Goals: Kelty Hearts – Higginbotham (57) – Airdrieonians Ally Roy (46)
Airdrieonians Line-up: Hutton, MacDonald, McCann, Fordyce, Kerr, Ritchie, McKay, Sabatini, Gallagher, O’Reilly, Thomson
Subs: Currie, Crighton, Robert, Stokes, Roy, Carrick, Burke, Moore, Hughes
Airdrieonians met lowland leaguers Kelty Hearts on the synthetic pitch of their New Central Park ground on Saturday for the first of a selection of pre-season friendlies that will stand to increase the match-fitness of the team after a prolonged hiatus from football due to the pandemic.
Kelty included ex-Airdrie players Cammy Russell and Paddy Boyle, and kicking off in the sunshine in the appropriately chosen yellow third kit, Airdrie’s starting line-up included recent Swiss loan signing from Dnipro-1 in Ukraine, Griffin Sabatini, alongside Euan O’Reilly on loan from St. Johnstone, and youngster, Dean Ritchie joining from Hearts.
The game began in scrappy fashion, as you’d expect from a Diamonds side in their first match of the pre-season, especially given Kelty had matches already under their belt. Mislaid passes, and strong challenges set the tone of the first 10 minutes.
Nathan Austin and Dylan Easton looked particularly lively for Kelty in the early moments of the match with Austin striking just wide of the far post, and Easton showing some early signs of some clever footwork.
Not to be deterred, Airdrie had some strong performers on the wing themselves with Paul McKay finding himself pushing forward on both the left and the right hand sides as the first half progressed, culminating in an excellently struck long-range shot.
Easton continued making a nuisance of himself and a deft moment required agile reactions from Airdrie keeper David Hutton to keep the score level. Fearing, it seemed, that he might be left out in the cold, Austin also had a go with a strike but the bending shot didn’t cause Hutton any worry.
As the first half came to a close, Airdrie looked a team slowing building themselves into the match and with momentum building, Callum Fordyce rose to head past the far post.
A much changed Airdrie side emerged after the break with new recruits, the much-talked-about Frenchman Thomas Robert (son of ex-Newcastle midfielder Laurent) Irishman Eoghan Stokes, joining alongside the more familiar faces of Dale Carrick, Ally Roy, and club captain Sean Crighton. There was also a change between the sticks with Max Currie replacing David Hutton.
The inclusion of Robert and Roy brought swift results with Robert showing shades of his father with a clever, tricky run out wide from the centre circle, passing through to Roy who shot across goal to have the effort deflected into the net by the defender. Giving the goal to Roy could be described as a little generous.
Despite another strong chance for Airdrie a few minutes later with Carrick shooting wide, Kelty weren’t discouraged and continued to push forward and some trickery combined with a poor refereeing decision gave the Fifers a soft penalty, after a challenge from Sabatini who was subsequently booked for kicking the ball away in anger.
A decent, if not stellar, penalty was well-saved by Currie but the keeper was second to the rebound and Kallum Higginbotham pushed the ball over the line to draw Kelty level.
If the energy dropped a little towards the end of the match, neither team showed it and both pushed to win the match, though Airdrie ended the stronger. Stokes attempted an audacious lob from long range causing Jamieson to make a well timed intervention, and both Kerr and Roy had chances.
As the game came to a close, Thomas Robert lined up a free kick that needed a full-stretch save from Kelty’s keeper just on the full time whistle.
All-in-all, Airdrie looked a team needed a little match fitness, but with definite signs of promise and it will be interesting to see what line-up starts on Tuesday night in the North Lanarkshire derby with Albion Rovers. With any luck, Airdrie’s streaming service will be up and running and we’ll get to see the boys back in the red diamond once again.