Andrew D Duffy
Diamond Watches: Airdrieonians 1-1 Albion Rovers
Updated: Oct 5, 2020
Less Rock N Roll, More Songs Of Praise; The Monklands Derby Replay Fails To Bring The Boogie As Airdrie Round Out An Unbeaten Pre-Season With a 1-1 Draw
It's true what they say; the sequel rarely lives up to the original film.
Having played out an eventful five goal game of twists and turns the week prior, The Monklands Derby Part II ended up a bit of a damp squib as Airdrie and Albion Rovers played out a hectic 1-1 draw.
There were splashes of football here and there and moments of good play broke out now and again, but this suffocating squelch of a pre-season game soon reined them back in to the mire.
Taking to the field for Airdrie was a much changed XI than that which so encouragingly defeated Queen Of The South at the weekend, with Ritchie, O'Reily and Robert joining Harlain Mbayo and a new trialist in the starting line-up. Rovers themselves were a significantly different line up than had contested the first encounter at the Penny Cars stadium, with their defensive discipline and midfield combativeness much improved.
That played a part in a hectic opening to the game, as did the unfamiliarity of the Airdrie team, as both sides battled gamely whilst failing to establish any real flow to their play. Fluency was at a premium, and in truth remained so throughout the 90 minutes, with the first move of any discernible pattern of play coming from Airdrie in the 10th minute; Robert combined well with the trialist after it was worked through the centre of the pitch, and the home side kept the ball after the initial gambit was blocked, working it out to their right before it all eventually broke down.
Eoghan Stokes' right-footed effort after further Robert/Trialist link-up was decidedly wayward, a snatched mishit that fizzled more than it fizzed. But at least it was something for me to take note of during the opening attritional exchanges.
Both sides did start, tentatively, to move the ball with increased fluidity, yet it was a solo run from Euan O'Reily that looked to be finally going somewhere worthwhile; The option for a shot presented itself but was rebuffed and the winger had little in the way of options in support, so he was eventually crowded out by a resolute, if slightly panicked, Rovers defence.
Airdrie again managed to shoot themselves in the foot as a lovely period of possession football (sing hosana) was wasted by Calum Gallagher, who had quite inexplicably failed to stay onside. It was quite indicative of the game, really; when good patterns of play did emerge from the rag-tag quagmire, a moment of thoughtlessness, poor control or sloppy execution put paid to any promise.
Euan O'Reily, always game and willing to take on his man (plus one or two others at a time), won the first Airdrie corner in 22nd minute. He won it well, too, bursting forward and forcing the concession after showing a sharp sting of pace. Alas, the corner kick was wasted, amounting to no more than a Rovers freekick.
Many Airdrie players perhaps felt they needed to impress; they were looking all too often to play the killer pass, rushing things, trying to be intricate only to discombobulate themselves. When they calmed down and moved the ball simply, they looked a lot less flustered, much tidier and significantly more effective.
Another rare bit of genuine quality managed to escape the sweaty grip of this tousy game on the half hour, leading to the opening goal for the Diamonds. The intermittently exciting, occasionally mesmeric Thomas Robert made it after collecting a good pass from Dean Ritchie. The French youngster stood up his man, took him on, beat him, bobbed and weaved and shimmied into the danger zone before putting it on a plate for Gallagher to tap in and get himself up and running with what they call a 'poacher's goal'. He showed his game intelligence and good awareness to read the play and capitalise, as he did so often last season.
A mention, too, for the trialist, who intelligently made himself available for a cut back, creating a vacuum which Gallagher eventually filled. Indeed, this fan was screaming (well, robustly suggesting) that Robert cut it back to the Trialist, but Robert's decision was, I suppose, just as good...
The equaliser that Albion Rovers merited came from the spot, with Matthew Aitken sending Hutton the wrong way. It came from a very unfortunate collision of the ball and Harlain Mbayo's arm, a seemingly innocuous bounce that the defender could do nothing about. Deserved as the goal was for Rovers, who were worthy of the draw, it was deeply unfair on Mbayo, a player who stood out on the night. He looked a measured, neat and calm operator, equipped with pace, close control, a stonking tackle or two and a good head on his shoulders. Particularly in the second half, his composure and ability dug Airdrie out of moments of potential trouble. One tackle in particular, on the 55th minute, caught the eye. An emphatic challenge, and perfectly well timed.
He looks a more than welcome addition to an already strong set of central defensive options.
The halftime changes, when they came, held some hope for the watching fans; on came Ally Roy, Griffin Sabitini, both standouts in the preseason games up to now, as well as Leon McCann, Sean Crighton and Kyle MacDonald, all three of whom one would expect to feature form the start when the real stuff kicks off. Sadly, this hope proved forlorn. The pattern of the game, that bitty, scrappy, inconsistent and combative pattern, was doggedly, interminably persistent. It refused to budge. If anything, it actually took a greater hold as the watch trudged to a close.
Just before the hour, a light from the dark. For Airdrie, though, it looked more like a thunderbolt than a sunbeam, as Rovers number 6 Gregor Foderingham sent an audacious effort smacking down and, mercifully, out off the Airdrie bar. A let off.
Shortly after, on the 59th minute, the first real Pixellot issue reared its head. At any rate, it was the first I noticed. Does this indicate an improvement has been made pre-match, that the system has gotten to grips with the game or, more pessimistically, that the one time the operators were monitoring it for issues things went relatively smoothly, leaving the previous issues unobserved and therefore unaddressed?
One hopes and expects that Pixellot will have, or will have been sent, copies of the two prior fixtures. If not, they really should be. With the real stuff up next, we want the system to work as well as it possibly can.
Mention should be made, too, of the commentary team. Brian Smith, who had to hold court over proceedings solo during the QOS game, was joined (audibly, this time) by John O'Brien and the two amiably papered over any minor cracks in the coverage. They didn't over commentate, didn't indulge themselves and, crucially, didn't annoy this most particular of viewers, who would love to be able to mute the commentary teams of pretty much every major broadcaster. They were a credit to the club and will have to go some to outstay their welcome.
As for the rest of the action? Precious little of it to cover, really. Sabitini was winning the ball in the heart of the pitch with more regularity than Airdrie's midfield managed in the first half and the home team put together a few decent, albeit ineffective, attacks, first with Thomson's cross clipping back off him and out for a goal kick. Ally Roy then worked some space with neat footwork on 68 mins but failed to capitalise and later Calum Gallagher, after doing so well to put himself inside the box, let Rovers off the hook with a poorly hit cross, easy meat for Goodfellow in the away goal.
Good play in the last minute lead to an Airdrie freekick, from which Dale Carrick's shot was handily saved by sub keeper Henry. The resultant corner came to nought and and the referee Put us out our misery brought the action to a halt. The Idle Hands Man Of The Match Award goes to Harlain Mbayo.
With the final friendly this coming Saturday lunchtime with Cowdenbeath now cancelled, it looks like the next Diamond Watch will be the League Cup opener with Alloa Athletic on Wednesday, 7th October. Competitive, real deal, genuine stakes Fitba' is back, and Airdrie will be looking to start with some gusto.
Here's hoping they gi' it some; as pre-seasons go, this most unusual one has at least allowed Ian Murray to look at his whole squad, build some combinations, get minutes in the legs and lay the groundwork. Cup games next, with the League opener just over two weeks away.
Airdrie For The Cup. Whit Cup? Any Cup.