Diamond Watches: Airdrieonians 3-2 Cove Rangers AET
Sound The Trumpets; Airdrie March Into The Playoff Final After Extra-Time Heroics
This Airdrie team just keep on going, don't they?
How many late goals have we scored? How many points have been won or sealed in the last few minutes? How many times have we felt we were done for? How many times did it look like we had blown it?
The players didn't put in their best performance of the season in the second leg of the playoff final. They didn't strut their finest stuff or paint their prettiest picture, but they did show an incredible display of guts, resilience and sheer bloody-minded determination. They picked themselves up twice, the second time 94 minutes in to the game, and as saccharine and sentimental as it seems, they showed us all just how much it means to them.
As gameplans go, Airdrie's couldn't be said to have gone off without a hitch. Six minutes in and Paul Paton, a massive influence for The Diamonds since his loan move from East Kilbride (and return from injury) had to come off injured. The loss of such an integral player meant a midfield reshuffle and in truth it seemed to allow Cove to take a stranglehold on the game, Fraser Fyvie dictating the pattern of play whilst eluding the attentions of Dean Ritchie, who nonetheless refused to give up chasing after the experienced former Aberdeen, Hibs, Wigan and Dundee United player.
Airdrie had kept them at bay until a daft challenge was put in by Kyle Connell on Airdrie's left shy line, allowing Cove an opportunity from the set-play. The freekick delivery from Connor Scully was a good one and Mitch Megginson did what Mitch Megginson does, flashing his header into the net and giving Cove the lead inside the 15th minute.
Airdrie promptly picked themselves up to level four minutes later, with Kyle Connell flashing in a dangerous ball that Cove let bounce straight through their box and onto the diving header of a gleeful Calum Gallagher. Parity restored. Sighs of relief exhaled.
Josh Kerr, on hand to finish had Gal not thrown himself at it like The Man Of Steel himself, picked the ball out of the net and ran back to the centre circle, intent on getting the game back underway and pressing on from the Airdrie equaliser.
Callum Fordyce got his head on a long throw two minutes later, but it didn't have the requisite power to trouble McKenzie in the Cove goal. It was the visitors turn to lose an influential player, though, with goal-scorer Megginson being withdrawn 24 minutes in. It might have been for this reason that Rory McAllister decided to shoot when The Wee Rangers (cringe) were awarded a freekick by whistle-daft referee Colin Stevenson. Had Megginson been on the pitch, it might have been another cross into the box, but the Cove man made the pleasingly wasteful decision to go for goal and fired it well wide.
For all they were dominating the ball, Cove were restricted to shots from outside, or just inside, the box. This was testament to the discipline of the Airdrie side, who kept their shape, held their nerve and demonstrated the well drilled, well coached defensive solidity that saw them through in the first leg. Fraser Fyvie had a few of these shots from distance, forcing a save from Max Currie in the 32nd minute, but it was a central enough effort that you expected your goalkeeper to save.
Three minutes later and Kyle Turner tackled Fyvie well just before he got another shot away outside the box. The counter was on and it was only excellent last ditch defending from Ross Graham that prevented Kyle Connell from getting a clear run at goal with only the goalkeeper to beat.
Calum Gallagher beat Kieran Ngwenya with aplomb on the right wing, skinning the Aberdeen loanee and firing a ball into the box, but just as with the first leg, there were no takers and it rolled out of the box. Dean Ritchie was first to it, doing well to play it to Leon McCann, who kept the move going by passing to Josh Kerr. His cross into the box was behind the men in red and white, though, and the attack petered out, followed in short order by the first half itself.
Still level. Still too close to call.
Connor Scully sent a second-half freekick into Max Currie's arms, the tamely hit shot coming as a relief given the dangerous position from which it was taken. Of greater concern for The Diamonds was the half-time withdrawal of Josh Kerr, an injury meaning that Sean Crighton replaced Airdrie's number 4 for the second half. Whatever plan Ian Murray might have had to shore up the midfield likely hadn't counted on yet another enforced substitution.
It was the Airdrie Captain who rose well to meet a long throw on the 69th minute, but he couldn't direct it on target and it ended up landing well wide. Cove, though, continued to display significant vulnerability to balls into their box.
A neat move worked between Callum Fordyce, Leon McCann, Calum Gallagher and the third substitute Thomas Robert saw the young Frenchman play a cute ball towards Kyle Connell, who appeared to try a dummy. It was only a Cove defender waiting, though, and the Kilmarnock loanee was left wishing he'd taken a touch himself.
The game looked to be heading for extra time, right enough. Then, just inside the 92nd minute, disaster struck. A long ball from Cove Rangers was only half cleared by Leon McCann and fell to Blair Yule, who showed excellent feet to dance past McCann and Fordyce before passing it into the feet of Rory McAllister.
He swiveled well to evade the pressure from Kyle Turner and Sean Crighton before firing a good finish passed Max Currie and into the bottom corner. The Cove players swarmed towards their fellow squad members in the stand, delirious at having clinched a late, late winner and sealing themselves a place in the final.
It was a case of close but no cigar for Airdrie, of falling just short despite a valiant effort. Of just not having enough in the final moments of the match. Another bout of playoff heartache. Another season in League 1 beckoned.
And then the Cove goalkeeper fumbled a Max Currie long ball he didn't need to come for. And then it landed at Dale Carrick's feet. And then he knocked it sideways. And then Jack McKayed.
The Chesterfield loanee nabbed his second Airdrie goal of the season, slamming it well beyond the despairing Cove defenders who were trying to cover for their goalkeeper Stuart McKenzie, who must have endured the longest of journeys back up the road.
Deflated Airdrie fans watching from home, not to mention the incredibly hardy crowd who had gathered at the hill behind the Petersburn end, had a second wind blown right up them.
94 minutes on the clock. Airdrie were level once again and it was going to take extra time to split these two sides. Would there be a winner, or was it going all the way to penalty kicks?
Airdrie were the stronger side in extra time, make no mistake. They had suffered in the 90 minutes, often having to work without the ball, often having to hold out and defend, often having to harry and harass and clear their lines. Now, though, they looked the most likely. Cove Rangers seemed to have been broken by the dramatic Jack McKay equaliser. A good Kyle Turner cornerkick was met by Callum Fordyce, who did exactly what he was supposed to do by getting good contact on it and heading it down into the ground. Unfortunately, he put too much power into it, seeing it bounce back up and over the bar, rather than into the net as it had seemed destined for.
Max Currie punched a Fraser Fyvie corner clear before collecting the return cross with both hands.
Halftime in extra time. Still all square.
Into the second half and, on 107 minutes, a Callum Fordyce cross was headed clear by the Cove defence. The ball was collected by 99th minute substitute Craig Thomson, who had time to get his head up and have a wee look.
Sizing up his options, the pacey winger elected to eschew the tempting prospect of putting it right back into the mixer and seeing where it landed. Instead, he feigned to cross so as to fool his man then let loose with electrifying speed to burst into the box, leaving two Cove players in his wake.
Calum Gallagher smelled blood.
Thomson put his cross in. Gal made his move. He seemed to know where it was going, and boy was he right on the money. He stuck out a leg and met the ball a few yards out. It was in. It was a goal. It was a lead.
12 minutes until fulltime. 12 minutes for Cove to grab an equaliser of their own. 12 minutes from the playoff final.
112 minutes in and Cove Rangers must have thought they were levelling things up again. Scott Ross got on the end of a corner kick but his header back across goal hit the bar and bounced down and, crucially, away from goal, with Airdrie clearing danger whilst my heart reached for the smelling salts.
117 minutes had come and gone when Max Currie punched a corner kick only as far as the middle of his own box. Not to worry; Tam Rab was there to put in a brilliant tackle on Fraser Fyvie and set Airdrie away on a counter whilst Paul Hartley bumped his gums in desperate search of a penalty kick. He would get a red card for his protestations, a terrible display of, ahem, INDISCIPLINE.
Robert played a lovely pass through for the onrushing Jack Mckay who looked to have a clear run at goal. His touch, alas, was far too heavy, allowing McKenzie to rush from his line and gather inside the box before McKay could recover possession.
That would have sealed it, but we're not greedy. The ref blew his whistle, the Airdrie players erupted and John O'Brien let loose with his trumpet.
Airdrie were through.
We're going to do this, aren't we?