Careful What You Wish For; Airdrie Survive First Half Onslaught To Earn Point But Rue Missed Second Half Opportunity For All 3
'I'd take a draw right now, definitely', says I, 30 minutes into the League game between Airdrie and Cove Rangers, as the away side thoroughly dominated proceedings. Fraser Fyvie was running the show, giving Airdrie a right good kicking, pulling more strings than Geppetto. Former Diamond Leighton McIntosh was making a mug of Leon McCann, of all people. Jamie Masson was looking in the mood to add to his goal, having given Cove a richly deserved lead in the 26th minute.
Come the final whistle, though, I was singing quite a different ditty. 'Draw was the least we deserved from that, the Connell strike off the bar should have been the winner'. Yes, like a classic Greek Myth, the gods had seen fit to answer my prayers, but not in the way I had imagined. 'You want a draw, you say? Okay, you'll get your draw. But you'll get it by a second half showing that warrants a win'.
In the round, Cove Rangers and Airdrie fans will have been reflecting along similar lines. Both teams will feel they deserved more from their own 45 minutes of dominance, whilst wondering why they could not produce the same level of performance across both periods of the game.
Cove will look at their first half and wish they'd worked Max Currie more, for all the possession they had and crosses they fired across his bows. They'll also wonder why they took such a stand-off approach in the second 45. Airdrie will wonder why they were so passive first half, before producing a second of verve, guile and danger that could have seen them win the match outright. They'll also be wondering if there has been some error with the height of the goal-frame, given the role the crossbar played...
Airdrie started the game with Scott Walker making his debut at right back in place of Kyle MacDonald (ruled out with a hamstring injury) and a returning Sabatini in their line up. Kyle Connell, having been listed as a fitness doubt, started on the bench whilst Calum Gallagher, himself a fitness doubt pre-match, starting up top.
Cove seemed intent on getting back to winning ways from the off, having lost last time out in Falkirk. They had clearly identified Leon McCann as a defensive vulnerability down the Airdrie left, with the impressive Leighton McIntosh causing problems for his old side and giving the young full back a torrid time. Multiple long diagonals were played into McCann's flank and McIntosh was able to use his height, physicality, pace and trickery to get the better of his quarry. Whilst the number 3 is frequently amongst the best performers, his weaknesses were rather exposed early on by Cove's tactics. Credit is definitely due to the excellent McIntosh, who was having one of what we used to call his 'good days'.
Nonetheless, Airdrie managed to keep their sheet clean in the opening exchanges, if 'exchanges' isn't being too kind to the hosts. In truth, the visitors were the only team in the first ten minutes. And then the first fifteen. Indeed, the only action Airdrie had in the first quarter of an hour was the booking for simulation of Thomas Robert. Thankfully for the Diamonds, this was not the only time the Frenchman would feature...
Airdrie's high press did at least keep Cove working, but they were able to pass through it most of the time. They had to break a press of their own inside the 18th minute, as Callum Fordyce did excellently to hold off, then dispossess Fraser Fyvie on the edge of the box. Following on from that was the long awaited first foray forward of the home side, McKay playing into Gallagher who cleverly worked with Robert to befuddle the Cove backline. Tam Rab worked space for the shot excellently but flashed it narrowly wide of target; he really should have scored.
Mitch Megginson nearly gave Cove the lead their play deserved after a fantastic Fyvie pass, but Crighton did very well to win possession. Calum Gallagher was winning his fair share of headers up top, but nobody was running beyond for flick-ons. As such, it was no surprise that Cove kept coming, nor did it shock anyone when the inevitable happened and Cove took a thoroughly earned lead.
Good play wide right by Megginson saw the ball flashed into what Brian Smith would undoubtedly call the corridor of uncertainty, and young Scott Walker was unable to block the cross. Jamie Masson was waiting to turn it in. 1-0 Cove.
They looked odds on to add to their lead, too. Fyvie, Masson and McIntosh were giving Airdrie a bit of a kicking and seemed to be enjoying their football, whilst Airdrie were hanging on in there. This wasn't helped when Robert wasted a freekick on 30 minutes. It sailed into the hands of McKenzie and the counter attack was well and truly underway. Robert made up for his cross by getting back, bailing out McCann as he toiled against McIntosh and put it out for a throw.
The one way traffic started to slow down as Cove's foot started to slip off the accelerator, or perhaps they were running out of gas. A wonderful effort from Dale Carrick, hit with venom from a good mile out (you might want to check that measurement) was palmed away by McKenzie and Airdrie seemed to have some life in them all of a sudden. A few more wasted freekicks came and went but perhaps more importantly Cove seemed far less effervescent on the ball. Interestingly, the Toonsers were also reported to dominate the first 25-30 minutes of their visit to Falkirk, but without managing to get a goal, before running out of steam. Were we seeing a similar story play out here?
The second half started with Kyle Connell replacing Calum Gallagher and one does wish both had been fit enough for a 90 minutes. It was quickly obvious that Murray had made a slight tweak to the shape, one which allowed his side to impose themselves on the game. You do also have to wonder if Paul Hartley had asked his side to take a more cautious, passive approach to the second half, perhaps because they had indeed started to lose their gusto. Even so, this seems like an error in judgement if it was a tactical move as it allowed Airdrie time and space on the ball, territory to work in and encouragement that the game was their to be worked back into.
Back into it they came, and how. Dale Carrick unleashed another piledriver which thundered off the crossbar, only just failing to drop into the net. The warning bell had been sounded.
Step forward Tam Rab. in the 58th minute, Carrick did well to create some space and lay it into the young French midfielder; Thomas Robert shuffled infield and let rip. He unleashed a shot that McKenzie couldn't stop as it roared into the top corner of the net.
Ya beauty. Again.
Connell blazed over a great chance from a freekick as Airdrie pressed their visitors back. The momentum had swung but Leighton McIntosh ought to have restored their lead nonetheless. Good work by Crighton then a save by Max Currie kept him out, after Fordyce had failed to intercept a pass.
And then the moment Airdrie would rue. Craig Thomson had come on as a substitute in the 78th minute alongside Dean Richie, replacing Scott Walker and Dale Carrick. The pace of Thomson got Airdrie up the park as he hared after a long ball and kept it in. Lovely interplay from Airdrie, persistent and patient passing, found Connell in space inside the box. He curled a beautiful effort around the keeper and it seemed destined for the top corner, only for it to bounce agonisingly off the junction between post and bar.
Typical. Airdrie got the draw they'd have been delighted with at half time. Cove escaped back up the road with their crossbar still rattling. Nobody happy. Nobody crestfallen. No disaster, no triumph and a sprinkling of frustration. Like I said; Typical.
Idle Hands Man Of The Match; Thomas Robert, of course.
3 wins, 2 defeats and a draw. Up next, East Fife in Methil.
Airdrie For The Cup. Whit Cup? Any Cup.