January 1, 2024
Airdrieonians vs Inverness CT
Mason Hancock’s first Airdrie goal set the Diamonds on the way to a stunning comeback win at Hampden on Saturday, and the defender wants to build on the result when Inverness first-foot the Excelsior on Tuesday.
Hancock’s 66th-minute header cancelled out Dom Thomas’s first-half penalty goal, setting the stage for Nikolay Todorov to bag a stoppage-time winner and a memorable victory over Queen’s Park.
After a successful year for the club which saw a return to the Championship after ten years, a match with twists and turns and a dramatic ending seemed the appropriate way to see out 2023.
English defender Hancock was delighted to get his first goal since joining the Diamonds from Aberdeen in August.
The 20-year-old said: “I go up for enough corners, it was bound to come!
“It was a great ball in from Chas, and I was luckily the one that got on the end of it. It’s some place to do it, so I’m delighted with that - that’s the first one!”
The win put an end to a difficult run of results for Airdrie, with three defeats and a draw preceding Saturday’s trip to Hampden.
Hancock was quick to praise a determined performance from the Diamonds.
“It’s massive, our spirits are high but we won’t forget how we were feeling going back two, three weeks. It isn’t a nice feeling, but that’s football.
“To go 1-0 down and really grind to get the three points, it shows our character. We were tested, and we came through.”
With 2023 finishing in style, Rhys McCabe’s squad barely have time for a rest before starting their fixture schedule for 2024.
Inverness CT are the first opponents of the year, and they come to the Excelsior on Tuesday to face the Diamonds for a fourth time this season.
Airdrie held the upper hand at the beginning of the season, and it was another late Todorov winner that handed the Diamonds a Viaplay Cup win at the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium in July. First half goals from Cammy Ballantyne and Charlie Telfer had been pegged back by Charlie Gilmour and Billy Mckay before Todorov popped up to haunt his former side.
When the sides met again on league duty in Airdrie a month later, a first minute Cameron Harper own goal set the Diamonds on the path to victory, Calum Gallagher adding a second before Adam Frizzell’s 50th-minute red card. A Nathan Shaw goal for the visitors proved to be only a consolation.
Before the sides met for the third time, the Caley Jags had a change in the dug-out with Duncan Ferguson replacing the outgoing Billy Dodds. David Wotherspoon grabbed the only goal of the game in an evenly-matched October encounter in the Highlands.
Hancock, who featured in two of the three matches, says the difference in Inverness under their new manager was plain to see.
“They’ve definitely got a bit more life about them than when I first joined. That happens in football when someone new comes in, a clean slate.
“They’re still carrying that on, but we’ll be looking to get all three points again on Tuesday.”
And with each side winning at home in the league meetings to date, Mason is hoping for that trend to continue.
“It won’t be an easy game, there’s no easy games in this league. But we’re back at home and we’ll be confident, so we need to really kick on now.
“I’m expecting us to have quite a lot of the ball, being at home and making the pitch as big as we can. I expect them to break on us and play the counter.
“We’ll go there with a gameplan and we’ll match them up in terms of the second balls and the dirty side, and we’ll go in flying with confidence.”
Manager Rhys McCabe will still be without defender Cammy Ballantyne (groin) and midfielder Murray Aiken (ankle), but has no other injury concerns ahead of the match.
Scott Lambie is the man in the middle for the opening match of 2024. It’s also the referee’s first game involving Airdrie this season.
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Tuesday January 2, 2024
Excelsior Stadium, Airdrie
John McCrossan, Craig Macrae