Lunacy At Links Park; A Bonkers Game Finishes Honours Even Thanks To A Late OG
Another excellent game, another dramatic finale and another positive result for Airdrie, who came back from two goals down to secure what could prove to be a crucial point in the battle to finish in the top half of the division.
An evenly contested first half saw chances fall to both sides, but an excellent finish from Montrose defender Cammy F Ballantyne and a calamitous own goal from Sean Crighton saw the Diamonds down at half time and needing a huge performance to rescue their season.
Boy did they get it.
It was the home side who started the game the brighter, quickly pushing forward, with Lewis Milne no doubt wishing he had done better with a low curling effort that spun a few yards wide of the post. A fine interception inside the 8th minute by Leon McCann soon had Airdrie countering, the left back playing a long pass for Ally Roy to run on to. Cutting inside well, the in form striker produced an uncharacteristically clumsy kick at fresh air, squandering possession to boot.
Inside two minutes Montrose were down the other end, with some neat interplay allowing Cammy Ballantyne a run towards the near post, only to end up losing control under pressure from Kyle Turner.
Airdrie really should have taken the lead inside the 22nd minute, as a long pass from Callum Fordyce was nodded into the path of Calum Gallagher by Ally Roy. Leon McCann gave Gallagher the option out wide and the ball duly came his way, with the left back driving into space and playing a good cut back into the lurking Roy. He was put under some late pressure, but from 8 yards out and face on to goal, the striker should have done far better than scooping his shot high, wide and not so pretty. He should have scored; it would have been the suitable cap to a really tidy move by the visiting Diamonds.
Montrose made no such mistake on 29 minutes, Cammy F Ballantyne picking the ball up centrally after good play from out to in down the Montrose left, sending Ally Roy for the messages with a lovely stop and drag back to take the over zealous attacker out of the game and zipping in fine finish from the edge of D into the bottom corner. It was a quality goal from a quality player, the on-loan Perth Saint standing out all season long from within the Links Park ranks.
Persistent play from Ally Roy had Dale Carrick bearing down on a back-pedaling Montrose defence on 36 minutes, but with an option to his right, he chose to shoot, firing over the bar.
With half-time upon them, Airdrie seemed set for a second-half rescue mission if they were going to build on their fantastic victory over Falkirk. That rescue mission got all the more daunting when a long ball by Montrose keeper Aaron Lennox was flicked on by Russell McLean or Graham Webster to run onto. He got the better of Leon McCann and fired a low cross into the box, but Sean Crighton had done well to position himself between the ball and the advancing Mclean.
All he had to do was knock it back to Max Currie. He could have even taken a touch then dealt with it, or cleared it out wide if he really had to. Instead, he buried it into the bottom corner to double the Montrose lead with an own goal that will live long in the memory.
Half-time duly arrived and Airdrie had a job on their hands. It felt like the second goal had killed the game dead for The Diamonds, who have struggled to come back from losing positions all season.
What followed may have been even more impressive than the Falkirk victory, at least in some respects. There, Airdrie had taken the lead only to be pegged back. This time they had two goals to claw back. It demonstrated a strong mentality within the group, a furnace-fired determination and a refusal to give up which ought to serve them well amongst a run-in that seems destined to be bitingly tight.
If Montrose had edged a fairly even first half, Airdrie dominated the second. Chances came and chances went, but most encouraging was the fact that chances were indeed created. They were clearly sent out to have a right good go by Ian Murray and, to their credit, that's precisely what they did against a Montrose team who were tiring more and more as the half unspooled.
Inside the 49th minute, some good play set up Dale Carrick for a shot from distance, which struck the bar. Inside the 51st minute, a corner kick broke out to Dale Carrick who lofted it back into the box. The ball dropped over Russell McLean, where Calum Gallagher was waiting to head it into the bottom corner. The goal was credited, ridiculously, to the Montrose forward, despite replays clearly showing the ball drop behind the number 10. Airdrie had an early goal back, the deficit halved with plenty time left in the game to find at least one more goal. All it would take was one more chance.
As it happened, The Diamonds made many many more chances than that, but were failing to take any. Indeed, the equaliser, when come it did, wasn't really a chance, at all. But more on that later. First, the chances.
57 minutes in, Euan O'Reilly does well out on the right, beating two men and putting in a great ball. It looked like it was falling for Gallagher again, but the Montrose defender behind him appeared to bundle him to the floor. The referee deemed it a legal act and the game raged on, much to Gallagher's bemusement. 61 minutes in, Airdrie produced a lovely passage of quick pacing to unpick the Montrose defence, only for Gallagher to shoot over from a good position. He should have done better. 63 minutes in, some great link up play from Ally Roy found Kyle Turner in space, who drove at the heart of the Montrose defence and shot from almost the exact same spot as Ballantyne had scored from, dragging his effort narrowly wide.
65 minutes in and Jack McKay couldn't quite steer his header in, having done well to get in front of the Montrose defence and onto yet another Turner corner. 71 minutes in and sub Kyle Connell was in a great position to level the game after an excellent long throw was flicked on, but he fired wildly over the bar from the edge of the 6 yard box. 75 Minutes in and Connell was involved again, doing brilliantly to hold off and then escape from two Montrose midfielders to get a shot away. It was pretty tame and Lennox saved, but he could only palm it into danger and needed Andrew Steeves to bail him out, clearing it before Jack McKay could capitalise and score a tap-in.
79 minutes in and Dale Carrick missed a huge chance; a clever corner from Turner found him and his flicked effort was blocked by a defender's leg. The keeper had dived to make the save, meaning that when the block sent the ball directly back to the Airdrie top-scorer there was an empty net to fire it into. Inexplicably, his shot sailed wide. The players led their heads in their hands. I knew how they felt. 86 minutes in and Calum Gallagher did brilliantly to win possession just inside the Montrose half, holding it up then playing a neat pass up the line to O'Reilly. The winner cut inside and found substitute Craig Thomson on the edge of the box. The number 7 took a touch into the box to set himself before unleashing a powerful right footed shot that was flying into the top left corner of the Montrose net, but for the flying intervention of Lennox who got a strong hand to it, putting it behind for yet another corner (Airdrie wracked up 12 in total on the day).
With the chances having been made and then duly missed, it was looking like Airdrie had just fallen short despite their overwhelming second half dominance. And then came the equaliser. A quick turn over in possession came from an ill-fated attempt by Montrose to go forward in the dying embers of the game, when surely keeping the ball would have seen them home and dry. Turner fed it forward to the advancing Fordyce, who moved it on to Gallagher. Gallagher sent it to Jack McKay, who looked up and found Sean Crighton occupying an unlikely position on the wide angle of the Montrose box. He sent in a hopeful, floaty and frankly rather poor delivery that was meat and drink for the keeper, surely meaning the whistle was about to sound.
And then it happened. Aaron Lennox fumbled his catch and the ball fell, I swear in slow motion, into the net. 90+4. 2-2. Cue celebrations on the park, joy in the dugout and absolute bedlam in my living room.
It was the least their second half performance deserved, having created enough chances to win a couple of games. They hadn't won three on the bounce, but following up three straight defeats with two wins and a draw is definitely much more like it. Four goals, three of them credited as own goals (one of which definitely wasn't) chances galore and a last gasp equaliser. Excellent entertainment.
A visit from relegation threatened Forfar was next up in the penultimate pre-split fixture, a must win to follow up this must not lose.
It still ain't over yet.