Andrew D Duffy
Diamond Watches: Airdrieonians 2-1 Falkirk
Mountains May Crumble, Rivers May Run Dry, But It Seems Falkirk Will Never Beat Airdrie
Never really in doubt, was it?
Airdrie were always going to turn over Falkirk. At the very least, they were always going to avoid defeat. It's just what we do, these days. The Bairns managed two draws and a defeat last season (aye, THAT defeat) when they lined up against Airdrie, and a Kyle Connell goal sealed all three points for The Diamonds just before Christmas this season, in what turned out to be the second last game before the winter suspension.
Falkirk turned up with a four point cushion at the top of the division, knowing that a few more wins could easily seem them peel away from the chasing pack who all seem intent on throttling each other in their pursuit of playoffs.
Airdrie, consequently, had only just managed to stop the rot after a nightmarish first three games back.
To watch the opening 34 minutes, you wouldn't have thought either of these things could be true. Airdrie looked right up for it from the kick-off. They looked well-drilled, held their shape most of the time and defended stoutly for the best part. They employed the sort of high-tempo, combative, zesty football that makes them look like they could really actually do something, if only they could maintain that for any consistent run of games.
They had their lead within ten minutes, once again taking advantage of the chaos engendered in the Falkirk defence by the long throw. McKay put it in the danger area, Fordyce won the header and flicked it on, Gallagher got there first and tipped it towards goal, Jack McKay put pressure on Robbie Mutch and the Falkirk keeper panicked. He patted it back into danger, setting Ally Roy up perfectly for yet another goal.
An early lead at home against more fancied opponents; Co-commentator John O'Brien spoke for many a watching Airdrie fan when he pointed out that this is what happened against Partick Thistle.
Much like in that match, Airdrie seemed further buoyed by their goal, with Roy nearly capitalising on a header back to the Falkirk keeper. He just couldn't quite nick it before Mutch got his hands around the ball. Falkirk did belatedly start to creep their way into the match, with Morrison in particular looking troublesome as he picked up the ball, drifted into space or weaved across the park.
He sparked a move that ended up with a decent chance at the back post, but the header was bread and butter stuff for Max Currie, who also had to watch a decent Aidan Keena effort zip wide of the post a few minutes later. Euan O'Reilly has really come onto a game since the restart and he added to that in this game, using his pace and direct running to traumatise the lumbering Falkirk defence. The Bairns seem to lack pace right across the back line, which allowed O'Reilly and Roy to wreak merry havoc as they fed off Calum Gallagher's good hold up play.
O'Reilly ran free of a few Falkirk players before a clever pass found Jack Mckay, who slashed his effort wildly over. It was a great chance not taken. Roy's pace and work rate nearly had him through on goal but for a good tackle by Lewis Neilson. The newly minted goal machine clearly fancied another, angling a strong effort at goal without success, and at the other end Crighton and Fordyce were enjoying themselves, repelling any and all long balls and hopeful crosses that Falkirk were intent on lumping into the box.
Echoes of Partick Thistle haunted the minds of all Airdrie fans 34 minutes in, when Robbie Mutch redeemed himself by keeping the league leaders in it with a double save. Paul McKay must have thought he had scored, ditto Calum Gallager, only to see Mutch deny them with really good saves one after another. The echoes of Thistle were coming through loud and clear now as Falkirk immediately broke at speed, getting down the pitch well and nearly catching Airdrie out. The equaliser wasn't far behind, though, as Charlie Telfer dispatched an excellent shot past Max Currie from the edge of the box after a cross was only half cleared.
1-1, and the game really started to level out. Showing a heartening intent to bounce back, Airdrie nearly restored their lead in short order. Jack McKay did very well to get himself into a shooting position but, perhaps with his earlier chance in mind, elected to try and pass it into the net when really he ought to have hit it with a bit more violence.
Kai Fotheringham threw himself to the deck in the box in an abject attempt to con a penalty out of the referee, before blundering badly when through with plenty time and space on the left of the Airdrie box after another impressive Falkirk break. His badly miscued shot was a relief for all watching Diamonds, but Falkirk fans must have been in fits of frustration; it was a great chance and a huge moment in the game. Had Airdrie gone into halftime in a losing position after their fast start, you fear they'd have been facing another kicking in the second half.
Even getting in level, it was hard not to fear exactly that scenario unfolding in the next 45 minutes, but instead both teams began to slug it out in what would have been an entertaining watch for any neutral who happened to take in this Rock N Roller of a League One contest.
It was quite an absorbing match, played at a really good tempo, with both sides trading attack for attack. It was a shame, then, that so much of the chances created at either end was missed by the Pixellot camera which had the worst showing since pre-season. Early doors was the worst of it, with the setting sun seeming to bamboozle the AI, but even second half action was missed, albeit with much less regularity. As ever, Brian Smith and John O'Brien provided good commentary that helped fill in the gaps when the camera had become fixated with the wrong end, or the middle, of the pitch.
O'Reilly drew another good save from Mutch after nice interchange between him and Roy, as the two gain used their speed to unsettle the Falkirk backline. Mutch saved again from Ally Roy 56 minutes in; having spun well, the striker shot right at the Falkirk goalkeeper. And then, mere minutes later, Paul McKay gave away a penalty with a wee bit of a barge and Falkirk had the chancre to take the lead.
Aidan Keena, perhaps surprisingly, took the ball instead of Morrison or Alston or Telfer, and faced down Max Currie in a huge moment in the context of the game. Keena fired it towards the bottom left of Currie's goal, but not quite low enough, and Currie made a humongously important save to keep the score level going into the last half hour.
Clearly determined to make right that miss, Falkirk kept at their flagging hosts, creating chances for Morrison and Hall, but they couldn't capitalise. With Airdrie where they wanted them for the first extended period of the game, Falkirk rather interrupted their own nascent rhythm with some, ahem, bold substitutions. Co-manager Lee Miller joined Connor Sammon as the visitors decided to go long in search of a winner, which rather suited the Airdrie defence, especially considering Miller's tendency to give away cheap freekicks. The Diamonds took their opportunity to force themselves back into the game and another surging run from O'Reilly, followed by lovely quick feet, saw a penalty awarded to the home team.
Dale Carrick, subbed on for Dean Ritchie ten minutes earlier, stepped up as per usual to take the spot-kick and made absolutely no mistake. Hit with the perfect combo if ferocity and control, Mutch as left with no chance despite going the right way and the Airdrie lead was restored with less than ten minutes of normal time remaining.
Having gone to a back three of Crighton, Fordyce and McKay, Ian Murray had the perfect response to the long ball desperation of his visiting counterparts as they employed some of the game-killing techniques that served them so well at Dumbarton to good effect once more.
The final whistle gave Airdrie not just another win against Falkirk, but a place back in the top four as the sharp end of the season comes hurtling into view. A massive win, a great performance and all of a sudden a bit of tangible hope for the rest of the season. All eyes now on a massive game against Montrose, 3rd V 4th.
Buckle up, fellow Diamonds. Ride ain't over yet.