November 18, 2023
SPFL Trust Trophy quarter-final
Airdrieonians win 6-5 on penalties
Airdrieonians progressed to the SPFL Trust Trophy semi-final after a penalty shoot-out win over Morton in dreich conditions at Cappielow.
Following last season’s play-off heroics, Josh Rae was once again the Diamonds hero with some outstanding saves over the 90 minutes and a sudden death stop from Lewis McGrattan’s spot-kick.
There were four changes to the starting line-up which defeated Arbroath a week ago, Aaron Taylor-Sinclair, Nikolay Todorov, Liam McStravick and Kanayo Megwa making way for Callum Fordyce, Calum Gallagher, Josh O’Connor and Lewis McGregor.
Airdrie started brightly, Ryan Mullen tipping away an early Charlie Telfer cross and Fordyce volleying over the bar from close range after a teasing Adam Frizzell corner.
Morton hit back through Iain Wilson, who forced an excellent 14th-minute save from Rae, who got an outstretched leg to the midfielder’s strike.
Frizzell was stopped by a perfectly-timed tackle on the edge of the box after some neat play by Ballantyne on 22 minutes, before O’Connor had a shot well blocked eight minutes later.
Mullen reacted quickly to snuff out the danger as Telfer played in Gallagher on 33 minutes, with a free-kick at the other end almost sneaking in at Rae’s far post seconds later.
Fordyce ended a 40th-minute Morton attack with an excellent tackle, and a minute later Frizzell came close to opening the scoring, steering an angled effort past Mullen only to see it strike the post and bounce to safety.
The hosts were a side transformed after the break, and they took the game to Airdrie with an early attack which required two good Rae saves and a Ballantyne block to maintain parity.
The Greenock men came even closer on 50 minutes, winger Jack Bearne smashing a shot against the upright after a flowing counter-attack.
Robbie Muirhead sent a 52nd-minute header just wide of the post before testing Rae from range with a powerful effort.
Rae was the difference again a minute later, getting fingertips to Bearne’s looping effort from the left flank and touching it over the bar when it looked destined for the top corner.
Both keepers were in action on 58 minutes, Rae clawing out a close-ranger header before Airdrie broke and Mullen kept O’Connor at bay with a fine save.
The Morton keeper denied Telfer on the hour mark, the midfielder picking up after good footwork by McGregor and curling a fine effort goalward.
Muirhead almost caught Rae out with a cheeky lob on 61 minutes, but the Airdrie #1 was alert to the danger, scampering back to make the catch.
The hosts clipped the post again on 66 minutes as the relentless second half action continued, but it took a last-ditch hooked clearance to stop a long ball finding Frizzell unmarked in the box.
A slightly scrappier spell followed with few chances on goal, but some feisty tackles were materialising as the game ticked toward a conclusion.
Rae kept out a deflected effort with three minutes remaining, with Mullen also in action in stoppage time, blocking substitute Todorov’s effort with his legs.
The hosts were reduced to ten men with 94 minutes on the clock, McGregor breaking through on goal despite the home side’s appeal for a foul in the build-up, and Muirhead racing back to take out his former team-mate from behind with referee Ross Hardie left with no option but to flash the red card.
The final action of the match saw Mullen pushing away Rhys McCabe’s effort from the free-kick, and penalties were required to settle the tie.
In similar fashion to May’s play-off final, the first ten spot-kicks all found the net, with Fordyce, Telfer, McCabe, Todorov and Frizzell all doing the business for the Diamonds. Gillespie, Oakley, Blues, Crawford and Wilson replied for Morton, meaning sudden death.
Ballantyne was first up for Airdrie, smashing home his penalty to leave Lewis McGrattan needing to score. The midfielder’s penalty was powerfully struck, but Rae dived to block and the Diamonds advanced to the last four.
A semi-final meeting with Raith Rovers now awaits Airdrie, with the tie scheduled for the first weekend in February.
Stuart Mathie at Cappielow Park.
Photos © Redacted Media. Click to view full-size.