Mar 15 2010 By Colin Paterson
Airdrie United striker Paul Keegan.
AIRDRIE 1 AYR 1
SUPERSUB Paul Keegan headed home an equaliser in the fifth minute of injury time to rescue a point for Airdrie.
The rock-bottom Diamonds, who had John Baird sent-off in the first half, were staring into the abyss after Danny McKay struck 60 seconds into time added-on.
But veteran forward Keegan netted for the first time this season when he nodded home Scott McLaughlin's free-kick to keep Airdrie's season alive.
The gap to Morton in the relegation play-off spot is now eight points after the Greenock strugglers lost 1-0 at Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Kenny Black's men travel to Cappielow on Wednesday night for a crunch bottom of the table clash.
Keegan was thrilled to break his Diamonds duck and admitted it was vital Airdrie avoided defeat in a match that could have realistically sealed their relegation fate.
The 37-year-old told Advertiser Sport: "I was absolutely delighted and overwhelmed when my header hit the back of the net.
"We're beginning to get some consistency in terms of our performances and we have to keep that going and turn them into victories.
"In a way it feels like a win and we just have to keep battling away. Had we lost this game then that might have been the final nail in the coffin."
Boss Black made one change to the team that started the 1-1 draw at home to Dunfermline Athletic on Tuesday night with Bobby Donnelly replacing the injured Tom Parratt.
And the manager would have been pleased with his side's first half performance with Airdrie looking the more dangerous outfit and creating all of the chances.
Ricky Waddell, who scored a screamer against the Pars, hit the bar in the fourth minute with Baird seeing a volley from the edge of the box tipped around the post by Craig Samson.
The Diamonds' task of taking three points was made more difficult in the 34th minute when referee Anthony Law sent-off Baird for an off-the-ball incident with Ayr defender Andy Aitken.
Having been bodychecked by the visiting stopper, Baird kicked out at his opponent while lying on the deck with the whistler having no hesitation in reaching for his top pocket.
However, the hosts continued to carve out opportunities with Ayr firmly on the back foot.
Airdrie goalie Stephen Robertson had to be alert to keep out fierce strikes from Ryan McGowan and Dean Keenan, who was lucky not to see red himself for a wild tackle on Paul Lovering at a slow developing free-kick in the 59th minute.
Several feisty challenges had raised the tempo of the match and the fans were treated to an absorbing finish with play raging from end to end as both teams searched for a winner.
It was truly gripping stuff and Ayr looked to have snatched a crucial three points when a counter-attacking move led to on-loan Kilmarnock hitkid McKay firing home a low shot.
The Diamonds refused to throw in the towel, though, and in the final passage of play in the game, Keegan popped up to head in a leveller from McLaughlin's perfectly delivered set-piece.
A point was the very least Airdrie deserved for their endeavour. Black's side showed spirit and worked their socks off and battled to the bitter end.
But a failure to beat Morton on Wednesday will leave the Diamonds' survival hopes in tatters.
Airdrie: Robertson; Storey, Donnelly, Smyth, Lovering (McDonald 66); Gemmill, McCann, McLaughlin, Waddell; O'Carroll (Keegan 79), Baird. Subs not used: Lagana, Watt, Hollis(gk).
Booked: Storey, McDonald. Sent-off: Baird.
Ayr: Samson; Mitchell, Campbell, Aitken, Lafferty; Keenan (Woodburn 72), Bowey (Connolly 72), McGowan, Borris (Mendes 66); McKay, McManus.
Booked: Mitchell, Aitken, Campbell, Keenan, Bowey.
Referee: Anthony Law
*AIRDRIE'S under-19 side are gunning for Scottish Youth Cup glory tonight when they host St Mirren in their quarter-final tie. Kick-off at New Broomfield is 7.30pm.
*FOR the best match analysis, reaction, pictures and previews, get your copy of the Advertiser on Wednesday.