Tuesday May 18, 2021
SPFL Championship play-off final, first leg
Robbie Muirhead 90+4
Airdrie head to Cappielow with a narrow deficit as Robbie Muirhead’s goal deep in stoppage time gave Morton the edge in the Championship play-off final.
It was a late blow for the Diamonds who had lost three players to injury, having already had to make changes to the starting line-up following knocks sustained in the semi-final win over Cove Rangers.
With Josh Kerr, Paul Paton and Kyle Connell all sidelined, Sean Crighton, Euan O’Reilly and Jack McKay returned to Ian Murray’s starting eleven.
Morton included Motherwell goalkeeper Scott Fox, signed on an emergency loan deal on Monday.
Airdrie ran out to cheers from the home support, with 500 fans able to attend for the first time in over a year, and the reduced crowd were in good spirits as the Diamonds got off to a bright start.
Kyle Turner made a strong run through the middle inside the first minute, passing wide to O’Reilly who saw his cross drifting behind.
Kyle Jacobs made a similar run in Morton’s first attack seven minutes later, but his lay-off was too wide and Max Currie easily blocked a weak shot with his legs.
Scott Walker was unlucky with an 11th-minute cross from the right which deflected off a Morton defender’s back with Jack McKay lurking in the box.
O’Reilly did well on the left flank again two minutes later, twisting away from his man before sending in a cross which curled beyond the far post.
Morton threatened around the 20-minute mark, Callum Fordyce winning possession after a pass from Crighton came up short, with Currie then claiming a high ball from a Morton free-kick.
McKay almost poked the ball through to Calum Gallagher after a swift passing move, but the visiting defence managed to block the pass.
Dale Carrick lashed a shot over from just outside the box on 29 minutes, with Cameron Salkeld firing well wide at the other end two minutes later.
Airdrie’s best chance of the first half fell to O’Reilly after Gallagher and Carrick had combined to tee up the midfielder, but Fox was well positioned to gather his strike.
Substitute Reece Lyon should have done better on the stroke of half-time, nodding wide from close range after Lewis Strapp’s cross had evaded everyone.
Crighton headed wide with Airdrie’s first chance of the second half before Carrick picked up a knock and had to be replaced by Craig Thomson.
Turner’s free-kick found Gallagher at the back post on 54 minutes, but the striker couldn’t get up high enough to direct his header on target.
Currie showed safe hands three minute later, holding Gary Oliver’s glancing header.
As Crighton joined the attack again on 60-minutes, his back-post header ricocheted in the direction of Jack McKay, who sent a volley inches wide of the post.
The visitors began to control possession in the final half hour, but their final ball was often lacked as a Muirhead cross missed everyone before Strapp’s header struck a defender on the way over.
With ten minutes remaining, Gus MacPherson’s side were denied by the woodwork as a ball into the box fell for Lyon, who smashed a half-volley against the post.
With Paul McKay and Scott Walker also going off injured in the closing stages, Airdrie’s makeshift formation were doing all they could to hold off the Morton attack.
Aidan Nesbitt’s cross sliced toward goal in stoppage time, but Currie was alert to hack the ball clear.
With 94 minutes on the clock, the visitors took the lead after a cheaply conceded corner kick. The setpiece was played short to Brian McLean, and his cross found Muirhead who planted a fine header beyond Currie to open the scoring.
Lyon could have made it two on 96 minutes, but Currie saved well from the substitute and the match finished with Morton taking a narrow advantage into the second leg.
The Diamonds now head to Greenock on Friday night looking to overturn the deficit, with manager Ian Murray hoping to see some of his injury problems relieved.
Stuart Mathie at Penny Cars Stadium.
Photos © John Steven. Click to view full-size.