May 17, 2023
cinch Championship play-off final
Callum Smith 56
Craig Watson 🟥 90+2
Airdrie take a slender lead into the second leg of the cinch Championship play-off final after Callum Smith’s superb solo goal handed the Diamonds a 1-0 win over Hamilton.
With the side perhaps not at their free-flowing best, the dogged victory could prove to be a massive one with Craig Watson’s late red card the only downside to an exciting evening.
Aaron Taylor-Sinclair returned to the centre of defence for the Diamonds, with player-manager Rhys McCabe moving back to midfield in place of Dean McMaster.
Callum’s younger brother Connor was one of three Smiths named in the visitors line-up.
Accies had the better of the opening exchanges, Lewis Smith making space in the third minute before seeing his shot blocked behind for a corner.
Connor Smith attacked a low ball to the back post five minutes later, but sent his angled drive wide of the target.
The third Smith, goalkeeper Jamie, was first called into action on 12 minutes, claiming Justin Devenny’s corner in a crowded area before his Airdrie counterpart Josh Rae smothered a low Lewis Smith cross.
Airdrie began to take control of the first half with some desperate defending denying the Diamonds after Gabby McGill had burst through on 18 minutes, Adam Frizzell firing an effort over the bar three minutes later.
Skipper Callum Fordyce almost grabbed a wondergoal just after the half-hour mark, controlling a cross on his thigh and sending in a dipping half-volley which Smith tipped over the bar.
A trademark Frizzell through ball found Smith a minute later, but the striker miskicked as he tried to get a shot away.
Connor Smith’s 37th-minute free-kick was easy for Rae, with the last chance of the half falling to Calum Gallagher who did well initially before stumbling as he rounded the last defender.
Airdrie started the second half on the front foot, and Devenny went close with a first-time effort on 50 minutes after determined play from McGill to create the chance.
Accies had the ball in the net three minutes later, Matthew Shiels hooking home an overhead kick, but the substitute was in an offside position.
Airdrie took the lead on 56 minutes, and Smith once again showed his fondness for the play-offs with a wonderful strike, latching onto a missed interception and driving at the Hamilton defence before cutting back between two defenders and thumping the ball emphatically beyond his namesake in goal.
The Diamonds had a penalty claim three minutes later, Smith punching substitute Charlie Telfer’s cross out with the ball being worked to Gallagher, whose shot hit a hand in the box. Referee Steven Kirkland was unimpressed.
Jamie Smith did well to hold a powerful Telfer effort on 63 minutes before Watson calmly headed clear at the other end.
A brilliant passing move broke down on 71 minutes when Gallagher’s cross drifted out of play, and Watson sent a header over the bar three minutes later.
A rare Hamilton chance saw Lewis Smith fire well over on 77 minutes, with Airdrie retaliating through Smith who saw his shot blocked after another fantastic burst of pace.
On 86 minutes Watson saw yellow for a crunching tackle on Accies sub Jean-Pierre Tiéhi.
As the clock ticked down substitute Lewis McGregor did well to create a chance for Smith, who fired well over the bar.
A second yellow card came for Watson two minutes into stoppage time, and the defender will feel hard done by after replays showed minimal contact as he attempted to challenge Connor Smith on the touchline.
It was too little too late for the visitors though, and the Diamonds were able to see out the remaining minutes with ten men to take their lead into Saturday’s return fixture.
Stuart Mathie at Excelsior Stadium.
Photos © John Steven. Click to view full-size.