May 3, 2022
cinch Championship promotion play-off semi-final
Craig Johnston 8
Airdrie go into Saturday’s promotion play-off second leg a goal down thanks to Craig Johnston’s eighth-minute strike, but there were signs of encouragement as the Diamonds created a host of chances against Montrose.
Manager Ian Murray named a strong line-up following Saturday’s final league match, a 1-1 draw with Peterhead, while injuries forced counterpart Stewart Petrie into a defensive shuffle.
The move looked to be paying off for the home side in the early stages, with full-back Andrew Steeves taking up a central defensive role and controlling play with a number of excellent diagonal balls.
Montrose’s first chance came on four minutes when a curling Michael Gardyne free-kick just evaded the head of Seán Dillon.
The Gable Endies didn’t have to wait much longer to open the scoring, another long pass from the back causing confusion in the Diamonds defence. Brody Paterson’s touch took the ball over outrushing keeper Max Currie, leaving Craig Johnston the simplest of tasks to knock the ball into the empty net.
Montrose almost broke through again straight from kick-off, but Gabby McGill got back to help his defence with an important clearance. From the resultant corner Scott Agnew headed an angled headflick out at the back post.
Airdrie adjusted their shape and began to get forward, Kyle MacDonald’s 17th-minute cross held by Allan Fleming as it crept towards goal.
Adam Frizzell broke two minutes later, and while his through ball to McGill was good, the striker’s touch was heavy and took the ball out of play.
Dillon’s long ball sent Cammy Ballantyne in behind on 25 minutes, but Currie was out quickly to gather at the wing-back’s feet before Terry Masson fired well over two minutes later.
Dylon Easton went close after latching onto a Callum Smith pass as Airdrie fought back just after the half-hour mark, with Lyall Cameron then sending a speculative effort wide.
As play raged from end to end, Smith nodded down a Frizzell cross for McGill, but the Englishman didn’t make a clean contact and Fleming gathered.
Airdrie nicked the upright twice in quick succession as the half wore on, Calum Gallagher’s back-post header shaving Fleming’s right post before Agnew steered an effort just off target on the other side.
Currie saved well from Cameron with four minutes of the half remaining, and as Airdrie broke Gallagher went down as he was tackled in the box, but referee Graham Grainger was unimpressed. It was the last action of a tense first half, and the home side took their lead into the break.
Airdrie had a more convincing penalty shout two minutes after the restart, Easton clearly tripped by Webster in the box, but the midfielder’s ability to stay on his feet possibly counted against him as the referee waved play on.
Gallagher beat Steeves in the box on 55 minutes, but the striker fired wide when a pass may have been the better option.
Gardyne curled wide from the corner of the six-yard box before a deflection took the sting out of another Gallagher effort.
Currie made an outstanding save on 63 minutes as Johnston burst in from the right and lashed in a powerful strike, and the keeper denied the Montrose man again two minutes later, smothering a low cross.
Easton saw another shot fly just wide after good work by Paterson and Gallagher on 68 minutes, with the latter finding the side netting from a tight angle two minutes later.
Frizzell did well to ghost past Webster after 74 minutes, but Dillon was well placed to cut out the square pass to McGill.
With four minutes remaining Fleming clutched another MacDonald cross, and Airdrie’s last chance of the match saw Frizzell well tackled by Dillon with Gallagher lurking unmarked at the far post.
At the halfway point of the tie the Diamonds have work to do, and Ian Murray will be hoping his side can rediscover their scoring touch after creating a number of good opportunities in a tough away fixture.
Stuart Mathie at Links Park.
Photos © John Steven. Click to view full-size.