February 11, 2024
Scottish Gas Men's Scottish Cup round 5
Adam Frizzell 34
Heart of Midlothian
Lawrence Shankland 11, 73
Kenneth Vargas 18
Calem Nieuwenhof 21
Despite a valiant Airdrie performance, a clinical Hearts team secured a 4-1 victory to progress to the quarter-final of the Scottish Gas Men’s Scottish Cup.
A packed-out Excelsior Stadium was the venue for a blockbuster fifth-round tie which pitted the in-form Diamonds against Steven Naismith’s high-flying Jambos side, in front of the BBC’s television cameras and a bumper crowd.
Overcoming their third cinch Premiership team of the season seemed a tall order even for Rhys McCabe’s Airdrie, as Heart of Midlothian made the trip to North Lanarkshire unbeaten in their last ten matches.
The Diamonds were, however, also in terrific form coming into the tie - undefeated in their last seven and the recipients of consistent praise for their free-flowing style of football following their promotion to the cinch Championship.
The injured Liam McStravick was the only casualty from their
1-0 SPFL Trust Trophy Semi-Final victory against Raith Rovers the previous Friday, with the Northern Irish midfielder way for Rangers loanee Arron Lyall.
Steven Naismith made three changes from the side which dispatched St Johnstone in midweek, as Zander Clark made way for the returning Craig Gordon between the sticks as did
Frankie Kent for Craig Halkett in central defence, while Jorge Grant replaced former Airdrie loanee Scott Fraser in midfield.
The home side began the match in strong fashion, winning numerous early corners in their attempt to gain a foothold over their higher-league opponents.
The quality of the Jam Tarts soon became evident however, as the large travelling support were given a superb goal to cheer in the tenth minute.
Some quick passing play saw the ball played into the left of the penalty area to Kingsley, before an inch perfect cut-back was met by Scotland marksman Lawrence Shankland, who made no mistake in sweeping home to give his side an early advantage.
Despite the setback, the Diamonds were keen to make a quick comeback, and came close when some slack play by Gordon saw Adam Frizzell gifted the ball on the edge of the box, but his shot was deflected narrowly over.
A string of corners followed, and the equaliser very nearly came in the 17th minute when the ball made its way through to Mason Hancock, who sent his header against the Hearts crossbar.
Airdrie’s hopes were further sunk only a minute later, when the visitors’ second goal arrived. It came from a phenomenal floated Halkett pass over the top of the backline, which found Kenneth Vargas through on goal. The Costa Rican’s initial effort was blocked by Josh Rae - but the unfortunate rebound struck Vargas and rolled into the back of the net.
The evening went from bad to worse for the home side only three minutes later, when Calem Nieuwenhof made space on the edge of the penalty area before firing a perfect strike into Rae’s bottom right corner to rub salt into the Airdrie wounds.
While it would have been easy to down tools and absorb pressure at 3-0 down, the Diamonds stuck to their footballing principles, and were rewarded for their persistence in the 34th minute.
Lewis McGregor’s blistering pace had allowed him to latch onto a high ball before playing it back to Hancock on the left hand touchline. He swung an inch-perfect first-time cross into the path of Frizzell, who connected with a firm header home to reignite Airdrie hopes.
Despite the reinjection of belief into the home crowd, the first half petered out in rather uneventful fashion, allowing Rhys McCabe a chance to gather his thoughts.
The second half was considerably more subdued than the first, as Hearts seemed happy to keep possession without troubling Rae’s goal.
The first real chance of the half came in the 58th minute, when the ball was worked to Alan Forrest on the edge of the six-yard box, who managed to clip the ball over the crossbar despite his closeness.
Barring the introductions of Fraser and Macaulay Tait for Beni Baningime and Grant for the Jambos, and Calum Gallagher for Nikolay Todorov for the Diamonds, the game carried on without any further
key incidents until the match was killed off in the 73rd minute.
An excellent through ball was played into the path of Shankland who, despite Airdrie protests for offside, produced a fine lob over the outrushing Rae to ensure his side’s victory and notch his second goal of the match.
As the game wound down, Lyall and Charlie Telfer were replaced by Chris Donnell and Gavin Gallagher, and Cammy Ballantyne continued his comeback from injury, replacing Craig Watson.
An entertaining match was professionally seen out by the travelling side, as Airdrie ended the evening with their heads held high despite being unable to progress to a quarter-final tie against Greenock Morton.
The Diamonds will dust themselves off and look forward to an important cinch Championship match next Saturday, as Scott Brown’s Ayr United visit the Excelsior Stadium.
Daniel Sutherland at Excelsior Stadium.
Photos © Redacted Media. Click to view full-size.