Mar 10 2010 by Colin Paterson, Airdrie & Coatbridge
HAD Airdrie’s season been a boxing match, then it would have been all over long before now.
Standing in the ring battered and bruised, and appearing to be in a hopeless position, the referee would have had no choice but to step in and prevent a famous old name suffering further crippling blows.
But this isn’t boxing. It’s football and the rules are that the Diamonds must continue to the very end, despite the ignominy and the new depths yet to be discovered. Despite the fact that defeat seems inevitable.
Kenny Black’s men emerged from the unscheduled three-week winter shutdown with renewed energy and zest. An attacking 4-3-3 formation was deployed which gave the team an added edge and freshness.
But even when they were ahead on points, the man in the middle made a decision that led to their opponent landing a right hook from nowhere while Airdrie stood with one glove tied behind their back.
This contest had been evenly fought for 56 minutes before whistler Alan Muir took centre stage at East End Park. A through ball into the box saw Airdrie keeper Stephen Robertson and Pars midfielder Steven Bell go for broke.
Robertson appeared to win the ball with his hands as Bell tumbled, but far from ruling the goalie’s challenge as fair, Mr Muir decided it was a foul and handed Dunfermline an opportunity to register their first shot on target of the day.
Strikers like Andy Kirk don’t need invitations and the Northern Irish hitman outwitted Robertson as he drilled a low spot-kick down the middle to give his side the lead and leave Airdrie flat on the canvas.
This observer’s initial reaction was that the call was wrong, and having viewed the video highlights at www.dafc.co.uk, my opinion is that Robertson had got to the ball as contact with Bell was made.
The Diamonds got off the floor and tried to land a few telling blows of their own, but the home side repelled their advances and finished the match off late-on with Bell guiding a Willie Gibson free-kick into the far corner of the net.
The scoreline may reflect a comfortable home win but it was nothing of the sort. Airdrie battled hard and offered plenty of spirit. In truth, they did as much as they could to win this game.
But for the 18th time in 26 outings, the First Division’s bottom side lost and you couldn’t help but feel that the whistler’s intervention had twisted the knife that little bit harder.
“I didn’t see it as a penalty,” said boss Black. “I felt it was a very soft award. When the referee blew the whistle, I thought he was going to give a free-kick to us.
“I think we started the game in a fairly positive manner but had to pick ourselves up after the penalty in a bid to try and get the equaliser.
“We created two or three chances but we weren’t ruthless enough. We got into good areas during the game and tried to make our mark even if it was a bit laboured at times.”
Robertson was adamant the spot-kick award was wrong and said: “I didn’t think it was a penalty and it is another of those things that have gone against us.
“I definitely got the ball but it was a hard one for the referee as there were a lot of bodies flying around in there.
“I didn’t think there was much between the teams and even at 1-0 down we had chances to equalise. But we just have to stick together as a team for these final games and have some self-belief.”
Airdrie carved out some good opportunities. On the hour mark, Diarmuid O’Carroll’s powerful low drive was cleared off the line by scrambling Pars full-back Calum Woods.
And in the 83rd minute, Paul Keegan’s near-post header, from Scott McLaughlin’s corner, was kept out by the amazing reactions of Greg Fleming, although the keeper would have known little about his super save.
There was little good news when Airdrie returned to the sanctuary of the dressing-room. Ayr United’s 2-0 victory over Morton meant the gap to the relegation play-off place, ahead of last night’s Pars re-match, was eight points.
“The series of results makes things difficult but we have to retain the belief that we can get out of it,” added the manager.
“You have to believe that we can get the results that will get us out of this.”
What may have escaped the notice of Black and his players was the result in the very corner of south-west Scotland that had negative consequences for the Diamonds.
Third Division basement dwellers Montrose had recorded a surprise 2-0 victory at Stranraer and that scoreline meant Airdrie headed home on Saturday night as, statistically, the worst senior team in Britain.
The Diamonds will treat their cuts and bruises and return to the ring over the coming weeks with the best of intentions and victory in their sights.
But their task isn’t about to become easier and it seems only a matter of time before the knockout blow is inflicted; and there will be no comeback from that.
Advertiser man of the match (3pts) - Scott Gemmill. Caused problems in wide attacking role. John Baird (2pts), Marc Smyth (1pt).
Moment of the match: Referee Alan Muir’s decision to award the Pars the spot-kick that led to their first goal.
Dunfermline: Fleming; Woods, Higgins, Dowie, McCann; Mason, Burke (Phinn 77); Graham, Bell, Cardle (Gibson 72); Kirk (McDougall 84). Subs not used: Muirhead, Paterson(gk).
Booked: Graham, Mason.
Airdrie: Robertson; Parratt, Smyth, Storey, Waddell; McCann (Lagana 77), McDonald (Keegan 77), McLaughlin; Gemmill, O’Carroll, Baird. Subs not used: Donnelly, Watt, Hollis(gk).
Booked: Robertson, Smyth, O’Carroll.
Referee: Alan Muir.