Scottish Cup 3rd Round
Ayr United 1 v 1 Alloa Athletic
Arriving at Somerset Park these days, one could be forgiven for imagining the sound of incoming helicopters accompanied by the theme tune to M*A*S*H, or that the cast of Casualty had just rushed in through the main entrance as you approached. A morning of reading the national papers sports sections seems only to have given false hope; ‘only one man out’ they said ‘only one man out’. Reality strikes at the pre-match front door briefing as a simple request for details is responded to by what seems to be a never-ending list of names either out for the match or playing through injury. Out: Mikey Donald, Kevin McKinlay, Peter McGill, Robbie Crawford and gaffer Mark Roberts. Carrying injuries or niggles: Nicky Devlin, Peter Murphy, Alan Forrest, Brian Gilmour, and Craig Beattie.
Even the weather seemed to suggest impending doom as beautiful sunshine was replaced by a darkening sky as the clock ticked towards kick-off. But this was a cup tie and the 16 listed men were determined not to let their Championship opponents to come out on top.
Ayr took control early on with Gilmour, McLaughlin and McGovern dominating midfield and a positive United side utilising a quick passing and incisive style of play. In the opening minutes, Brian Gilmour slipped the ball to Nicky Devlin who sent a curling ball to the edge of the penalty area. Paul Slane’s attempted flick to reach Gilmour was blocked but came back to him and, although surrounded by four Alloa defenders, he managed to find JP McGovern whose shot from the edge of the box went narrowly wide.
More was to come as Ayr continued to push forward. JP McGovern found himself in acres of space on the right-hand side and took his time to place a beautifully flighted ball into the Alloa penalty box where Martyn Campbell rose to connect but unfortunately put the ball just over the bar.
In 23 minutes good work between Nicky Devlin and Scott McLaughlin created space in the last third and Ayr were unfortunate as McLaughlin’s shot went wide. McLaughlin’s continued intent was shown just four minutes later, when he picked up the ball just inside the Alloa half and spotted that keeper McDowall was off his line. His right-footed shot seemed destined for the top corner but the keeper scrambled back to save.
Alloa’s first real attempt on goal took 27 minutes to materialise. From a free kick some 25 yards out the ball was flicked sideways to midfielder Stephen Simmons who saw his shot deflected by the Ayr wall to the feet of former United striker Liam Buchanan. Buchanan showed some tricky feet and good close control but his efforts only resulted in a corner. Maybe this should have concerned United, but they were in so much control no one would have believed that misfiring Alloa would be the team to go ahead. But they did.
Just on 30 minutes, Alloa’s right back Michael Doyle picked up the ball just inside Ayr United half. He slipped the ball inside to Graeme Holmes who dragged it back and created space as United’s Gilmour slid past him. Holmes then played an inch perfect diagonal pass through and behind Ayr’s back four to the feet of the onrushing Buchannan who had darted into the penalty area. Although Ayr claimed for offside, Buchanan’s finish, from the narrowest of angles, was sublime, slamming the ball between goalkeeper Hutton and his nearside post into the top of the net.
As if going behind completely against the run of play was not bad enough, in 32 minutes Martyn Campbell pulled up sharply and signalled to the bench that he couldn’t carry on. Yet again Ayr’s injury jinx had struck and Campbell’s hamstring injury could see him out for a number of matches. Dale Shirkie came on for the big defender but moved into midfield, with Scott McLaughlin making his regular journey into the centre of defence.
If anyone thought that this double whammy would weaken Ayr’s resolve they’d have been so wrong. Ayr were determined to get back on level terms. In 33 minutes Dale Shirkie made space in the box and rose to reach a deft flick from JP McGovern but his header was saved.
Ayr didn’t have to wait long. In 34 minutes Brian Gilmour floated in a long high curling free-kick into the Alloa area, which central defender Ben Gordon could only knock behind his own goals. From the resultant corner kick JP McGovern’s low flighted ball was met on the 6 yard line by Ryan Donnelly who twisted his head hard to the right to turn the ball into the back of the net.
Ayr kept pressing and in the 38th minute Nicky Devlin charged down the right-hand flank leaving defenders in his wake before putting in a fast paced cross towards the front post. The Alloa defence failed to clear this effectively and the ball looped high into the air. Without letting the ball bounce, and with his back towards goal, Peter Murphy attempted an audacious overhead kick which flew across to the far post before going narrowly wide.
There followed a period of chances at either end with Ayr’s Forrest powerful strike being saved by McDowall; Alloa’s Buchannan putting the ball wide from a position almost identical to the one from which he had previously scored; and in 42 minutes a mix-up in the Ayr defence saw Peter Murphy almost knocking the ball into his own net before hooking it clear from the line.
As half-time arrived it appeared as if the gods had decided they had some left over weather from the previous night’s Halloween. The sky darkened even further, the wind rose and swirled, and the rain poured down. As the conditions changed it became obvious that all the players would find the second half a bit trickier.
Ayr started the second half with the same drive that they had shown in the first, while the half-time talk seemed to have concentrated the Alloa players on the task they had at hand.
In 52 minutes another excellent McGovern cross from the right landed right at the feet of Ayr’s Paul Slane, but his shot was well saved by keeper McDowall.
In the 55th minute Alloa were forced into a substitution, with David Weatherston coming on for midfielder Ryan McCord who appeared to have injured his back.
The game was becoming more and more competitive but Ayr still appeared to have the upper hand and were creating the majority of chances. In the 62nd minute Ayr as pushed down the left-hand side, Brian Gilmour spotted the opportunity to switch play. He found McGovern in the centre of midfield and he in turn set Nicky Devlin free on the right-hand side. Devlin charged forwards, beating Docherty for pace, reaching the goal line before slamming the ball across the six yard box. Alloa only managed to partially clear and the ball landed at the feet of the tireless JP McGovern some 25 yards out. As the Alloa defence tried to move out McGovern lifted the ball in over their heads allowing Ryan Donnelly to run in unmarked but his header was acrobatically saved by keeper McDowall.
In 67 minutes came the only booking of the game, and when it did come it was to a surprising recipient. In a game where numerous players had been warned repeatedly, and where full-time statistics show 9 fouls committed by Ayr and 14 by Alloa, it was Ayr United’s young left back Andrew Muir who ended up in the book. Muir certainly put in a tough tackle, but in the context of the match, no different to those which had previously resulted only in warnings.
Ayr decided to change things around a bit as they went all out for victory. On 70 minutes tiring young winger Alan Forrest made way for experienced striker Craig Beattie as Ayr tried to put more pressure on the Alloa back four.
In the 78th minute Liam Buchannan lifted a hopeful ball into the Ayr United penalty area which was comfortably nodded out by Scott McLaughlin: but the danger was not over. As Dale Shirkie rushed to recover the ball, Alloa’s Graeme Holmes reached the ball first and from some 25 yards out blasted it just over the bar.
After 80 minutes Ayr replaced Ryan Donnelly with Sean McKenzie and Alloa, Mark Docherty with Edward Ferns. Alloa also appeared to make a tactical change pushing extra players forward in an attempt to steal the game from United. On 82st minutes a moment of sublime skill from Alloa’s Stephen Simmons almost did just that. Capitalising on a poor United pass near the halfway line, Simmons strolled forward, noticed the keeper off his line, and lobbed the ball goalwards. Hutton could only grasp at thin air as the ball passed over but he breathed a sigh of relief as it rattled off the crossbar and was finally cleared.
Both teams huffed and puffed for the last 8 minutes but never really looked like scoring. As the full-time whistle sounded the Alloa player. seemed relieved not to be out of the tournament, while Ayr were left wondering why they had not won this match comfortably. All in all it was a much better display from Ayr this week, especially considering the pre-match injury concerns.
1 Hutton, 2 Devlin, 3 Muir, 4 Campbell, 5 Murphy, 6 Gilmour, 7 Forrest, 8 McLaughlin, 9 Donnelly, 10 McGovern, 11 Slane
12 McKenzie, 14 McArthur, 15 Beattie, 16 Shirkie, 19 Newman (GK)
21 McDowall, 2 Doyle, 3 Benedictus, 4 Gordon, 5 Meggatt, 6 Simmons, 7 Cawley, 8 McCord, 9 Buchanan, 10 Holmes,
12 Marr, 14 Ferns, 15 Weatherston, 16 Asghar, 17 Hetherington, 18 Tiffoney, 31 Couser (GK)
Ref: Don Robertson
Asst. Ref. 1: Joseph Lawson
Asst. Ref. 2: Colin McDonald