January 20, 2024
Scottish Gas Men's Scottish Cup round 4
Nikolay Todorov 54
The Diamonds recorded a convincing victory to advance to the last 16 of the Scottish Gas Scottish Cup as St. Johnstone became the second cinch Premiership team to falter at the Excelsior this season.
Despite the difference in leagues, getting past Craig Levein’s Saints side - who haven’t had a competitive game since a 0-0 draw at Livingston on 27th December - seemed no tall order for a high-flying Airdrie team.
Rhys McCabe’s side came into the match in a confident mood - well rested and in a rich vein of form, following the previous week’s postponement of a league meeting with Dunfermline Athletic and three impressive victories in a row.
The player-manager’s line-up was the same which swept aside Raith Rovers in their last game, except for the addition of Dean McMaster to bolster the midfield in place of Kanayo Megwa, who had been recalled from his loan spell by parent club Hibernian after a fine start to the season.
The visitors, on the other hand, made a total of six changes coming into the match, in the hope of turning around their fortunes and improving their record of only one win in their last five attempts.
The whistle of referee Kevin Clancy’s first Airdrie match of the campaign preceded a Saints-dominated start, as the Perth side
sought to deliver a quick sucker-punch to a determined opponent.
Despite a majority of possession in the opening minutes, a lack of chances created allowed the Diamonds to grow into the game, as some excellent Liam McStravick play on the left touchline allowed Mason Hancock a chance to strike, his effort just missing from inside the box.
The pressure was maintained by the home side, as some poor passing play in the St. Johnstone backline saw the ball stolen by Adam Frizzell, who bore down on goal but saw his strike well saved by Dimitar Mitov.
With both teams seemingly cancelling each other out, The Diamonds were dealt a blow as striker Gabby McGill went down with an injury and was unable to continue, being replaced by Calum Gallagher.
Despite considerable Airdrie possession, no real chances were created by either side up until Kevin Clancy called to an end an entertaining, yet rather uneventful, first half.
Craig Levein opted to swap Fran Franczak for Sven Sprangler at the break in an attempt to liven up his team’s play and establish a foothold in the match.
Airdrie, however, were the team who began the second half in dominant fashion, as a phenomenal Hancock cross saw the ball taken away from the head of Nikolay Todorov by a flying Mitov as he lurked in the penalty area.
The pressure on the travelling backline soon became relentless, as the cinch Championship outfit created chance after chance, resulting in the eventual breaching of the Saints defence in the 54th minute.
McStravick teed up Charlie Telfer, whose excellent floated ball was met and pulled back by Watson at the far post, finding Nikolay Todorov in the middle of the box. The Bulgarian made no mistake in finding the back of the net for the fourth time in his last four games.
After establishing their winning position, Airdrie seemed happy to allow the visitors more of the ball and they soaked up what little pressure that resulted with relative ease.
Following a perfectly timed Josh Rae challenge on striker Benjamin Kimpioka, who looked to be through on goal, McCabe made a double change. Substitute Calum Gallagher was brought back off due to injury to be replaced by Gavin Gallagher, while McStravick was also substituted to allow for the debut of new loan signing Arron Lyall.
The only half chance afforded to St. Johnstone after that was a long range strike by Graham Carey, which the Airdrie goalkeeper did well to beat away, whilst a tigerish midfield hunted down the ball to disallow any potential rebound.
A masterclass in seeing out a match followed, as the only notable event from the final 15 minutes was the introduction of Airdrie’s Josh O’Connor and the visitors’ Stevie May.
St. Johnstone were denied throughout the match by a defence who fully deserved their third clean sheet in the same number of games.
The full-time whistle was met with raucous celebrations from the home faithful, as the toppling of another Premiership side means they can now look forward to tomorrow’s Fifth Round Draw, and a hugely important cinch Championship meeting with Partick Thistle in a week’s time.
Daniel Sutherland at Excelsior Stadium.
Photos © Graeme Hart / Perthshire Picture Agency