The last game of the season. Premiership Play-off place assured, one team in the league definitely relegated, the bottom four all fighting to stay up. If ever a team needed the Force with them, then it was today. Visitors Alloa, sitting in the relegation zone, needed a win to stay up and were therefore in no mood to play nice.
With a tranche of players till out injured, McCall still managed to put out a strong team to face his opponents, looking to equal or better the result at Inverness to stay ahead of the Highland team in the league and gain the lucrative second leg home tie next week.
With bright sunshine, a pitch looking in excellent condition and very little wind, this was a perfect day for football, and the fans from both sides were hoping for a tussle of galactic proportions.
Ayr United to the reins early on putting pressure on the Wasps goalmouth, winning a series of corners within the space of three minutes, but on each occasion Alloa were up to the task of defence, crowding and hustling the Ayr players and not allowing a free shot at goal.
It was not all defending duties for the visitors though as Alloa were also getting in to the Ayr box, with Doohan having to make a point blank save from a Zanatta header in the 6th minute as the striker collected a cross from the left side and found himself clear at the near side post. Shortly afterwards, again getting the ball from Sheilds on the right wing, Zanatta found himself in an identical spot and when it looked easier to just slide the ball in to a virtually undefended goal mouth, he blasted the shot and somehow it hit the bar from 5 yards out and spun harmlessly away from the danger zone.
Alloa took a deserved lead on 32 minutes when Conor Shields got on to the end of a pass just outside the Ayr penalty box and getting around Rose, drove the ball low and straight in to the left-hand side of the goal beyond the reach of Doohan. 0-1 Alloa and the visitors were in to the safety zone.
The lead was only to remain intact for four minutes when Shankland got his 34th goal of the season. A fantastic cross in to the box from Cadden fell right at the feet of Shankland at the back and he grabbed the chance and slammed the ball in to the net in front of the home support. 1-1, and with scores at the other games, Ayr were still in fourth place and Alloa were still safe.
Both teams continued to look for the winner that would consolidate their league position, but in truth it was the visitors that looked the sharper of the two teams as Ayr sat back a bit and slowed the game down, perhaps with one eye on their upcoming games against Inverness in the coming week.
The second half was to produce chances for both teams with the Alloa strike force of Shields and Zanatta causing Ayr problems with their pace. Ayr continued to soak up the pressure, looking to strike back on the break.
Honest Man of the Year, Shankland, came off the park on the 70th minute having had a good run out and was replaced by his usual strike partner of Moffat in a like for like replacement. Alan Forrest came on at the same time for Miller as McCall looked to shake things up in attack for the last 20 minutes of the game.
The last 10 minutes of the game seemed to last forever for the visitors as United made things difficult for them, with Luke McCowan launching a shot towards goal with the precision of a missile strike on the Death Star’s ventilator shaft, only for it to be pushed over the top of the crossbar.
With 91 minutes on the clock, referee Collum had seen enough of the game and the season and blew his whistle to bring both to a close. Alloa were ecstatic at managing to confound the critics and stay in the Championship for another season, while Ayr dropped down a place to fourth with Inverness winning at home by a single goal over Dunfermline Athletic.
However, looking back on the season, United have barnstormed their way through the league, setting a pace early on that would see them top the table for 6 games in succession and never drop any lower than 4th place for the rest. A season that saw them once more struggle with injury that required them to dig deep and grind out a result when they really needed to. Another season of incredible highs, including a 5-0 thumping of Dundee United at Tannadice, and desperate lows when they were knocked out the Scottish Cup by Auchinleck Talbot. But, they finish with a chance at promotion for the second season in a row as they take on Inverness Caledonian Thistle over two legs in the coming week, with the first game at Somerset Park on Tuesday night.
Has it been a successful season? On balance, definitely yes.
Doohan, Harvie, Kerr, Rose, Shankland, Docherty, McCowan, Smith, Cadden, Miller, Muirhead
Subs: Hare-Reid, Crawford, Moffat, Forrest, Ecrepont, Thorburn, Hewitt
Parry, Taggart, Dick, Graham, Hetherington, Cawley, Robertson, Trouten, Flannigan, Zanatta, Shields
Subs: Roscoe, Hamilton, Brown, Kirkpatrick, Peggie, Henry, Karadachki
Referee: Willie Collum