May 9, 2023
cinch Championship play-off semi-final
Justin Devenny 8
Rhys McCabe 14, 90+5 pen
Callum Smith 16
Aaron Taylor-Sinclair 31
Callum Fordyce 41
Josh Rae 🟥 65
Coll Donaldson 61
Kai Kennedy 68
Jordan Allan 🟥 90
Airdrie served up yet another play-off semi-final thriller at the Excelsior with a stunning 6-2 win over Falkirk.
The stadium has seen drama at this stage in recent seasons, but the victory against John McGlynn’s side proved every bit as epic as recent encounters against Montrose and Cove Rangers.
Having rotated his squad over the last two league fixtures, Rhys McCabe chose a more familiar looking side to face the Bairns, selecting himself in midfield alongside Justin Devenny and Adam Frizzell, and the trio dominated the middle of the park and handed the Diamonds the platform for a thrilling win.
As the teams sized each other up in the opening stages, the visiting rearguard was busier as Brian Kinnear claimed a third-minute Devenny cross and Coll Donaldson dispossessed Callum Smith a minute later.
A ball from the left found Gabby McGill unmarked in the six-yard box on eight minutes, but the bounce off the striker came back off the bar.
A minute later the Diamonds were in front, McGill taking a pass from Frizzell and squaring to Devenny, who took a touch before firing a brilliant left-footed strike into the bottom corner.
Calum Gallagher was fouled on the edge of the box on 12 minutes, and player-manager McCabe found a gap in the defensive wall to guide home a trademark free-kick and put his side 2-0 up.
And before the fans could catch their breath, Smith made it three, winning the ball 25-yards out and peeling off for a return pass from McGill before placing the ball beyond Kinnear at the near post.
3-0 down, Falkirk managed their first attempt on goal after 20 minutes, but midfielder Liam Henderson nodded wide of the target.
As the visitors tried to mount a comeback, Josh Rae was in commanding form, punching clear on 23 minutes as the ball was fired into a crowded box.
The Diamonds keeper was in action again three minutes later, positioning himself well to block from Kai Kennedy at his right-hand post.
Having weathered the Falkirk rally with skipper Callum Fordyce momentous at the back, Airdrie got back on the front foot and Kinnear did well to cut out a 29th-minute Cammy Ballantyne cross.
Two minutes later the Diamonds increased their lead, and it was ex-Bairn Aaron Taylor-Sinclair who grabbed his first goal, the Antiguan international planting a towering header past Kinnear.
The Falkirk wall stood up to another McCabe free-kick on 39 minutes, but it took Airdrie only two minutes to add their fifth of the match, the management team combining as McCabe flicked on Devenny’s corner for Fordyce to storm through and head home.
The visitors introduced top scorer Callumn Morrison at half-time, and it seemed to spark life into the beleaguered side.
Greater urgency and movement gave the Bairns the impetus to attack, but it was Airdrie who should have increased their lead on 55 minutes when Frizzell skipped past a couple of challenges to square across goal.
A good block by the impressive Fordyce handed Falkirk a corner on the hour mark, and although Rae produced a fantastic stop from the initial effort, Coll Donaldson reacted quickest to poke the loose ball home.
Four minutes later things took a turn for the worse for the Diamonds as some defensive hesitancy led to Rae rushing off his line and clashing with Rumarn Burrell. Referee Scott Lambie showed the keeper the red card, with Gallagher making way for David Hutton.
The Airdrie coach’s first job was to pick the ball out of the net as Kennedy’s free-kick took an unfortunate deflection to completely wrongfoot the keeper and make it 5-2.
Down to ten, the Diamonds were forced to manage the game to preserve their lead, and they did so magnificently, a compact defensive unit standing up to anything Falkirk could throw at them.
McGill hit the side netting with nine minutes remaining as Airdrie’s counter-attacking play almost reaped rewards, but the numbers were levelled on 90 minutes as Falkirk sub and former Diamond Jordan Allan caught Hutton in the face with a high boot, the referee flashing the red card instantly.
Deep into stoppage time McGill and Frizzell combined to tee up Airdrie sub Ben Stanway, who was challenged from behind by Leon McCann with a penalty rightly awarded.
McCabe stepped up to calmly net the spot-kick, firing to Kinnear’s left and beating the West Ham loanee’s despairing dive.
With the second leg looming at the Falkirk Stadium on Saturday the Diamonds have a keeper conundrum to solve, but with a four-goal cushion to take to Grangemouth the management can be pleased with a superb first-leg performance.
Photos © John Steven. Click to view full-size.