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February 2, 2024

SPFL Trust Trophy semi-final

Raith Rovers





Nikolay Todorov 6


Airdrie earned a shot at silverware as Nikolay Todorov fired the Diamonds to the SPFL Trust Trophy final with a 1-0 win over Raith Rovers.

A third win of the season over Ian Murray’s side will see Rhys McCabe and his squad face either Falkirk or The New Saints in next month’s final.

Airdrie will have a chance to lift the cup without playing a home tie in the competition, having won away matches against University of Stirling, Rangers B, Greenock Morton and now Raith.

Manager McCabe made no changes to the starting XI which drew with Partick Thistle last weekend, but there were welcome returns to the bench for Cammy Ballantyne and Calum Gallagher, with new loan signing Chris Donnell also named among the substitutes.

Raith had their usual host of ex-Airdrie men in the squad, with Callum Smith, Kyle Turner and Dylan Easton starting the match while Andy McNeil and Scott McGill were on the bench.

The first action of the match saw a booking for Raith’s new loan striker Zak Rudden, who was perhaps lucky not to receive a second-minute red card after catching Dean McMaster with an elbow.

Lewis McGregor showed early signs of the trouble he would cause when he burst through the middle a minute later, but the slightest touch from a defender took the ball out his path and Dąbrowski gathered.

The Raith keeper was in action again in the fourth minute as Airdrie’s strong start continued, Todorov trying his luck from distance but seeing his effort saved.

Dąbrowski was helpless two minutes later as McGregor’s persistence allowed the ball to be played across the box. As the Raith defence struggled to clear, a deft pass from Charlie Telfer left Todorov with the freedom of Kirkcaldy, and the big Bulgarian made no mistake as he thundered the ball into the roof of the net.

The home side rallied after the opener, and Callum Fordyce had to be alert on 13 minutes, stretching to head out Easton’s cross with Rudden waiting to pounce.

The Diamonds defence stood firm as Raith enjoyed a spell of pressure midway through the half, but in truth there was little for Josh Rae to do as the Rovers’ possession came to nothing.

Man of the Match Fordyce was marshalling the defence well, and rushed out to the touchline to thwart a 25th-minute attack before centre-half partner McCabe blocked an Easton effort a minute later.

Airdrie hit back with McStravick and Frizzell combining well, but the Diamonds captain saw his shot blocked just before the half hour.

McStravick and Telfer both had shots charged down on the edge of the box as an entertaining first half moved into the last ten minutes, with the home defence desperately clearing a 39th-minute attack led by Frizzell and McGregor.

Although they finished the half strongly, Airdrie still had to defend well when called upon, and McCabe personified the calmness of the back line with a neat back-header to Rae a minute before the whistle.

On-loan Fulham midfielder Chris Donnell made his Diamonds debut ten minutes into the second half, replacing the injured Liam McStravick, and he was almost celebrating two minutes later when a good block denied McGregor.

As Raith pushed forward in search of an equaliser, Easton’s 57th-minute shot cleared the bar. The counter-attacking pace of McGregor was Airdrie’s focal point, and it almost yielded results from the goal-kick when Dąbrowski denied the makeshift striker one-on-one.

Lewis Vaughan got on the end of a flick-on on the hour-mark, but again there was simply no way past Fordyce.

As the visiting defence dealt with everything through the middle, Rae was plucking crosses out of the air with ease, and it began to look like Todorov’s early goal would be enough.

The Diamonds keeper did have one save to make, Raith substitute Aidan Connolly firing through a crowded box on 73 minutes, but Rae was down quickly to produce the stop.

Donnell was denied a chance at a fine solo goal with 14 minutes remaining, a last-ditch tackle getting just enough on the ball to take it back to Dąbrowski, with Connolly firing well over as Raith countered.

There were cameo appearance for Cammy Ballantyne and Calum Gallagher on their returns from injury, and two late Rae saves from weak headers capped off a fine evening for the Diamonds.

The final whistle was greeted by jubilant scenes in the noisy away end, and Airdrie can now look forward to a Scottish Cup tie against Hearts and a return to league action, knowing that a cup final awaits.

All eyes will be on The Falkirk Stadium this evening as the Diamonds wait to find out their final opponents, but Rhys McCabe’s men will surely be confident regardless after another top performance stretched their unbeaten run to seven matches.

Stuart Mathie at Stark's Park.

Photos © Redacted Media. Click to view full-size.

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