Diamond Watches: Falkirk 0-1 Airdrieonians
Yule Beauty! Airdrie Inflict Another Defeat On Favourites Falkirk
Can we please play Falkirk every week?
Another trip to The Falkirk Stadium and another three points for The Diamonds, getting themselves off the naughty list in the nick of time. Whilst not quite as dramatic as the last-minute 2-1 victory so thoroughly enjoyed the season prior, Airdrie once again had Falkirk's number.
Having shipped some silly goals this season, it was a welcome return to defensive solidity, adherence to shape and off the ball work ethic in a game that saw the hosts' unbeaten run ended unceremoniously by a Kyle Connell goal in the 82nd minute.
Airdrie went into the game on the back of those two soul-sapping defeats, self-inflicted wounds that threatened to infect the Airdrie support with a severe case of fatalism whilst also poisoning the team's promotion hopes.
It was timely, then, that the side produced their most disciplined performance of the season and scalped the league leaders in the process. The octane wasn't high and buckles were not swashed, but Airdrie took pride in their defending, put the hard yards in and seemed to relish pushing back against the waves of fairly blunt Falkirk attacks.
Indeed, a sustained period of Falkirk pressure was broken excellently within the first 15 minutes by Kyle Connell, who had been restored to the line up in place of Dale Carrick. He took the ball a great run deep into the Falkirk half but, with the home defence backing off, played a reverse pass to Gallagher when he might have laid it off to his right for Robert. The attack fizzled out, but was proof that the hosts were more vulnerable than their unbeaten run might suggest.
A freekick not far from the Falkirk box was floated in, not a bad ball by any means, but came only to a Falkirk counter attack and Airdrie had to look lively, which they did. Kyle MacDonald and Dean Ritchie, debuting in the league as a late replacement for the injured Leon McCann, coped well with the dangerous hosts who were forced regularly down the left and the right. When the crosses did come in, Fordyce and Crighton were back to their best, winning far, far more than they lost and getting good distances on their clearing headers.
19 minutes in and Airdrie got away with one. Great running from Connor Sammon got him beyond the defence and he put a decent ball across, which was missed by the Airdrie centre halves. The incoming forward could only thigh it innocuously into Max Curries hands. Then followed the best chance Falkirk would get all afternoon. Sammon looked certain to score as he collected a ball over the top with an excellent first touch. MacDonald recovered quickly from his slip to deny Sammon a free shot and Fordyce cleared the eventual effort that did come in with a crucial block.
Having scared this observer witless, Airdrie then teased him with what looked destined to be another Tam Rab moment. A long throw was well worked into his path and Airdrie's French Fancy, left with an inexplicable amount of space deep inside the Falkirk box, had a crack at goal. He dragged it wide, surprisingly and frustratingly, given his well documented and much heralded striking ability.
He was nearly at it again, beating a clutch of Falkirk players as he sauntered towards the danger zone, before getting the ball caught under his foot as he was about to pull the trigger.
Gallagher was replaced by Carrick inside 35 minutes, looking to have picked up, or rather, exacerbated, a knock, and the half ended without much further ado.
The second half saw the Falkirk waves become more of an occasional trickle as the game become stuck in the muck of bitty fouls in and around the centre circle, going this way and that. 53 minutes in, a freekick in shooting range for Falkirk was sent sailing hilariously high and over the bar, the kind of freekick that was ripe for a waiting fan to stick the nut on, or catch, in the stand behind the goals.
An Airdrie header was closer in the 57th minute, from a freekick of their own. Another followed in the 59th minute and, come the 60th, another still. You started to get the feeling, I swear you did, that one of these was going to drop for us at some point.
A great Mutch save from an emphatic Carrick drive was the only thing to rescue Falkirk in the 62nd minute, after a bungle by the home side's centre half saw Airdrie's top scorer bearing down on goal at the angle on the end of a lofted ball from midfield.
He had another go 5 minutes later, driving in from the left this time, cutting inside and firing low to the near post, but this time Mutch held it well. Falkirk were still showing fading signs of life and a narrow header wide from an 81st minute corner was ample warning that the home side were a threat.
Having failed to make it count, Falkirk took one right on the puss a minute later. A daft foul in the centre circle gave Airdrie another opportunity to drift a freekick into the opposing box. The delivery was true and Crighton won the first header, directing it to the heart of the box for Sean Kerr to head at goal, six yards out.
Goal, surely? Keeper gets a hand to it! Is it bouncing in, or onto the post? There's Kyle Connell a yard out! CONNELLLLL!!!
Amazing. Beautiful. Magical.
Airdrie had eight minutes plus stoppage time to get through, but in truth Falkirk seemed completely dumfungled by the goal. They had a last gasp chance at the death from a corner, but it was fired well over on the stretch.
With three points in their Christmas stockings, The Diamonds left Falkirk with renewed optimism for the season ahead. Leaving Bairns greetin' at Christmas is perhaps frowned upon, but given it was their first taste of league defeat, I'm sure they'll live.
For Airdrie, it's all about making sure they don't scupper their good work by turning in a poor performance and result away to Clyde on boxing day. Regardless, this was a good days work; a victory hard earned and a win to cheer even the most jaded Diamond at home.
Idle Hands Man of the Match; Callum Fordyce.
Merry Christmas one and all and thanks for reading.
Airdrie For The Cup. Whit Cup? Any Cup.