Saturday May 8, 2021

SPFL Championship play-off semi-final, first leg

Cove Rangers

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1-1

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Leighton McIntosh 66

Airdrieonians

Ross Graham OG 55

Match Gallery

It’s all square heading into the second leg of the Championship play-off semi-final as Cove Rangers came from behind to draw with the Diamonds at a wet and windy Balmoral Stadium.

With little separating the sides after a truncated League One season, a tight affair could have been expected although Airdrie will have been buoyed by their 2-0 win at Cove last weekend and subsequent victory over Falkirk.

Dale Carrick came back into the Diamonds starting line-up in place of Dean Ritchie, with former Airdrie striker Leighton McIntosh lining up for the hosts.

It was McIntosh who had the first chance of the match, his close-range effort deflected behind inside two minutes.

Airdrie replied through Kyle Turner, whose threaded pass to Carrick had just too much on it for the forward.

A 15th-minute Ryan Strachan free-kick didn’t trouble Max Currie before Mitch Megginson saw an effort blocked behind for a corner four minutes later.

Calum Gallagher made a near-post run just before the half hour mark, but thundered his effort just wide of the post.

Two minutes later Leon McCann joined the attack, but his left-footed effort was high and wide.

Good play from Megginson on 31 minutes saw the ball flashed across the Airdrie goal, but no-one in a Cove shirt could apply the finishing touch.

The home side had to defend well when Kyle Turner drove toward goal following a short corner just before half time. It was a chance reminiscent of the midfielder’s goal against Falkirk on Tuesday, but the home defence rallied to clear the danger.

Rory McAllister had the first sight of goal after the break, firing over from long range before Megginson sent in another low cross which was cleared by the impressive Josh Kerr.

Nine minutes after the restart Gallagher did well to advance down the right, but Scott Ross got across Carrick to mop up the danger.

A minute later Gallagher got into a similar position, this time finding space to send in a cross. An attempted block by Ross Graham send the ball spinning into the air, deceiving home keeper Stuart McKenzie and dropping into the net to give the Diamonds the lead.

With a strong wind behind them, Cove immediately went on the hunt for an equaliser and Currie had to be alert to palm away Aberdeen loanee Kieran Ngwenya’s strike.

The Diamonds had a golden opportunity to double their lead on 61 minutes, but Carrick had little time to react as the ball broke kindly for him three yards out, and he pulled his rushed shot wide of goal.

Having failed to take the advantage, Airdrie were punished five minutes later when a cross from the right found McAllister at the near post. As the veteran striker tried to tuck it away, the ball was hacked clear but only as far as Leighton McIntosh who slammed it into the net from ten yards.

Carrick continued to make intelligent runs as the Diamonds battled against the wind, and a timely interception from Connor Scully prevented him from bearing down on goal on 72 minutes.

As the game opened up Cove responded, McAllister forcing a good save from Currie.

With the wind picking up, Paul Hartley’s side showed their willingness to try their luck from anywhere, but Currie was well positioned to gather Strachan’s drive from distance after 78 minutes.

McIntosh was next up for the hosts, blazing a shot over the bar before Scully fired well wide from outside the box.

The home side’s best chance for a winner fell to McAllister with three minutes remaining, but the veteran striker watched his effort come back off the post.

Connell almost got lucky with a speculative effort in the final minute, but his 30-yard volley drifted just wide of McKenzie’s post.

With Megginson unable to convert a half-chance in stoppage time, the match ended in a draw with both sides looking forward to Tuesday’s second leg.

Stuart Mathie.