January 19, 2024
Airdrieonians vs St Johnstone
Callum Fordyce hopes to give St Johnstone a frosty reception as the Premiership side return from their winter break to take on the Diamonds in the Scottish Cup on Saturday.
The Perth side haven’t had a competitive match since drawing 0-0 at Livingston on December 27, but Airdrie have racked up three wins out of three since then, beating Queen’s Park, Inverness and Raith Rovers.
The Diamonds’ momentum was stalled last weekend when a suspected undersoil heating fault flooded the East End Park pitch and put paid to the Championship fixture against Dunfermline Athletic, which led to a bittersweet weekend for Fordyce.
“It was nice to actually get a bit of family time, but it felt strange as well - you’re not used to having a Saturday off!
“You want to keep momentum going, but obviously a couple of the boys have been carrying niggles and playing through things. They got a chance to rest, but at the end of the day you want to be playing every Saturday.”
With the league campaign unexpectedly on hold, the squad were able to turn their attention to this weekend’s Scottish Gas Scottish Cup tie against St Johnstone.
The Saints endured a difficult start to the season, but have seen results improve since the appointment of former Scotland boss Craig Levein.
Diamonds player-assistant manager Fordyce insists that cup upsets have to be earned, and is in no doubt that the McDiarmid Park side are favourites for the tie.
“100%, and probably rightly so - they’re in the Premiership. We’ve got to focus on ourselves, as much as we’ll give them respect knowing that they’re a team above us in the leagues.
“We’re on a good run and we’ve got a good record here against top-tier teams, but you’ve got to go and earn that. We’ve done well against those teams because we earned it - the respect from the opposition as well as the right to go and play.
“Everybody’s looking forward to it. Hopefully it’s a good spectacle, and hopefully we get a wee cup run.”
With it being St Johnstone’s first competitive match of the calendar year, Airdrie will be hoping to continue their momentum and catch the visitors cold - but Fordyce can also see the advantages of pausing the campaign.
“If you ask any of the boys, they would love to have a winter break. I think the whole of Scotland should have it. It’s a chance to get a rest and recharge the batteries, and boys need that.
“They’ll be coming here fresh, but we’ve got to make sure that we’re in game mode. We’ll put that towards them and see how they handle it. Having that wee bit off, are they ready for the intensity that we can play at.”
It’s been almost 15 years since the side met in competitive action, and that Division One game in May 2009 was played in strange circumstances - with a freak downpour postponing the original fixture until the league season had been completed. St Johnstone ran out 4-0 winners against an Airdrie side full of teenage debutants.
Much has changed since then, with St Johnstone spending much of the interim in the top flight and Airdrie returning to the second tier last summer, and Callum says the Diamonds’ evolution is ongoing. The side currently sit in the Championship play-off places having tightened up considerably at the back over the course of the season.
“We spoke about it at the start of the season, we scored loads of goals last year but we also conceded a good number. The focus was on having that platform to go and play forward - with our forward players we’re always going to score goals.
“Everybody knows their roles - a defender’s job is to keep clean sheets and we’ve done really well, we’re one of the highest in the league, so we just need to keep going.”
Player-manager Rhys McCabe added: “Just looking from afar, Craig and the guys going in there have given the club a wee bit of freshness. The results speak that way.
“He’s an experienced manager, he’s managed the national side, so he knows what he’s doing and they’ll have done their homework on us.
“We’ve done well against top level opposition, and that’s because we’ve competed, we’ve looked fit - basics and fundamentals have given us the platform to play.
“We’re fully expecting a tough game against an experienced side, but we think that we’ve got enough quality that we can go and hurt them, especially at home.”
The Diamonds boss is still without defender Cammy Ballantyne (groin) and midfielder Murray Aiken (ankle), but striker Calum Gallagher has resumed full training after picking up a calf knock against Raith Rovers.
Referee Kevin Clancy is in charge of the fourth round tie, his first match featuring Airdrie this season.
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Saturday January 20, 2024
Excelsior Stadium, Airdrie
Sean Carr, John Stewart