May 16, 2023
Airdrieonians vs Hamilton Academical
Callum Smith is ready to take on his old side Hamilton for a place in the Championship - and wants the Diamonds to emulate their home form from last week’s play-off semi-final.
Smith was on the scoresheet as Airdrie blew Falkirk away with a scintillating first-half display at the Excelsior a week ago, leaving Gabby McGill to put the icing on the cake with the only goal in a 1-0 win at The Falkirk Stadium on Saturday.
With Hamilton eventually overcoming Alloa Athletic in the other semi, an all-Lanarkshire final is on the cards with the first leg taking place in Airdrie tomorrow night.
Smith is raring to go after a thrilling semi-final performance.
“Here we go again! We’re looking forward to it. Obviously the semi-final was brilliant for us again, as it was last year.
“We knew Falkirk was going to be two tough games, but we came through it quite comfortably in the end. We’ve done well to get to this point and we’re just really looking forward to the final now.”
Although this week’s rivals have been plying their trade in a higher division, Smith sees no reason why the Diamonds can’t push for a similar outcome in the final.
“It was a great night, especially for the fans - the place was rocking. If we do anything like that again it would be brilliant.
“Obviously we know it’s going to be tough, but we’ve been good at home all season and we look forward to doing that again and putting a show on for the fans.”
23-year-old Smith joined Airdrie from their Lanarkshire rivals in 2021, having spent time on loan at the Excelsior from Dunfermline before signing for Accies.
Much has changed at the ZLX Stadium since Smith’s time there, but he’s still familiar with a few of their squad members, including his brother Connor who is on loan from Hearts.
“It’s so different when you’re playing a team that you’ve not played all season, you don’t really know their players and their style, so obviously we’re going to have to go and look at that.
“They’ve got some really good players, especially going forward.
“I know a few of the boys there and they’ll be raring to go as well, trying to keep the club up. From our angle we’re just trying to do the best we can and get the club promoted.”
Smith feels his own form is on the up after a sticky patch earlier in the season. Few will forget his mercurial performance in last year’s semi-final against Montrose, and the striker believes the big occasions bring out the best in him.
“I feel like I maybe had a blip in the season where I wasn’t playing as well, but I feel I’m raring to go again.
“I enjoy the play-offs, I love playing in the big games as most players do, and I feel like that’s when I play my best.”
As the squad continue their own preparations for what is sure to be a nail-biting two-legged affair, Callum had a special word for the Diamonds support.
“They’ve been brilliant all season, and especially in the play-off games. That’s all you heard on Saturday.
“It does give you that wee boost. Some people don’t think of it that way, but I do - I think it gives you that burst of energy when you really need it at the vital times.”
Player-manager Rhys McCabe is fully focussed on the task ahead, and says his players are brimming with self-belief after two outstanding semi-final performances.
“It’s a final, so form goes out the window. Both teams will be looking to go and get the result, it’s not like you can play them in a few months time and try to rectify any mistakes.
“We know we’ve got a big task ahead of us, so we’ll prepare well and go into the game full of confidence.”
The Diamonds boss has no injury worries ahead of tomorrow’s crunch tie.
Referee Steven Kirkland takes charge of his third Airdrie game this season, having officiated October’s 1-0 defeat at Kelty Hearts and March’s 7-0 home win over Peterhead.
Match tickets and streaming details are available using the links below.
Wednesday May 17, 2023
Excelsior Stadium, Airdrie
Graham McNeillie, Gary Hilland