Stenhousemuir 1, Airdrieonians 2
Stenhousemuir threw virtually everything they had on Saturday against an inspired Airdrieonians side who played nearly 80 minutes of the match with 10 men.
The main talking point of the game looked to be the straight card shown to Scott Robertson, early in the first half, for a last-man challenge against Alan Cook.
But, while Stenhousemuir continued to create chances and probe for weaknesses, during a fast-paced and very entertaining game, Airdrieonians fashioned chances of their own and turned in a defensively solid showing, with goalkeeper David Hutton in excellent form.
Airdrieonians were,in fact, twice ahead after going a man light, with both goals scored by Ryan Conroy.
The home side had replied almost instantly following the Diamonds’ opener with a strong, deflected effort from Cook shortly before half time.
Robertson was shown an automatic red card in 12 minutes by referee David Lowe for his challenge on the Stenny man, although the decision didn’t exactly look clear-cut.
The visitors, however, attacked aggressively in bursts as they tried to combat the Ochilview side’s numerical superiority and probably should have taken the lead after a goalmouth flurry in which the ball hit the woodwork.
In the 27th minute, Kieran Gibbons delivered a neat through ball to put Kevin O’Hara through but Hutton came out to make an excellent block. From the ensuing corner by Sean Dickson, O’Hara cracked another shot towards goal but Hutton stopped it on the line to thwart Stenny again.
Three minutes from half time, the depleted Airdrieonians troops went ahead. Kieran MacDonald was given a lot of time to travel on the left flank with the ball and Conroy rose skilfully to head his cross out of the reach of ‘keeper Graeme Smith.
But, creditably, Stenny squeezed an equaliser in before half time as Cook made a powerful advance through the centre and his hard shot took a deflection off Sean Crighton as it flew into the net.
Not unexpectedly, Stenhousemuir began the second half with greater intent, with their player advantage expected to carry them forward. But it was Airdrieonians who scored again, in the 56th minute.
Joao Victoria set off on a fine run and took the ball past several players into the Stenny box. It bobbled about a bit as he appeared to lose it but Conroy drilled a precise, low, well-angle shot into the corner.
Both sides tried to manufacture attacks from deep, with their rearguard men taking a more forward role but also marshalling their lines well.
However, Stenny found the visiting back four in formidable form as they pushed and probed for the equaliser, with Airdrieonians adeptly holding on to their lead.
Hutton’s performance was underlined by another superb save in the closing seconds, this time from a header by Stenny sub Colin McMenamin which seemed destined for the top corner.
Stenny manager Brown Fergsuon said afterwards his players had put in a tremendous effort but the sending-off had disrupted their form a bit and they possibly hadn’t thought enough about how they should play, or how they could exploit the situation. He added they had also come up against an inspired back line and an inspired goalkeeper.
Stenhousemuir – Smith, Reid, Donaldson (McMenamin 84), Neill, Garcia Tena, Gibbons (Vaughan 74), O’Hara, McGuigan, Duthie (Ross 58), Cook, Dickson. Subs (not used) McMinn, McBrearty, Johnston, Halleran.
Airdrieonians – Hutton, Robertson, MacDonald, Page, Crighton, Cairns (Gallagher 80), Stewart, Conroy, Duffy (L. McIntosh 21, Russell 74), Carrick, Victoria. Subs (not used) – McKenzie, Edwards, S. McIntosh.