What A Night, What A Thrill; Airdrie Two, Motherwell, Nil
"Stevie Kirk, Stephen Craigan, John Boyle... uhm... Roberto Martinez... ehm... Tam Cowan; your boys took a hell of a beating."
Okay. So. After a long, Euros-filled summer break full of sun, frolics and a brush with Covid-19, Diamond Watches is back. I swear on my Airdrieonians Monopoly set that I was always going to kick things off with a report on the cup tie with our erstwhile neighbours regardless of the result, before getting properly back into the swing when the League season got underway.
That we happened to chuck them around the Penny Cars pitch like a wet trackie is but a slice of good fortune.
Unlike last season, it looks very much like we're going to be able to attend football matches. With my season ticket already purchased and a number of away games on the list, I can't say I'm sad to see the back of streaming the games (even if I'm going to miss the odd magic moment on commentary). So long, HDMI cable between laptop and telly. Farewell, esoteric Pixellot camera coverage. Au revoir, comfortable armchair that I barely sit in during the 90 minutes anyway. As such, the Diamond Watches might be a bit different this time around.
It's easier, for obvious reasons, to take detailed notes from your living room than when you're in the stand. Who did what and in which minute? Which player lost their man? Just how offside was he, exactly? Granted, the press people can do that from the game (albeit the quality does vary), but they aren't as emotionally invested as the actual human people in the stadium, so they have it easier.
In any event, Mad Mathie has us covered with the official match reports already. I'll focus more, then, on what I'll call the ethereal elements. How it looked, from my seat. How it sounded, to my ear. How it felt. And the best thing? How it feels to each and every supporter will be unique to them. How I see it won't be how you saw it, even if it's close. How I felt won't be how you felt, even if it's near enough. not exactly. Not completely.
So how about that Wednesday night?
Having drawn with both Annan Atheltic and Queens Park in our previous League Cup ties, Airdrie didn't exactly go into the game on great form against a premier league side who had won both of their fixtures. That being said, they did go in unbeaten and welcomed back Josh Kerr and Rhys McCabe, not to mention the additional signings from earlier in the day. Both McGills made the bench and would come to feature rather heavily before the night was over.
With 700 away fans making the trip for an, ahem, firm and frank exchange of views, there was an honest-to-god atmosphere inside the ground; an atmosphere that was hot enough to run the temperature close by the time the players emerged from the tunnel.
The girlfriend and I could feel it; This Was The Real Deal.
The new-look Diamonds, in their natty third strip, were propelled by the boisterous crowd into a fast start. Fordyce, the newly minted club captain, headed narrowly over after getting on the end of a Rhys McCabe long throw. An early chanced missed, but it was a good signal of intent. Besides, it was heartening to see that the long throw did not depart with Messers McKay and Connell...
Josh Kerr, still with Airdrie through some minor miracle given his ever improving displays, was on hand to charge down a Steven Lawless shot after some decent forward play by the visitors. And then Calum Gallagher tore down the left flank, his relentless, inexhaustible effervescence leaving an unfortunate Motherwell player lying on the turf in his wake. He charged into the box, shaping, surely, to shoot, but instead played what was a cute but surprising cut back towards Kouider-Aïssa. Alas, the new Diamonds forward was just as surprised as we were and had made a back post run in anticipation of a possible ricochet, or a pass across the face of goal.
The first half felt like an encouragingly even affair. Motherwell had more of the ball, it seemed. They moved it in a fairly pedestrian manner, though, and looked every bit a side still trying to figure themselves out. Inevitable, at this stage of the season, but they certainly didn't seem to be in any particular hurry to impress their travelling support. Airdrie seemed to have more intent in their less regular spells with the ball. The midfield was clicking quite nicely, with some neat interchanges between Agnew, McDonald and McCabe, with the two forwards dropping in to help out.
The Airdrie challenges had feeling behind them. Their forays forward had gusto. Their chasing back and their off the ball harrying demonstrated their appetite. There was a bit between their teeth, a deftness to their passing (for the most part) and a discipline to their shape. This wasn't bad at all.
Motherwell's lack of urgency was probably best demonstrated by a freekick in shooting range, never mind crossing range, that ended up back in their own defensive area due to a combination of odd decision making and good Airdrie pressing. It was begging for a strike at goal, or a clipped ball over the wall for a willing runner, but instead, to my relief, it was played sideways, then back, then back again.
They could do that all night.
The Steelmen did make a less baffling decision when awarded another freekick on the edge of the box, one which resulted in a yellow card for Max Currie after a rare spell of heart in mouth defending. Tony Watt, former Diamond, humped it over the bar, much to the relieved delight of the home support.
Airdrie very nearly took the lead from an own goal, when Rico Quitongo showed absolutely no respect for Wembley Warrior Stephen O'Donnell as he ghosted past him to fire a near post cross low and hard. Liam Kelly and a Motherwell defender both went for it, with the flying defensive block sending it the other side of the post for a corner kick.
All square at half-time and it felt like Airdrie had more than held their own. It felt like the team were working well together, working hard for each other and once again it felt like a really good spirit had been infused in the squad, despite the newborn nature of the campaign.
For a brief spell early in the second half, it looked like the top flight side were going to exert themselves. Watt nearly opened the scoring a minute in, his low drive zipping narrowly past the post having looked for just a second like it was going in off the base of the upright. Lawless headed wide when he really ought to have at least hit the target and their entire approach seemed reinvigorated.
When you're on top, though, even briefly, you really need to score. They didn't, and they soon appeared to retreat back within themselves. Airdrie grew into the half and started to run their opponents down. They were outworking them again, but now it felt like they were starting to outplay them, too. Liam Kelly pulled off an excellent save to deny Josh Kerr, who found himself in space nine yards or so out on the angle. His well hit volley seemed destined for the net, but the former Livingston and Queens Park Rangers goalie repelled it brilliantly. Laments of 'That was the chance, man' rattled around the home support, but they needn't have worried.
The Best Was Yet To Come.
Kaiyne Woolery, having demonstrated his remarkable pace a few times already, did brilliantly to beat Wardrop to the ball on the Airdrie right, cutting in and firing a low shot towards the near post, only for Currie to save with his foot. Having survived that hairy moment, Airdrie won themselves a freekick in almost the same spot as Motherwell had passed it all the way back from in the first half.
Scott Agnew lined it up as new loan signing Scott McGill made his debut from the bench. Rhys McCabe was standing by too, but surely that was for disguise purposes only?
Not a bit of it.
The former Queen Of The South midfielder opened his Airdrie account with aplomb, getting his wonderful shot up, over the wall and all the way into the top corner. Liam Kelly will argue that it was the sun in his eyes that stopped him getting to it, but the hit was a delightful one. It's a good thing that the Cup sponsors were in the vicinity, as it's a goal that deserves to be admired from multiple angles, again and again and again.
25 minutes left, plus the added time for two water breaks. Was this going to be a stomach-troubling, nail-demolishing, age-advancing last half hour or so?
No chance. Less than 15 minutes later, Airdrie put the seal on the deal. Gabby McGill had made his debut from the bench as well now, and it was his strong run into the box that sparked the killer move off. He turned it out to the fantastic Matty McDonald, who squared it up for Scott McGill. He took one touch, then a second to carve himself some shooting space, and clobbered it into the far corner, leaving Kelly with absolutely no chance. You knew it was in the moment it left his foot. You couldn't quite believe it, mind you, but there we were. Another goal deserving of the TV coverage.
It Was Happening.
Having failed to do much of anything in response to the opening goal, Motherwell weren't going to mount a late rescue job, even with the water break time to stick on at the end. As soon as it went 2-0, you just knew it was safe. The derby was being won, the scalp was being taken and the rats were leaving the sinking ship as soon as the McGill's strike hit the net, serenaded out the door by a few verses of that perennial get-it-up-ye classic, 'cheerio cheerio cheerio'.
It's hard to blame them for beating feet outta dodge. Their team quite simply surrendered. In the second half in particular, Airdrie ran over the top of them, beat them to every ball, smashed into tackles, moved them around, passed into the acres of space they kept leaving in the centre of the park and thoroughly merited their win.
With Airdrie undergoing what seems like the largest squad turnover in some time this summer, it remains very much a work in progress and there's no way of knowing how this result will figure come the end of the season. A sign of things to come in a year of triumph, or a glorious outlier in an otherwise damp squib? For now, it doesn't really matter. For now, glorifying is being done. For now, all eyes are turned to Dumfries, with Airdrie well positioned to win the group if they can get the better of Queen Of The South.
It's hard to know if we saw Airdrie clicking for the first time this pre-season, Motherwell being dreadfully short of where they ought to be, or a bit of both.
Based purely on that showing, you'd be forgiven for forecasting that this is two teams who will play themselves into next years' Championship in completely contrasting ways. Alas, there's still 6 weeks or so left in the transfer window and a hell of a lot of football to be played.
Maybe it was just one of those derby games. One of those nights football throws you a bone.
Whatever it was, it was beautiful.
And It Was Ours.
Airdrie For The Cup. Whit Cup? Any Cup.