January 6, 2024
Nikolay Todorov 24
Ross Millen 🟥
Airdrie maintained their 100% winning record in 2024 as
table-topping Raith Rovers were unable to break through a solid Diamonds defence, and the 1-0 scoreline from September was replicated on a sunny afternoon at the Excelsior.
Rhys McCabe sought to make it three wins in the same number of games by making only one change to the side which dispatched Inverness Caledonian Thistle on Tuesday night, as Gavin Gallagher made way for Liam McStravick.
Ian Murray named a side containing ex-Diamonds Dylan Easton and Callum Smith; Smith being one of two changes to the Rovers team from last weekend. The other was a goalkeeping change that saw another former Airdrie man, Andy McNeil, return to the starting line-up after being recalled from loan to replace the injured Kevin Dąbrowski.
Referee Dan McFarlane’s whistle was followed by a tentative start, as both teams tried to feel each other out.
Airdrie soon began to take control of the match however, as numerous chances were created in the span of a few minutes. The best of these was a brilliant curling shot, unleashed by Kanayo Megwa on the left-hand edge of the penalty area, which was held by McNeil in the top right of his goal.
The pressure was kept on the visiting backline as the ball was stolen in the midfield and a quick counter-attack was led by
McStravick, who supplied it to Nikolay Todorov on the edge of the box for him to curl a superb strike - only stopped by the fingertips of a flying McNeil.
The pressure paid off in the 23rd minute, when the first and only goal of the match came the way of the home side.
Mason Hancock did well to rob the Raith defence of the ball on the left touchine, before he whipped in a wicked delivery to be attacked by Todorov - who made no mistake in leaping highest and firing a bullet header off the post and into the left of the net to notch his third goal in three games.
Airdrie settled into their winning position comfortably, limiting their table-topping opposition to few sights of goal, with their only half-chance of the first half coming via a curling Easton strike saved by Josh Rae, and the subsequent stramash in the box cleared after some resilient Diamonds defending.
The referee’s whistle blew to signal the end of a first half dominated by Airdrie, allowing Rhys McCabe a chance to reflect on his side’s thoroughly deserved position.
The second half began in a controlled fashion, as the home side seemed content to allow Raith the majority of possession while limiting them to few chances.
Ian Murray sought to break this pattern in the 62nd minute with a quadruple change, as Ross Matthews, Jamie Gullan, Jack Hamilton and Aidan Connolly replaced Lewis Vaughan,Euan Murray, Josh Mullin and Easton. The Diamonds responded with a change of their own in the 69th minute, as McStravick was replaced by Lewis McGregor.
Despite this, very few chances were created for either side, as Airdrie dictated the tempo of the match and were happy to play around with the visitors in the middle of the park. Raith’s last throw of the dice came when yet another former Diamond, Scott McGill, entered play in place of Liam Dick in the 80th minute.
Some of the best football played by the home side in recent weeks came within the next minutes, as some superb passing moves led to a flurry of chances being created, but to no reward.
The commitment of the Airdrie squad was summed up by a fantastic sliding challenge from the in-form Megwa on Smith as Raith were breaking, before beginning a mazy run from one box to another to swing a dangerous ball into the danger zone. This was loudly appreciated by the sizeable home support.
Airdrie saw the game out with two more changes, as Todorov made way for Calum Gallagher and Adam Frizzell was substituted for Dean McMaster.
A controlled and disciplined last few minutes saw the game out with no real threats on Rae’s goal and ensured all three points stayed in Airdrie, while Raith's misery was compounded by a straight red card for Ross Millen after the final whistle.
A successful Airdrie afternoon was rounded off having taken seven points out of a possible nine so far this season from the league leaders, with three wins in three games and ending the afternoon two points clear of Greenock Morton in fourth place in the cinch Championship table.
Rhys McCabe’s side will look to carry their rich vein of form into next weekend’s clash with fellow play-off hopefuls Dunfermline Athletic at East End Park.
Daniel Sutherland at Excelsior Stadium.
Photos © Redacted Media. Click to view full-size.