Solid As The Proverbial; Airdrie Start As They Mean To Continue With Comfortable Clean Sheet Victory Over Peterhead
Whilst the return of League action was a triumphant moment in general for clubs and supporters right across the lower Divisons, it would be disingenuous to deny that getting off to a winning start made such a magnanimous attitude easier to come by.
Sure, I'd still be pleased that the Real Stuff was finally back, but a defeat or a draw would have undeniably dampened the vivaciousness and warmth of the welcome. Thankfully, The Diamonds returned to League business in victorious fashion, securing a 2-0 win over Peterhead with a goal in each half.
Having emerged triumphant in the three iterations of this fixture last season, the casual observer might shrug this off as no real surprise and in truth the home side were fancied to get a result, but as anyone who took those three games in will attest, they were closely fought, and reliably fraught, contests.
It was no surprise, then, that the first 45 minutes was predominantly scrappy, attritional and robust. 'Aggressive', as Ian Murray put it. It took until the 6th minute for the first notable chance, as a bouncing ball dropped to Callum Fordyce in the Peterhead box, only for his strike to bounce off the heel of Calum Gallagher and away from danger.
Airdrie attempted to settle into the game and played some neat football in fits and starts, working it middle to wide and trying to unpick a typically organised Jim McInally team. The visitors broke well on the 13th minute but Isaac Layne (a test all day for the centre halves, albeit one they passed) fired well over. They then floated in a decent freekick a minute later, with Airdrie defending the first phase well, only for the second ball to be met by a Peterhead, ahem, cranium. It was a difficult chance, one which could only drop well over the bar.
The home team response was swift, Josh Kerr swivelling sumptuously and shooting on target, but it was a comfortable hold for his namesake Rae.
The game continued on it's tousy, terse trajectory but showed some signs of opening up in the 28th minute, when Leon McCann intercepted a poor cross field pass and broke up the park, playing it forward to a busy, bustling Dale Carrick, who flew forward, darted inside and cut the ball back, only to see the pass repelled by internet irritant Simon Ferry, who injured himself in the process of a crucial block and had to be replaced. This was followed up with another good move down the Airdrie left, with Peterhead defender Kyle Bailey struggling to cope with the pace and quality of McCann and Carrick in particular, whose endeavour saw him creating space and playing a dangerous ball through the heart of the box, but no Diamond was on hand to capitalise and open the scoring.
Airdrie won their first corner in the 41st minute after really good combination play between Josh Kerr and Dale Carrick, who deftly backheeled it into Kerr's path only to see it turned behind. The corner lead to nothing and the half seemed to be coming to a close just as the home team were starting gain momentum.
Thankfully, perhaps crucially, they were to get their chance two minutes before the end of regulation time. Great play from Dale Carrick deep inside the Airdrie half saw him feed Leon McCann, who made good ground before returning the ball (through the legs of his man, no less) whence it came; Carrick paused, checked and then turned Bailey on the by line, drawing a clumsy challenge and a resultant penalty from a Peterhead player who picked up a yellow card for his trouble in what was a 45 minutes to forget.
The professionally consummate Carrick sent Rae the wrong way and Airdrie had the lead at half-time.
Having secured my half-time pie and settled down to take in what was sure to be a more lively and involved second half, Pixellot seized its chance on the big day to freeze up and spark frantic, impotent bellows at the inanimate screen. Thankfully, in the fairly short period in which only the centre of the pitch was visible as the game raged back and forth, little to no discernable action took place and things kicked back into gear 52 minutes into the game.
Airdrie moved with greater fluency in the second half, combining well and passing the ball with increasing confidence. Their visitors were not at all helped by an enforced triple change just shy of the hour mark, with an already depleted Peterhead side looking increasingly threadbare. It's not the start you want at all and hopefully the knocks are not too serious. This side will be a difficult one to contend with for many a team this season, one suspects.
71 minutes in and a bad error saw Calum Gallagher, who had held the ball up well and linked the play nicely all game, finally getting a chance to advance at goal. Bearing down on Joshua Rae, only an excellent tackle by Jason Brown prevented last season's top scorer getting his shot away. Superb though the tackle may have been, it only delayed the inevitable. The resultant corner kick saw Dale Carrick make a dummy run from the front post, creating space for Callum Fordyce to exploit the excellent Kyle MacDonald cross and double the Diamonds' lead, glancing his header home with Calum Gallagher's heel nowhere to be seen this time around.
Having looked assured all afternoon alongside the ever dependable Sean Crighton, the centre-half colossus now had a goal to serve as the cherry on top of a great display. A good days work.
It was an exercise in clean sheet preservation now, and it was heartening to see the work rate never dropping as Airdrie fought to keep their goal unsullied. That zeal, that determination, to work their socks off for a full 90 minutes, was the hallmark of Airdrie's better showings last season, especially their purple patch late October and through November. If Murray and Co can keep the team at this level, keep this tenacious desire and embrace of endeavour going all season, we should find ourselves right in the conversation come May. They seemed hell bent on seeing this one out.
Sure enough, see it out they most assuredly did. It was good to see, as was the debut for Kyle Connell in the 81st minute. There was time for him to show some real promise, too, when McCann broke up the Peterhead play well, showed some good pace and moved the ball out to the Kilmarnock loanee, who held it well before playing in a decent ball that the visitors managed to clear.
Airdrie had to work for it, but it is that very work ethic which proved the most pleasing aspect of the display. From front to back, The Diamonds earned the three points and clean sheet. Max Currie will be hoping for more days like this and must take great pleasure in seeing so solid a defensive showing in front of him. Early days, but that was an encouraging start. Idle Hands Man Of The Match goes to Dale Carrick, who edges out Callum Fordyce by the teeniest of tiny margins.
One done, 26 to go... And Firhill awaits this coming Saturday. Will Airdrie build on this heartening first step? Will there be a reaction from Partick Thistle to their Broadwood humbling?
There's only one way to find out.
Airdrie For The Cup. Whit Cup? Any Cup.