May 8, 2023
Airdrieonians vs Falkirk
Cammy Ballantyne is ready for a tough test when Airdrie meet Falkirk in Tuesday’s play-off semi-final first leg - but the defender knows that the Diamonds are capable of matching anyone on their day.
With a top four position secured two weeks ago, Airdrie finished off their regular league season with a victory at FC Edinburgh on Saturday, Gabby McGill’s double securing a 4-1 win alongside goals from top scorer Calum Gallagher and debutant Corrie Fellows.
The result confirmed a third-place finish for the Diamonds, and Ballantyne says a hard-fought league campaign has all led to this moment.
“This is what you work for all season. Obviously you’d rather win the league, but play-offs was the target this season and we’ve got there.
“Now it’s just down to us to enjoy it and get us through to the final.”
With the final standings only confirmed on Saturday, Airdrie finally found out their opposition for the crunch ties - and there’s been nothing between the sides over four meetings this season.
Airdrie enjoyed a 4-0 win at the Excelsior in August, with Gallagher (2), McGill and Salim Kouider-Aïssa on the scoresheet.
The points were shared at the Falkirk Stadium in December as Kai Kennedy and Callum Smith traded goals.
Falkirk left with a 3-1 win as the sides met in Airdrie again in February, Kennedy’s double adding to a Gary Oliver strike as the Bairns overturned Gallagher’s early goal.
And another draw at Falkirk followed in April, a brace from Gallagher putting the Diamonds in front after Kennedy had opened the scoring, only for Rumarn Burrell to grab a last-minute equaliser.
Ballantyne knows that the teams are well acquainted with each other ahead of the semi-final ties.
“It doesn’t really matter who you’re getting - you’ve got to beat someone to get promoted. There’s not going to be any easy roads.
“We’ve played them four times this season so they know us and we know them. They’re a really good team, they play nice football. Their wingers, strikers and midfielders are good players, so it’s going to be a test.
“You need to focus on it as just another game. If we play our own game, confident on the front foot, then we’ve got a chance to beat anyone.”
There was play-off final heartache for the Diamonds last year as an extra-time penalty secured promotion for Queen’s Park, but defender Ballantyne featured for Montrose in the epic semi-final before joining Airdrie in the summer.
The Diamonds came out on top in an incredible game that day, turning round a 4-1 deficit with 20 minutes remaining to win 6-5 on aggregate.
A sizeable home support raised the roof as the unbelievable scenes played out on the pitch, and Cammy says that kind of backing will be needed again on Tuesday.
“The fans are always key, they get you through the tough times - when you get to 60 or 70 minutes and you’re needing that wee lift, they get you through it.
“We’ll be needing everyone to support us to the end!”
After four close encounters during the league season, player-manager Rhys McCabe is expecting another competitive game against Falkirk on Tuesday.
“In terms of personnel, you know the majority of their squad and systems and styles that they’ve played.
“We’ll go out there with the right approach and look to get the game won.
“It’s one that I’m looking forward to, and I know the boys are. We’ve been itching at the bit for a number of weeks, and we’ll be making sure that we go out and give everyone what they’re wanting.”
The Diamonds boss reports no injury worries ahead of the tie, with midfielder Ben Stanway left out of the squad at Edinburgh as a precaution after a neck spasm.
Referee Scott Lambie’s only other Airdrie match this season was October’s 2-0 away defeat to Alloa Athletic.
Match tickets and streaming details are available using the links below.
Tuesday May 9, 2023
Excelsior Stadium, Airdrie
Graham McNeillie, Ross Nelson