WITH THE sound of Colin Steven’s final whistle at the end of a gruelling 120 minutes of football, Ian Murray threw his hands in the air and turned to lap up the cheers of chairman Martin Ferguson in the New Broomfield stand.

It was a fitting image to close the door on a thriller in North Lanarkshire as the Diamonds twice fought back from behind to secure a shot at playing Championship football next season.

Calum Gallagher was the hero, scoring the winner deep into extra time to give Airdrie their best chance of promotion in nearly a decade and sending the usually subdued Murray into wild celebration.

For Cove, who twice led the tie, it was a bitterly disappointing night as they failed to make good on their pre-match talk of their own Championship credentials and another season in League One beckons for Paul Hartley’s men.

Given their first-half dominance and a Rory McAllister strike in the 91st minute, it really was an opportunity missed for the Wee Rangers.

In a frantic opening, Cove soaked up 15 minutes of Airdrie endeavour, before taking the lead. It was a goal from nothing, borne out of the madness of Dale Carrick, who charged 20 yards up the field to foul a man going nowhere. 

HeraldScotland: Paul Hartley Paul Hartley

A bottle suffered the ire of Murray and his mood soured even further when Connor Scully’s free kick from the corner flag found the unmarked head of Mitch Megginson. 

It was a hammer blow to the Diamonds but they came back to level in the next attack as the game’s frantic pace refused to let up. Kyle Connell was the creator, sidestepping a Cove Rangers defender, before sending in a devilish cross which toyed with Stuart McKenzie just enough to give Gallacher the chance to charge into the box and score. 

For a while, the match settled into the expected pattern. Callum Fordyce headed into the gloves of McKenzie, McAllister sent a dangerous looking free kick into the stands, but soon all the attacking threat was coming from those in blue. 

Fraser Fyvie was orchestrating the game at this point, the former Hibernian man leading the Cove press. Twice he was denied the second by the fingertips of Max Currie, after being a step too clever for the hosts’ defence, and it seemed only a matter of time before Cove’s dominance would breed the tie’s crucial fifth goal. But then, suddenly, the game as a contest fell into a strange stupor. 

Several injuries to key players doubtless contributed and neither team could muster anything of note for the vast majority of the second half until chaos ensued in injury time. 

First, it was Cove's emotions running high, those in the stands and on the bench struggling to contain themselves when McAllister picked up Scully’s clever pass, turned, and found the corner of Currie’s net in the 91st minute with trademark composure. 

It visibly rocked Murray and his backroom staff on the sidelines but remarkably back came Airdrie again, lightning striking twice when they scored in the game’s very next attack. McKenzie, arguably culpable for the first, had to hold his hands up this time, dropping the ball to Dale Carrick’s feet and watching helplessly as Jack McKay stroked home with the last kick of normal time. 

HeraldScotland: Fraser Fyvie impressed Fraser Fyvie impressed

From then on, despite a Fordyce header over the bar, penalties seemed inevitable until substitute Craig Thompson found a remarkable burst of energy, drove into the Cove box, and teed-up Gallagher for the winner. 

The jubilation on the Airdrie bench told the story. Greenock Morton, who saw off Montrose in their own dramatic fashion, lie in wait.