we go into this unusual season on the back of an unusual, but unbeaten, Pre-Season, which has seen new signings start to bed in, established figures pick up where they left off and a forward seemingly reborn. There's little to be really gleaned from these matches, but one thing's for sure; It could have gone an awful lot worse.
We now look ahead to the visit of Alloa Athletic in the Betfred League Cup this Wednesday, a 1945 kickoff, as Airdrie return to competitive action for the first time since the 7th of March, a game that will be streamed via Diamonds TV.
At long last, it's finally here.
Thanks for reading the inaugural Diamond Watches this Pre-Season; here's to the season ahead.
Airdrie For The Cup. Whit Cup? Any Cup.