September 23, 2023
Calum Gallagher 73
Airdrie gained an important three points in a deserved 1-0 win to continue their 100% home record in the cinch Championship and lift themselves to sixth in the table.
The Diamonds welcomed a Raith Rovers side full of familiar faces to the Excelsior Stadium, as Ian Murray brought Josh Mullin and former Diamond Dylan Easton back into the starting XI in order to try and preserve their status as league leaders.
Rhys McCabe wished no repeat of the previous week’s heavy defeat at the hands of Arbroath, and sought to avoid one by naming three changes to his team – with Murray Aiken, Mason Hancock and Gabby McGill replacing the manager himself, Aaron Taylor-Sinclair and Josh O’Connor.
Referee Lloyd Wilson’s whistle was followed by a tentative start to the match, as both sides attempted to figure each other out early on.
Airdrie soon began to recapture some of the excellent passing football they have become known for, carving out an opportunity for Lewis McGregor to head just wide after a sweeping move only seven minutes in.
Some more nice play allowed Aiken to release Cammy Ballantyne down the right hand side, however his ball was just too far in front of Adam Frizzell and Calum Gallagher.
The away side then began to ease into the game, forcing Callum Fordyce into a superb last-ditch challenge on Sam Stanton just as he seemed to be through on goal in the 13th minute.
The match soon evened out, with the pendulum of chances swinging both ways. A sharp Kevin Dabrowski save denied Frizzell from the edge of the box before Gallagher got underneath a Cammy Ballantyne cross to nod just over in the 31st minute.
The 33rd minute delivered a key moment, when a Raith penalty shout was waved away by the referee to the amazement of Ian Murray, before a fantastic fingertip save from Josh Rae denied Stanton from point-blank range.
A Mullin direct free-kick on the edge of the box was prematurely celebrated by the travelling fans soon after, before the referee signalled for a goal kick as it was curled into the side netting.
Just prior to half time, Stanton came closest to the scoresheet for Raith as he spotted Josh Rae off his line and cannoned a shot off the post from the best part of 40 yards, much to the relief of the Airdrie goalkeeper.
The half-time whistle brought a goalless yet eventful first half to a close, leaving both managers to ponder how to break through their opposition.
Raith started the second 45 as they ended the first, with Scott Brown curling narrowly wide of the post, however the strong Rovers restart was resisted by Airdrie who began to take control.
It wasn’t until the 67th minute that any meaningful chances were created by either side, and saw Rae make a sublime close range stop to deny Stanton once again.
However, this was reciprocated at the other end soon later as Dabrowski produced a fine save to deny Aiken his first Diamonds goal.
Airdrie maintained the pressure on the Pole’s goal following this opportunity, and were finally rewarded for their efforts in the 73rd minute.
After a flowing move consisting of 25 passes, McGill found himself tangled in a mass of Raith bodies, and squared to the ever-alert Gallagher who produced yet another fine finish, passing the ball into the bottom left corner.
Despite the addition of a second former Diamond to play in the form of Callum Smith, the visiting side found it difficult to break down a stubborn Airdrie backline, and the match was seen out in a professional fashion.
The referee’s final whistle was met with a roar from the home crowd, as they claimed their first clean sheet of the league season and their third successive league victory at the Excelsior, against a side who began the day leading the cinch Championship.
Rhys McCabe will hope to produce another performance of the same level as they travel to Greenock to face Morton in a weeks’ time, while his opposite number will look to get back to winning ways as they travel to Somerset Park.
Daniel Sutherland at Excelsior Stadium.
Photos © Redacted Media. Click to view full-size.