Airdrieonians 6-2 Falkirk: Bairns all-but blow promotion hopes after first-half collapse
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The five-star hosts raced into a five goal lead after 45 minutes played, and it looked at that point like it could be anything they wanted it to be. However, a second-half comeback of sorts from the Bairns gave them a lifeline at 5-2 – only for a last-gasp penalty to give Rhys McCabe’s side a four-goal advantage heading into Saturday’s return leg at the Falkirk Stadium.
After an even opening period, the Diamonds seized on slack play from the Bairns in the middle of the park to put themselves ahead, with Justin Devenny smashing home after being allowed to drive through a desperate defence on nine minutes.
Five minutes later, the hosts doubled their lead from a free kick just on the edge of the box. Player-boss McCabe stepped up and beat Brian Kinnear at his near post after Stephen McGinn had given away a lazy foul.
At this point, it looked like the scoreline could be anything the dazzling Diamonds wanted it to be, and they punished Falkirk for every single mistake they made.
An advanced Brad McKay slipped in midfield as the Bairns looked for a quick response and Gabby McGill drove forward, playing in Callum Smith out wide who made no mistake, making 3-0 after just 17 minutes.
On the half hour mark, a horror show turned into a nightmare when former Falkirk ace Aaron Taylor-Sinclair darted into the box and headed home a fourth.
He was perfectly picked out by Cammy Ballantyne, with his deep cross allowing the defender to nod home with ease.
It got worse for John McGlynn’s team ten minutes later when another set-piece was their undoing – this time seeing Callum Fordyce head home from close range.
A McCabe corner kick was flicked on and the Diamonds captain was the man in the middle who wanted it most.
At this point, it felt like the tie was dead and buried, but Falkirk did mount some sort of comeback in the second half.
On the hour mark, Coll Donaldson prodded home from a few yards out after a Rumarn Burrell header was well saved by goalkeeper Josh Rae.
Four minutes later, the Bairns suddenly looked like they had a found a way back into the match when Rae was sent off for wiping out Burrell, who was racing through on goal.
From the resulting free kick, Kai Kennedy saw his effort sneak in thanks to a wicked deflection off the wall.
The hosts by this point had began to sit back hoping to hit Falkirk on the break.
As the Bairns chased another goal late on, substitute Jordan Allan was then sent off for a high boot on deputy stopper David Hutton.
Then the real sucker-punch came. Late into injury-time, ex-Falkirk star Charlie Telfer had the composure to feed in fellow substitute Ben Stanway – and he got himself goal-side of Leon McCann, who brought the Partick Thistle youngster down in the box.
McCabe stepped up and fired home past Kinnear to give the Diamonds a four-goal lead in the tie, all-but ending Falkirk’s hopes of finally reaching the third tier.
Airdrie: Rae, Ballantyne, Taylor-Sinclair, McCabe, Fordyce, Gallagher, Frizzell, Smith, Watson, Devenny, McGill.
Subs: Hutton, Stanway, Kouder-Aissa, McGregor, Fellows. McMaster, Deveny, Telfer, Byrd.
Falkirk: Kinnear, Williamson, McKay, Donaldson, McCann, Henderson, McGinn, Nesbitt, Oliver, Kennedy, Burrell.
Subs: PJ Morrison, C Morrison, Allan, McGuffie, Yeats, Wright, Lawal, Kucheriayvi, Mackie.
Referee: Scott Lambie.