Nov 12 2008 by Colin Paterson, Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser
THERE will be some anxious Airdrie United players trooping into training this week.
With an important cup match on the horizon, it is normally unwise to use the final game in advance of such a contest to turn in a poor performance.
This should have been a match where the men in white shirts stepped up to the mark and proved their worth.
This should have been a match Airdrie looked to dominate right from the outset, making life uncomfortable for their West Lothian visitors.
Neither happened. The Diamonds were anything but dazzling and, in the end, referee Steve Conroy’s final whistle, with scoreboard unaltered, came as blessed relief.
ALBA Challenge Cup Final places against Ross County are far from guaranteed on this evidence.
Yes, the effort and commitment was good but that is a standard requirement, a basic expectation, of any individual at their work.
At First Division level, more quality is needed to engineer profitable attacking moves and create havoc in opposition defences.
But in this area, Airdrie were sadly found wanting. Little was fashioned in the final third of the pitch, crosses into the box were either comfortably cleared or failed to reach their target.
Livingston’s keeper Roddy McKenzie was rarely troubled throughout the 90 minutes which is a damning indictment on the Diamonds’ overall display.
After firing in 19 shots against Dunfermline on their previous outing, Airdrie managed not even a quarter of that tally at home to the Lions, a team few would agree are as strong as the Pars.
The inconsistency of performance is what is so frustrating after games like these and you are left wondering just how a team can go from causing one opponent problems to barely testing another’s rearguard action.
Perhaps a third game in seven days was too much of a tall order for a group of players who have shown they are more than capable of hurting anyone in this division.
Or maybe it was because Airdrie just couldn’t shrug off a sloppy start. Livi managed to raise their game after a disappointing opening, but the hosts were unable to follow in their footsteps.
A lack of belief going forward was obvious, the Diamonds happy to play passes to the side or back, instead of attempting to stretch the Livi stoppers.
At times, the passing was poor, possession given away easily. The absence of a killer ball must have been frustrating for Simon Lynch and Paul Di Giacomo who fed off scraps.
The central midfield duo of Kevin McDonald and Scott McLaughlin – a forced pairing as a result of Stephen McKenna dropping into the defence in place of the injured Bobby Donnelly – doesn’t seem to be working.
Indeed, McDonald spent his 82 minutes on the park desperately trying to find form ahead of Sunday’s Challenge Cup Final date with County. He will be aware that he has to do much better.
The all-action McLaughlin was another who endured an untimely off-day. His influence on proceedings was minimal, with his trademark long-range drives towards goal missing as well.
However, it wasn’t all gloomy and the displays of Darren Smith and Joe Cardle offered hope that Airdrie could nick a goal.
Since taking over from the unwell Steven McDougall on the right side of midfield, Smith has made a good fist of trying to nail down a regular spot in the starting XI.
His work-rate and willingness to track back and tackle, immediately catch the eye but so does his ability on the ball and determination to get forward and create.
Cardle, too, is a player with natural talent and he particularly impresses with his movement. When he plays a pass, he is off and running in a bid to get it back. No standing on ceremony for him.
When he is in possession, you feel he can make something happen. But until he drops his shoulder and speeds past a full-back on the outside, instead of cutting in, he will always appear predictable.
Keeper Stephen Robertson wasn’t a stranger to the odd dodgy moment during the game – a 65th minute clearance lacked power and fell straight to Rocco Quinn who fired a shot wide – but he did make two good saves.
In the 32nd minute, Liam Fox’s 25-yard effort was brilliantly parried out by Robertson. Livi’s Callum Elliot converted the rebound but from an offside position.
Airdrie had the ball in the net eight minutes later through Lynch after McKenzie denied Cardle, but he was also penalised for being offside.
With four minutes remaining of the first half, Livi were a lick of paint away from an opener when Chris Innes’ back post header from Anthony McParland’s corner hit the bar.
The final opportunity of real note fell to Livi in the 77th minute. Joe Hamill’s curling free-kick flew over the wall but was beaten away by the alert Robertson.
Airdrie could not have complained had the visitors won the points. Fortunately, this was a day when they clung on for survival.
Advertiser man of the match (3pts) - Joe Cardle. Showed a real drive to test Livi. Darren Smith (2pts), Stephen Robertson (1pt).
Moment of the match: Robertson pulled off vital save from Hamill’s free-kick late-on.
Airdrie: Robertson, Smyth, McKenna, Nixon, Lovering, Smith (McDougall 59), McDonald (Brown 82), McLaughlin, Cardle, Di Giacomo, Lynch (Noble 59). Subs not used: Hazley, Hollis(gk).
Livingston: McKenzie, MacKay, McPake, Innes, Talbot, Quinn (Miller 83), Davidson, Fox, Hamill, Elliot, McParland. Subs not used: McDonald, Smith, Cave, Martini(gk).
Referee: Steve Conroy.