We set off for North Lanarkshire to take in Morton’s visit to the venue with a multitude of names! The Shyberry Excelsior stadium, The Excelsior or known in some circles even as New Broomfield, either way it is the base of Airdrie or Airdrie United FC.
This the third time I’ve seen the Greenock side so far this season and questions will be asked in some quarters about where my loyalties lie however, I will add that my very good friend and one of the tour companions is an avid follower of the blue and white hoops, so there! It’s a lovely late summers day and we’ve got into the town of Airdrie with very little difficulty before the navigator took us off course! In a generation which offers so many forms of satnav technology I thought the days of pulling up to the kerb to stop and ask locals for directions were long gone, today however proved otherwise!
Despite this episode we still arrived in good time and opted to park outside the perimeter gates of the stadium after we saw a guy in a high vis jacket with his hand out collecting money! With fifteen minutes to spare before kick off we walked round a bit of the stadium and took a few pictures. It is quite a smart ground and doesn’t merit the somewhat disappointing sight of three of the four stands completely unoccupied though maybe highlights the difficulties affecting clubs in the Scottish game right now.
Before heading up to the stand with the others I went in search for someone selling the match programme but I’d have been better off asking if anyone had seen Lord Lucan. I asked four people at four different locations on the concourse and was met with weird facial expressions, grunts, “dunnoe” and a foreign lad who clearly didn’t know what I was on about and just politely smiled at me! In fairness I never saw any fans with a programme so I’m not sure if they were actually on sale and it may well have sold out by the time we got there. Since the game I managed to get hold of one thanks to the very helpful Managing Director.
Once the match got underway Airdrie probably had the better of the opening exchanges before Morton, in their yellow and blue away kit took a firm grip of the game and created a number of clear cut chances. David O’Brien on the wing and Archie Campbell through the middle for the Ton were causing havoc for the Airdrie defence, who had a lot of luck on their side throughout the first half. I’m not sure if it was tactical or forced upon them but Marc Warren replaced Cameron MacDonald for the hosts after only a quarter of an hour played.
The game was played at a very high tempo and the ball zipped up and down the synthetic surface. Campbell saw a shot parried by Arthur only for Morton to pass up the rebound. Campbell was in amongst it again when he hit the post from 20 yards out following a mazy run but the ball was cleared to safety.
After a decent passing move Michael Tidser fired a shot at the Airdrie goal from 25 yards out, Arthur parried it onto his left hand post before he could gather it at the second attempt.
You got the impression that a Morton opener was imminent and some of the fans were showing their frustration at having a bulk of the possession but not converting their chances. Out of the blue my youngest lad pipes up “I wish Carlos Tevez was playing”. Okay son, away and have a lie down!
As what tends to happen in football, you don’t take your chances you’ll be punished. Five minutes from half time a Morton free kick was played deep into the Airdrie penalty area, the ball bobbled around before being cleared to near the half way line. A casual pass across the pitch from Tidser was read by young Boyle up front who collected the ball and ran at the two defenders.
With limited options available to him and the two opponents backing off allowing some space, he placed a superb left foot drive into the bottom left hand corner of the goal from about 20 yards out. Morton hit back straight from the re-start and came close when Arthur saved superbly from a close range effort but went into the break a goal down.
The second half was only three minutes old when the visitors equalised, yet just prior to that Airdrie had forced a couple of corners and nearly extended their lead when they hit the post from a close range header. From that move breaking down, a long pass over the Airdrie defence saw Campbell latch onto the ball after the defender mistimed his jump before expertly lifting it over the on rushing Arthur’s head into the net.
Morton boss Allan Moore made his first change on 65 minutes with another winger, David Graham replacing Tidser and within two minutes they took the lead. Airdrie lost possession on the half way line and the ball was played down the left channel for Naismith to run onto and cross. It bounced around the penalty box before ending up on the right hand side with Graham. He played the ball in low across the goal mouth and it found it’s way to the back post where the unmarked O’Brien was lurking to tap home from a couple of yards for 2-1, despite claims for offside from the home fans.
Airdrie introduced the experienced Paul Di Giacomo for McLaren as they went in search of an equaliser but ended up going further behind. From an attack on the left by the home side, the ball was whipped into the box and headed clear only as far as the unmarked Weatherson. He controlled the ball and hooked it over his head for the lightening quick Campbell to run onto. The forward outpaced Evans and managed to finish with a powerful low shot into the net to give Morton a 3-1 lead.
It didn’t last long however, as Airdrie struck back seconds later through young Boyle again and what a finish. A cross from the left was met by the head of Di Giacomo, keeper Derek Gaston made a very good reaction save but from the rebound, Boyle volleyed powerfully into the net to set up a grand finale.
A Nathan Blockley header was then tipped over the bar by Gaston before Airdrie were reduced to ten men with 5 minutes left following the dismissal of David Lilley for a professional foul on Campbell. The Greenock side saw out three minutes of stoppage time to collect the points and continue their good run of form.
This was a very good entertaining game with five excellent calibre goals and had chances a plenty for both sides. On those terms alone we couldn’t complain and again proved there is some real talent in the First Division.
The Excelsior Stadium itself is quite impressive comprising of four standard sized stands, though only the main one tends to be open on a match day. Airdrie have felt the pinch like many other clubs over recent seasons and have slipped down the divisions, though they have brought through some promising players through their youth set up and promoted them to the first team. They are fortunate that they can also call upon the experience of goalkeeper, Kenny Arthur, forwards Willie McLaren and Paul Di Giacomo plus the veteren defender David Lilley.
I believe the club had budgeted for a season in Division 2 but found themselves promoted late in the summer due to the shambles created by Rangers liquidation. There were several moments in the game though that would suggest they have plenty of qualities that will help them along this season, not to mention the potential goals in young John Boyle and Ryan Donnelly.
Although it was busy inside and out, I was disappointed to read the official attendance was only 1054 as the noise generated by the travelling support suggested there was more than that. The facilities are good and well kept and would be a fitting venue at a higher level in the Scottish game. It was a decent day out and on the way home established we could have got to the stadium by a quicker route instead of negotiating the town centre!
During the journey home I got a text from a good friend of mine who had given me a couple of suggestions for the weekend football coupon. The polite version was that I would be collecting £65 from Mr P.Power to end the day off nicely.