Andrew D Duffy
Diamond Watches: Airdrieonians 2-1 Montrose
Airdrie Secure A Huge Win In The Race For The Playoffs
Having lost to Partick Thistle, Airdrie found themselves under pressure to beat Montrose and harden their grip on the playoff places. Having failed to beat the Links Park side in either pre-split game, The Diamonds risked seeing their visitors leapfrog them in the table should they slip to back to back defeats.
Sean Crighton and Euan O'Reilly dropped out of the line-up with injuries, replaced by Josh Kerr and Scott Walker, whilst Kyle Connell started up front alongside Calum Gallagher, ahead of Ally Roy.
Airdrie started with real intent, clearly determined to get at their visitors from the off. Calum Gallagher did really well to win an aerial challenge inside the 3rd minute, spinning it on behind him before seizing upon his own flick on and driving towards the box, getting a good shot away on the edge of the box and forcing a flying save from Allan Fleming.
Inside the 7th minute, Kyle Turner played a long pass for Kyle Connell to run onto. The Kilmarnock loanee did well, running down the channel before dinking a chipped pass into the path of Gallagher, who went to ground under pressure from Cammy Ballantyne. The defender didn't get anything on the ball and was clearly the wrong side of Gallagher, but the referee waved away Airdrie protestations.
A long pass down the Airdrie right from Montrose defender Sean Dillon was easily cut out by Dale Carrick, who lofted an unorthodox ball into the Montrose half. It was a pretty speculative pass, but Kyle Connell went haring after it anyway, forcing Aidan Quinn to try to deal with it quickly rather than affording him the luxury of time. Connell's endeavour was rewarded when Quinn fluffed his clearance, bouncing it off Connell under the young strikers close attention and then losing his footing to let the Airdrie man collect the ball unchallenged. Taking one touch to get it out of his feet, Connell fired home a strike of real accuracy into the bottom corner from over 20 yards out.
A great goal scored and an important lead established, the first half settled into an evenly fought, tightly contested affair. Montrose did mount attacks here and there, but they found a resolute Airdrie defence more than capable of rebuffing their advances towards Max Currie's goal. Great battling play from Leon McCann nearly had Dale Carrick adding to the Airdrie lead, with the strike from distance veering too wide to trouble Fleming in goal after McCann had robbed substitute Matty Allan in the heart of the Montrose box.
On the verge of halftime, a terrifically dangerous Kyle Turner freekick was fired into the back post, curling perfectly for Dale Carrick who had ghosted in around the back of the Montrose defence. The top scorer couldn't quite direct his header on target, though, leaving the score unchanged at the break.
Unsurprisingly, Montrose went on the attack from the restart and Calum Gallagher's excellent defensive header averted danger from a floated free-kick into the box. Having weathered an opening salvo, Airdrie doubled their lead after yet further excellent play from Kyle Connell.
The forward went just inside his own half to retrieve the ball from Cammy Ballantyne, dragging the ball back from between the legs of the Montrose defender on the touchline and driving towards the box. With McCann bursting into space on the left and Gallagher peeling off to the right, Connell took advantage of the resulting space to shoot from distance once more. It took a touch off the boot of Sean Dillon but it looked a goal all day from the moment Connell took aim at the edge of the D.
Another great goal scored and an important lead consolidated, the second half seemed certain to settle into the same pattern as the first did after the initial goal. Montrose had to change it and change it they did, introducing Chris' Mochrie and Antoniazzi just beyond the hour mark. They had tweaked their shape in the first half after an injury to Harry Cochrane, which did bring them further into the game, and this second half change in personnel did inject some fresh energy to the visitors.
Mochrie got in behind the Airdrie defence after evading an ill-devised offside trap but his show was saved by Max Currie, with McCann on hand to mop up. Montrose did get themselves back into the game, though, Graham Webster curling a fantastic shot into the top corner beyond Max Currie inside the 80th minute, giving every watching Airdrie fan a short, sharp jolt of impending dread.
The last ten minutes were going to be fraught, weren't they?
Airdrie weren't going to sit back entirely, though, and Paul McKay did brilliantly well down the left hand side to drive into the box and fire a low cross into danger, but Montrose were able to clear. The Mo' had no option but to throw everything they had at an attempt to level the match, but this could and should have cost them a third goal inside the 92nd minute when Airdrie had a 3 on 1 breakaway. A Sean Dillon cross into the Airdrie box was cleared and a combination of substitutes Roy, Ritchie and Stokes saw the later leading the charge towards the Montrose goal. With Turner having made up ground on his right and Roy bursting into space on his left, Stokes chose to play in the Dunfermline loanee. He took a touch into the box and flashed a fearsome shot just wide, scuppering the chance to kill the game there and then.
Inside the 94th minute, Montrose found themselves with one last chance. A freekick, just off the 18 yard line on the left of the box. Antoniazzi set himself, stepped forward and... sent his cross well wide and beyond the reach of any Montrose head.
Two games left now for Airdrie who go to another team they've yet to beat this season, Cove Rangers, on Saturday. They make the trip knowing that a win would guarantee a playoff spot and put second place well within their grasp before they finish the regular (well, regular-ish) season at home to Falkirk. This excellent home win has them all but there and The Diamonds are playing like a team fired full of belief, togetherness and sense of purpose.
They could hardly be going into crunch-time in better form and they know exactly what they need to do. On this showing, it really does look like they're going to go and do it.