Brechin City climbed to the summit of the League 1 table in dramatic fashion with a victory over the Diamonds at a sun kissed Glebe Park.
The Angus side went into the match with the best defensive record in the league, having only conceded twice in four matches. Despite Airdrie doubling this tally over the course of the 90 minutes, their own defensive frailties ultimately determined the outcome of the match.
Kevin McBride made three changes to the side that narrowly lost to Ayr United in the Irn Bru Cup last week. Out went the suspended Iain Russell along with Conor Scullion and Sean McIntosh, to be replaced by Kevin Schmidt, Adam Brown and Conor McLaughlin.
The home side looked the much livelier in the opening exchanges, with the attacking trio of Andy Jackson, Ross Caldwell and Ally Love proving to be a real headache for the visitors' backline.
Some nice play on the edge of the Airdrie 18 yard box ended with Jackson chesting the ball down for Love, but his shot was blocked by Daniel Boateng. The big centre half was called into action again moments later, sliding in to clear as Love cut the ball back for former Diamond Chris O’Neil to have a pop at goal.
The away side didn’t heed the warnings of this early pressure and were made to pay in the 10th minute. Jackson was at the heart of a neat move which ended with his pass finding Ross Caldwell in the Airdrie box. Despite Rohan Ferguson saving the striker’s initial shot, Love was on hand to pounce and tap in from close range.
Brechin’s lead could have been doubled just minutes later as a looping ball over the top of the Airdrie defence found Jackson, but Ferguson stood tall and blocked his effort with the rebound being fired wide.
Airdrie gradually settled into their rhythm and created a good chance in the 23rd minute. Adam Brown fed Andy Ryan, but his shot was well held by Graeme Smith in the Brechin goal. Moments later, a Ryan Conroy free kick was deflected safely into the keeper’s grasp.
City were then dealt an injury blow in the 34th minute as Smith was forced off after a collision during an Airdrie corner kick. He was replaced by Patrick O’Neil, whose first real job was to pick the ball out of the net as the Diamonds equalised.
Jack Leitch's perfectly flighted ball over the top in the 38th minute saw Ryan spring the offside trap before controlling and skilfully lobbing the ball over the substitute keeper.
Brechin fought hard to regain their lead before the interval, their best chance coming when a deflected Love free kick was turned away by Ferguson in the Airdrie goal. However, the Diamonds stood firm and went into the break on level terms.
Airdrie continued to build upon their strong showing in the latter part of the 1st half and came out swinging.
Immediately after the restart, a fluid passing move found Scott Stewart in an advanced position on the right hand side. His cross found Conor McLaughlin, whose shot was blocked, but the rebound found Brown who proceeded to unleash a fierce drive that was just tipped over by O’Neil. Brown was to test the keeper once again in the 48th minute as his shot from distance was desperately fumbled past the post by O’Neil.
The Diamonds were in complete control by this stage, and despite the home side looking rattled, they were to force their way back into the match just after the hour mark during a frantic spell in and around the Airdrie penalty box.
First, Rohan Ferguson’s throw out landed at the feet of Andy Jackson, but the striker’s shot was snuffed out. Then, in the 65th minute, Ferguson and Boateng collided trying to deal with a Brechin cross. The ball fell to Hill, whose low strike was palmed away by the keeper, only for Jackson to pop up again and convert from close range. Brechin’s celebrations were cut short though, as the linesman adjudged Jackson to have been offside when Hill’s shot was initially struck.
Four minutes later though, the home side’s pressure paid dividends.
A cross from the left hand side bypassed everyone in the box and found its way to Jackson at the back post who made no mistake, hammering past Ferguson.
Airdrie’s ‘never say die’ attitude was on show for all to see, as the lead was only to last for around two minutes. An Adam Brown free kick in the 71st minute was drifted in to the back post where Scott Stewart was waiting to glance the ball past a despairing O’Neil.
The visitors then carved out another good chance in the 76th minute as Jack Leith and Ryan Conroy linked up; playing a clever one two, followed by a curling Conroy shot, which was well held by O’Neil.
Despite this good spell of pressure, Airdrie were undone by the home side in the 78th minute. Tenacious work by Ross Caldwell inside the penalty area led to the busy front man finding strike partner Andy Jackson, but Ferguson got down well to beat away his low drive. However, the Diamonds were unable to clear their lines and a Love cross back into the danger area was met by Dougie Hill who directed his header back across the Airdrie keeper and in off the post.
Airdrie tried to mount another fight back in the closing stages of the match, their best chance coming when substitute Conor Scullion turned his man cleverly, but cracked his shot over the bar.
The outcome will be a sickening blow for the Diamonds who will justifiably feel that they should have perhaps left Brechin with something more to show for their efforts.
Referee: Mr Gavin Duncan
David Hendrie at Glebe Park.
Photographs © Stuart Mathie.