Airdrieonians 2 v 0 Ayr United
Quite simply this is one that all United fans will want to forget. For the first scrappy 25 minutes Airdrie looked to be more in control, dominating midfield but for all the bluster the United defence was strong enough to withstand anything that could be thrown at them. Airdrie’s Scott Fraser appeared to be relishing the situation showing the control, composure and accuracy with passing that seem to be missing from all others on the pitch. His prompting drove Airdrie’s forward movements, spreading the play from right to left and creating opportunities for Jordan Morton on the left and regularly releasing wingback Jamie Bain into space on the right.
It took Ayr a good 25 minutes to settle and start to play some passing football and it wasn’t until the 29th minute before they created their first viable chance. Mikey Donald controlled the ball and darted forward before releasing a ball that reached Beattie who accurately picked out Craig Murray but his shot was blocked.
Ayr were slowly gaining confidence and in the 30th minute came a moment of true leadership from central defender Peter Murphy as he tried to encourage his forwards to show the same bravery and movement. Murphy picked up the ball in his own half crossed the centreline, with the Airdrie defence backing off and expecting a pass he pressed forward. With a sudden change of pace he ranged past first one player in midfield and then on the edge of the penalty area wrong footed two defenders, creating space for himself but unfortunately his powerful shot was well saved by Diamonds keeper Andrew McNeil.
This sparked a period up to half-time where Ayr created the majority of chances with both Preston and Blakeman both seeing shots fly just over the bar. On 44 minutes Gilmour floated a cross into the penalty area where Beattie did well under pressure to control the ball and its outrageous bounce off the artificial surface, but his attempted shot from 6 yards out was blocked by Jamie Bain just as the travelling fans were preparing to celebrate.
After a very disappointing and fragmented first half at least the second half brought some excitement although ladled with an unhealthy dollop of frustration for United fans.
Only two minutes had gone when Airdrie broke down the left and after a surging run by Chris O’Neil, Scott Fraser’s beautifully delivered cross was somehow headed wide by the in rushing Ross Doherty with an empty goal gaping in front of him.
But Ayr were not to be outdone in terms of missing chances. In the 49th minute Murphy’s through ball was flicked over the top of the defence by Gilmour into the path of Craig Beattie. As he reached the edge of the box Beattie decided to chip the ball over the keeper’s head but his effort was poor and he somehow managed to evade the target by a good 6 yards to the right.
A few minutes later former Ayr striker Brian Prunty, who was honoured before the game with a presentation marking his 100+ senior professional goals, raced into the penalty area and his well hit shot only went narrowly wide slamming into the side netting.
Then came a moment of controversy. A poor header at the halfway line by the usually reliable Ross Doherty put Jordan Preston into possession of the ball and he charged goalward chased by Airdrie’s Chris O’Neil. Just before reaching the edge of the penalty area O’Neil grabbed a handful of Preston’s jersey, an action visible from the other side of the park, pulling Preston slightly off-balance and allowing O’Neil the chance to put in a sliding tackle. Even though this tackle did not stop this shot being put away Preston’s effort slipped past the post. Maybe Preston should still have done better but his protestations to referee Craig Charleston could be fully understood.
There was still time for Ayr to yet again press the self-destruct button. After 76 minutes, and in a totally uncharacteristic fashion, Jon Paul McGovern played a loose pass in the Airdrie half which was quickly snapped up allowing the diamonds to move forward at pace. Scott Fraser then played an inch perfect pass to Bob McHugh who, despite a last gasp effort by Mikey Donald, knocked the ball past Hutton and into the net.
Not only were Ayr one goal down but it was as if a switch had been flipped, and for the second week the United players body language suggested that they lacked the self-belief to get themselves back into the scheme in the remaining 14 minutes.
Came as no surprise to Ayr fans when Airdrie grabbed their second with just 5 minutes to go. A needless shove by Jordan Preston on Jamie Bain gave Airdrie a freekick some 30 yards out. Scott Fraser’s delightfully curled freekick was met perfectly by Bob McHugh who’s unmatched run had found him in space behind the United defence. This header gave keeper Hutton no chance and the game was over at two nil.
McNeil Bain O’Neil Docherty Gasparotto Lindsay Morton Fitzpatrick Prunty Fraser McHugh Substitutes Watt Boyle Blockley Gray Ferguson (GK) Stewart
Hutton Devlin Donald Murphy McKenna McGovern Murray Gilmour Preston Beattie Blakeman Substitutes Neill Muir Forrest Robertson Crawford Nisbet Newman (GK)
Referee: Craig Charleston