Tuesday April 20, 2021
SPFL League One
Calum Gallagher 66
Dale Carrick 77
Airdrie saw out a nervy opening hour to turn on the style and secure a top-half finish with a 2-0 win over East Fife.
With various possible permutations around the country, both sides knew that a win would ensure they could continue their promotion chase after the League One split.
A draw would have seen both Airdrie and East Fife into the top half barring a bizarre result in the Montrose vs Cove Rangers match, but there was never any suggestion that the sides were content to play for a point apiece.
Paul Paton returned to the Diamonds starting line-up following a spell out through injury, with Jack McKay the man to make way for the experienced midfielder. Former Airdrie man Ryan Wallace led the line for the Fifers.
It was the visitors who started brightly, Wallace forcing an early corner which eventually found its way to the striker’s feet, but Leon McCann tackled well and the danger was averted.
Dale Carrick was playing in an unconventional right wing-back role, but that didn’t stop the Diamonds’ top scorer getting into the box on four minutes, his hooked effort being taken under the bar by Fife keeper Brett Long.
Sean Brown made good space three minutes later, but snatched at his angled shot which sailed over the bar.
As usual, Scott Agnew was causing problems from setpieces, and Callum Fordyce had to rise high to head clear a free-kick from the left on ten minutes.
Long was called into action again seven minutes later, Paton’s long pass brilliantly taken down by Euan O’Reilly who broke into the box, but Long dived at his feet to push the ball to safety.
Aaron Dunsmore picked up an early booking for the visitors, but timed his tackle perfectly to rob Ally Roy midway through the first half.
Beginning to play with more confidence, the Diamonds worked the ball into the box via excellent passing interplay on 26 minutes, but the move broke down when Carrick put too much on his wide pass.
Roy left Dunsmore for dead just after the half-hour mark, nutmegging the defender and squaring the ball but Ross Dunlop was on hand to clear.
Another Agnew free-kick went close on 35 minutes before Sean Crighton sent a glancing header just wide at the other end.
Agnew went down in the box after a good move by the Fifers just before half-time, but referee Alan Newlands waved play on and the sides went in level at the break.
With Montrose a goal to the good against Cove, it still looked like a draw would suit both teams.
As they had in the first half, East Fife came out attacking and showed that they had no intention of maintaining parity as Agnew sent a volley over the bar three minutes in.
Paul McKay replied for the Diamonds, breaking upfield and thundering in an angled drive which flew wide of goal.
Calum Gallagher was stretching to reach a Crighton cross on 54 minutes, and the striker’s close-range header rose over the bar.
Danny Swanson broke away two minutes later, bearing down on Max Currie who stood his ground well to save brilliantly with his legs.
Kyle Connell came off the bench and once again added another dimension to the Airdrie attack, firing wide after showing good strength to work his way into the box.
The substitute did well to hit the bye-line on 65 minutes, but a Fife head blocked his driven cross.
From the resulting corner, Gallagher put the Diamonds in front with his third headed goal in as many games. Kyle Turner’s cross was nodded back in by Crighton, and Gallagher steered a fantastic header beyond Long and into the net.
Connell continued to show his determination to get on the scoresheet with a fizzing drive from distance two minutes later, and McCann, Paton and O’Reilly all saw shots blocked as the ball cannoned around the visitors’ box.
Their tails up, Airdrie relentlessly attacked in search of a second, and Carrick’s effort was narrowly over on 69 minutes.
Five minutes later the Diamonds won a free-kick on the edge of the area following a sweeping move forward involving O’Reilly, McCann and Turner.
Turner stepped up to strike the dead ball, which cannoned off the wall and dropped to Connell. The substitute square to Turner, who strode forward before a crude trip by Denholm led to the referee awarding a penalty kick.
In a repeat of last season’s final meeting between the sides, Carrick saw his spot-kick well saved by Long, but the ball sat up for the former Hearts man to guide a header into the opposite side and double the Diamonds’ advantage.
Knowing that defeat would see them finish the season in the bottom half, East Fife threw men forward in an attempt to salvage the match.
The home defence responded well, with Fordyce in particular blocking everything that came his way.
Airdrie substitute Craig Thomson broke away with eight minutes remaining, and his effort across goal was inches wide.
Experienced striker Greig Spence had the final chance of the match, but there was no way past Fordyce and the Diamonds defence, who secured a huge three points to extend their promotion dream into the final four matches.
Stuart Mathie at Penny Cars Stadium.
Photos © John Steven. Click to view full-size.