This match was witnessed by around 100 or so Airdrie fans on the first night Scottish football welcomed crowds into stadia since a test event took place at Ross County in November. Supporters were also present at Kelty Hearts v Brechin City, 45 miles away in Fife.
Those fans fortunate enough to be in the ground were well-spaced out and noisy. They clearly enjoyed their night in the Lanarkshire sun. The ripples of applause and expectant oohs and aahs that have been sorely absent offered a backdrop that football deserves. There were also some witty jokes that could be heard from the other side of the stadium, and some less savoury remarks that cannot be printed in a family title such as the The Scotsman.
One has to hope that this is not a one-off, and that the Covid-19 vaccination programme allows larger attendances at football matches. This season has proved that football really is a diminished product without supporters.
The crowd definitely spurred on the Diamonds, who are aiming to return to Scotland’s second tier under Ian Murray for the first time since the 2012/13 campaign. Fuelled by roars of “Airdrie, Airdrie”, they more than matched Morton at the beginning, although the best early chance fell to the visitors when Kyle Jacobs wriggled free in the box and hosts’ keeper Max Currie had to look sharp to save with his legs.
Morton could be forgiven for being nervous, given that Gus MacPherson’s men are favourites for the tie and have more to lose. Dropping out of the Championship would be a bitter pill to swallow, who only a couple of seasons ago were involved in play-off for promotion, not relegation. Their cause was not helped in the build-up by their only senior goalkeeper and arguably player of the season Aidan McAdams being ruled out by injury. That forced them to sign the experienced Scott Fox on an emergency loan from Motherwell.
Fox was largely redundant until the 39th minute, when he had to sprawl on a decent effort from Euan O’Reilly. At the other end, Morton probed without finding a way through, and the first half ended goalless.
Morton were much the more enterprising team in the second half, hemming Airdrie in their own half for long periods without fashioning a clear-cut opportunity until the 78th minute. Substitute Reece Lyon shifted the ball on to his left foot and unleashed a rocket of a shot that crashed off the Airdrie bar with Currie well beaten.
It looked like the match was going to end goalless but, in stoppage time, Morton’s Robbie Muirhead rose unmarked to head home the winner.
Some of the Ton’s fans will be present on Friday for the return leg. They are favourites to be celebrating after Muirhead’s last-gasp goal and this 1-0 win.
Airdrieonians: Currie, McCann, Fordyce, Crighton, Walker, P McKay (Robert 77), J McKay, Turner, O’Reilly, Carrick (Thomson 51), Gallagher.
Morton: Fox, Ledger, McLean, Fjortoft, Strapp, McGinn, Jacobs (Lyon 26), Muirhead, Salkeld (Nesbitt 79), Blues, Oliver.