Andrew D Duffy
Diamond Watches: Airdrieonians 3-2 Albion Rovers
Glory glory Ally-lujah! A one-two punch from Ally Roy sees Airdrie secure victory in a pleasantly eventful pre-season Monklands Derby.
Idle Hands will be covering as many Airdrie games as possible this coming season, with match reports, opinion pieces and general comment. Lucky you.
4 minutes into the first ever live streamed Airdrieonians home match, with the AI controlled camera seemingly stuck at one penalty box instead of the action well up-field, I felt the cold equilibrium of karma breathing down my neck. My schadenfreude at the chaotic reports from Partick Thistle's first use of the Pixellot system seemed to be coming back to bite me, squarely in the unmentionables.
After this brief sojourn, and not withstanding a few repeat incidents, everyone who streamed the match for an agreeable £5 were treated to a five goal game of ebbs and flows, much more eventful fare than you'd ordinarily expect pre-season.
Having started with intent and energy down the flanks, Airdrie showed a tendency to go long for the first 15 minutes or so for little discernible reason; we rarely won the headers in this period and we don't have any giant, or even tall, forwards. 14 minutes in and the 'so-glad-it's-back' mood was somewhat dampened when a square Sean Crighton pass was overhit and collected by Sam Jamieson, who drove down the Airdrie right before cutting back to an un-tracked Matthew Aitken. The midfield runner produced a composed finish in off the post to give Albion Rovers the lead.
Having looked a bit ponderous, and too easily dispossessed by a game for it, energetic Rovers side, the goal seemed to settle the Diamonds more than it did the visitors. A good Airdrie move in the 17th minute showed that they could get at their League 2 opponents when moving the ball quickly and earned their first corner... which the camera promptly missed to focus instead on a Stationary David Hutton.
The equaliser duly arrived inside the 19th minute when Eoghan Stokes collected a good Kerr through-ball and, with a svelte shimmy to flummox the defender and a neat finish in the bottom right corner of the net, the Irishman introduced himself as one to watch in the season ahead.
Alas, the Rovers reclaimed their lead in straightforward fashion a mere 4 minutes later, Finn Ecrepont guiding his header into the net unchallenged from the corner kick. 'That's far too easy', came the grumble of every Airdrie supporter, as the uncharacteristically sloppy set-piece concession saw them fall behind once more. Airdrie had an excellent defensive record last season, the second most miserable in the league (insert pithy joke about Airdrie usually topping any 'misery' list here) so one hopes and expects that our defensive strength will reassert itself during the season proper.
It is pre-season, after all, and it was an Airdrie debut for centre half Harlain Mbayo, who could have done better at the corner in question but on the whole looked a promising addition. His tackle on the precipice of half time, for instance, was brilliantly timed, and vital.
As the first half wore on, Airdrie looked to play in O'Reily a number of times down their right but seemed to fare better playing short, sharp passes through the heart of the pitch and feeding it out wide left. Final ball and deliveries from wide are the kind of things that become fine tuned over time so there's reason to hope that the clear pace on display pays dividends as players get their eye in.
The first 45 petered out sans further incident and the changes were rung as expected for the commencement of the second half. The Diamonds started to shine, with neat, flowing football signalling a real intent as they began to put the screws to their visibly tiring visitors. A dangerous and pacey attack should have been, and very nearly was, finished with aplomb by Robert, but his volley zipped just passed the post after Thomson fed him very well from the right inside the 52nd minute.
The keepers exchanged decent saves, with Rovers' Chris Henry keeping out Thomson's left-footer before Airdrie's Max Currie, again taking the gloves for the second half as he did away to Lowland League Champions Kelty, got down smartly to save from Albion sub Kieran Dolan.
A well worked goal, with Griffin Sabatini and Calum Gallagher both doing well, saw substitute Ally Roy restore parity in the 65th minute. Whilst even the most generous soul would put the goal last Saturday at Kelty Hearts down as a 'significant deflection' at best, there was no such qualification here. Roy deftly lifted the ball over the advancing Rovers goalie after Gallagher's lob, which followed good, clever work by the again impressive Sabatini.
Airdrie's third was another fine finish from Roy, who dispatched another Kerr through ball with relish to ultimately win the match. 72 minutes in and Roy should have completed his hattrick; a lovely 1-2 down the right leading to a neat cut back, only for Ally's attempt to be blocked out for a corner. It was a move deserving of a goal, one which was all but certain were it not for a crucial defensive intervention to send the ball spinning behind.
In the 80th minute, the camera panned away up the other end as Rovers put a freekick into the Airdrie box. I, too, would much rather the camera was fixed on the opposition penalty area, but exceptions can surely be made when the ball is otherwise engaged elsewhere on the park. In any event, the freekick didn't lead to a goal and Airdrie saw the last ten minutes out with relative comfort, but the Pixellot system will have had some supporters in a fit.
According to their website, 'Clubs from La Liga, Serie A, the Bundesliga, and all the professional clubs in Mexico use Pixellot AI-based video coaching technology to improve analysis in training, during the game, and once the match is over', so we find ourselves in rarefied company. There were only a handful of these incidents, none of them lasted very long and this was the first true test of a new, well-used system, so here's hoping the instances can be minimised going forward; sadly, we seem likely to be relying on this for some time to come to get our fix.
An unbeaten start, then, for Airdrie's pre-season diet, and a home win over the nearest neighbours is never unwelcome. Special mention goes to my Uncle, who only streamed the second half and thus claimed credit for the victory, insisting that word about his fiver must have made it's way to the players and 'gee'd them on'. He even found room to lay the blame for our two concession at my door, on account of my having 'let' Albion Rovers win the first half. Just pipping him to the Idle Hands Man of The Match award, then, was Ally Roy. Unfortunately for Ally, this is a strictly kudos only type of award, with no prize attached. Hey, times are tough.
Another good run out and more to come this Saturday as Championship side Queen of The South visit for a 3pm kickoff. The game will also stream via the website so be sure to pay your fiver and enjoy, at long last, an Airdrie home game on a Saturday afternoon.
[EDIT: The kickoff time for Saturday 26th has been moved to 2PM. A decision announced about an hour after I published this. Cheers lads!]
Airdrie For The Cup. Whit Cup? Any Cup.