Job Delayed, But Job Done; Airdrie Set Up Massive Game With Home Win
Never in doubt.
It was clear Airdrie were going to collect the 3 points throughout the entire 90 minutes and this Airdrie fan was entirely comfortable the whole way through.
It certainly started that way. It seemed from very early on that Airdrie would go on to win comfortably against a Forfar side who are staring down the barrel of the relegation blunderbuss.
Less than a minute and a half in, The Brothers McKay and Dale Carrick worked a neat passing combo out wide right to Calum Gallagher, who swung a good ball into the Forfar box. It proved too tempting for Hamish Thomson, who headed home past Marc McCallum whilst Ally Roy lurked with intent, hoping the centre half would leave or miss it. He did neither, and The Diamonds had the early lead every watching supporter craved.
The home side immediately set about building on their lead, and inside 7 minutes a good Jack McKay cross was met by Gallagher, who nodded it across the box for Carrick only for Forfar to manage a halfhearted clearance. It fell to Kyle Turner, still searching for his first Airdrie goal despite his standout performances, and his low shot was saved pretty comfortably by McCallum.
Inside the 11th minute Airdrie were again pushing forward, Dale Carrick lobbing a ball forward for Ally Roy to run onto. The number 10 did well to carry it into the box before turning inside, leaving two Forfar defenders trailing in his wake, before getting off a shot that was blocked, having looked like it was goal bound, or at the very least on target.
Calum Gallagher then won a battle on the Forfar side of the centre circle and lobbed out an excellent pass to Leon McCann wide on the left, who dovetailed back and passed it to the advancing Turner. Having evaluated his options, the Dunfermline loanee moved it on to Dale Carrick, who shot narrowly over the bar. The lead should have been extended inside the 20th minute when Crighton met a Turner corner unchallenged. He had risen so well, gotten above the ball and met it with some real meat, but his header thumped off the post when it really should have been hitting the net. It was not the first time the captain had looked dangerous from Airdrie set-plays; indeed, every delivery seemed to spark bedlam in the Forfar defence.
Another Turner shot from the edge of the box was charged down inside the 28th minute, but Euan O'Reilly was on hand to lob it back into the box. Ally Roy knocked it into the centre of the box and found Jack McKay lurking, his well taken shot saved by McCallum. It broke back to Jack McKay but his first time follow up, clearly going in, was blocked heroically by Hamish Thomson, a moment of redemption for the Forfar centre half.
And then it happened again. Having scored early, created a bundle of chances to increase their lead and put themselves on cruise control, Airdrie let the visiting team back into it at The Penny Cars Stadium. They got a warning on 37 minutes; they had started to move the ball with a more laid back air, knocking it around perhaps too comfortably, allowing the game to unravel and become bitty. A good cross was delivered to Murray Mackintosh, who took a surprisingly decent touch with his knee before firing a fairly tame effort at Max Currie.
"That's the kind of thing that can happen", warned John O'Brien and Brian Smith, and those prophets of doom were right on the money. A loose ball into the centre from Leon McCann set the visitors away and, whilst the cross was a good one, it was far too easy for Grant Anderson to head home the equaliser inside the 42nd minute.
As noted already, this observer was not perturbed, not one bit, but *other members* of the watching Airdrie support will have bene forgiven for fearing the worst, especially as the half drifted out and a monumental second 45 hovered menacingly on the horizon. Yes, the goal had been lost to one of the first Forfar forays forward, but the game is about goals, not chances, and a potential precious point was in the grasp of the Loons.
Encouragingly, Airdrie started with the same appetite with which they had opened the fixture, and the half was a mere 45 seconds old when McCallum was again called into action. Ally Roy did well to get a low cross into the box and Gallagher played a clever dummy, but none of the Airdrie midfielders were on the same wavelength and Ross Meechan had time to clear the danger. He didn't take that full advantage of that time and cleared it only as far as Dale Carrick, who returned an earlier favour to give Kyle Turner a crack at goal. This one was well hit and well saved, but Airdrie were clearly determined to regain their lead.
Surely it wouldn't be long...
Inside the 49th minute, a good long pass from Callum Fordyce was met by Calum Gallagher, who spun well and got a shot off, again prompting a save from McCallum, who had to stretch to prevent it spinning in at the far post. A good switch of play from Turner on the 52nd minute found Gallagher in space out on the Airdrie right, and his good first touch set him for yet another tenmpting delivery into the away box. Again, it was flashed across the face and again, Ally Roy was waiting behind Hamish Thomson, but this time there was no goal, own or otherwise. It wasn't clear if the defender had gone for it again and missed, or just feinted to and then left it, but the ball zipped by without being turned in and Ally Roy would have been wishing he had gotten in front of his man in this occasion, having gotten away with not doing so at the start of the game.
Two minutes later, a darting run from Leon McCann found the left back in the box, cutting it across for Ally Roy, who again found his shot blocked. This goal was coming. You could feel it.
And so it did duly arrive, thanks to the excellent run and cross of substitute Craig Thomson, who charged down the right flank, skinning Gary Irvine, burning past another defender and playing a perfect cross along the ground for the waiting Calum Gallagher, who stood a yard out with an empty net at his mercy. Lead restored. Job done. Anxiety eas-
"Ah dear, ah dear, ah dear!" came the cry from John O'Brien, as Gallagher inexplicably, ridiculously, impossibly, stabbed the ball right to his right, into the waiting and utterly perplexed arms of Marc McCallum, who had been left prone on the ground by the Thomson cross.
He had missed. HOW had he missed?
In the most stirring example of sportsmanship one could ever hope to see, with gallantry thought long gone from the game, Calum Gallagher proved himself the Horatio Hornblower of Centre Forwards by refusing on principle to score such an easy goal.
Rousing, chivalrous stuff.
Even the more level-headed Airdrie supporter was starting to worry, now, though (although obviously I knew it was only a matter of time). The hour mark came and went with the score still stubbornly stuck at 1-1 and the away side were now launching attacks of their own, albeit without causing Max Currie much concern. Indeed, having claimed a wasted corner well, Airdrie's Number 1 launched his team onto yet another attack inside the 71st minute. Kyle Turner showed good pace to break on the struggling Forfar defence and skinned Gary Irvine delightfully, before bursting into the box and being seemingly bumped over by a retreating Forfar player who had busted a gut to get back. He was wrong side of the Airdrie man and whilst contact was light, it doesn't take a great deal to bowl over a player when mid-sprint. The referee awarded a goal kick despite Turner's protestations and Airdrie were looking at 20 minutes to avert disaster.
72 minutes in and Leon McCann was once again marauding down the left flank, playing a clever pass to Dale Carrick having travelled most of the Forfar half with the ball. Carrick spun and played a neat one-two with Calum Gallagher, who's first time return put Carrick in on goal. This time, surely!
Alas, Carrick took an uncharacteristically poor touch and the keeper was able to pounce. Another chance come, another chance gone. 75 minutes in and Leon McCann again did well, reaching a slightly overhit cross field pass and feeding substitute Kyle Connell. He took it into the box, beat Hamish Thomson and nudged it across to fellow sub Thomas Robert, who could and probably should have hit it early. Instead, he showed lovely skill to evade the lunging tackle of Andy Munro, but the delay bought time for a Forfar defender to put him under pressure and the shot was nullified, ending up safely in the hands of McCallum.
This goal was coming, wasn't it?
Yes, yes it was. Good interplay between O'Reilly and Robert fed McCann in acres of space own the left and Calum Gallagher showed excellent movement and appetite to get across his defender, to get in front of Hamish Thomson, and get enough power on his header to beat McCallum.
His overall performance deserved a goal, especially in light of how he had kept at it after the sitter, with the decision by Ian Murray to keep him on in spite of that earlier miss completely vindicated. Gallagher's movement, his hold up play, his interchange with other players, hell, his cross for the first goal and for another of the many chances that went abegging, are proof positive of how good a player he can be, of how significant a contribution he can and does make to this Airdrie team. Here's hoping that's him back in the groove in front of goal (especially when everyone knows he scored at Montrose, too).
Airdrie supporters could breathe again, albeit credit is due to Forfar who inspired a few more breathless moments before the 3 points were sealed, especially inside the 93rd minute when Steven Doris should have done better with his shot in the box.
Sealed the points where, though, when Kyle Turner's quick thinking header played Kyle Connell in for a run at goal. His first touch was cultured off his thigh and he finished cooly beyond the advancing McCallum to put some frankly deserved gloss on the scoreline.
3-1 again, matching the scoreline from earlier in the season, and The Diamonds are now all set up for a thrilling finale to the pre-split fight for a top 5 place when they welcome East Fife in match 18 of this funny old season.
The win put Airdrie 4th for a time, but results at the weekend left them in 5th, one point shy of The Fifers and two points ahead of Montrose.
It's simple; win on Tuesday and they will be 4th at least. Draw and, barring a Montrose win by five goals or more against Cove Rangers, Airdrie will still make that vital top 5. Lose and Cove will need to do Airdrie a favour by avoiding defeat.
To really set themselves up for the last four games before the playoffs, then, Airdrie ought to look at this as a winner takes all slobberknocker. They have 3 wins and a draw from their last four games so go into the match in good form against a side who will fancy their chances just as much. Not quite winner takes all, but it is set up to be one hell of a night in an ever tightening top half of the table.
They're making the chances, they are putting in the performances and they have it in their own hands.
Mon The Diamonds. Go get'er done.