Ayr United 1 v 0 Falkirk
Ayr United progressed to the Quarter Finals of the Irn Bru Cup on Friday night, following a 1-0 extra-time victory at home over Falkirk. Gary Harkin’s first goal for the club was enough to ensure safe passage into the last eight of the competition.
These two sides met just two weeks previously in the league with Falkirk 2-0 winners and it was the Bairns who had the first real chance of the game. With 11 mins on the clock, Scott Shepard was set free down the right hand side but his effort was easily saved by Greg Fleming.
Harkins was providing a terrific out ball for Ayr and he was unlucky not to find the net as a snap shot from the edge of the box was well saved by Mehmet in the Falkirk goals.
This was the only action of note in a stalemate opening 45 mins with both teams struggling to create any real chances and the game becoming bogged down in midfield.
Hippolyte and McHugh then both had chances to break the deadlock for Falkirk, but they wasted the opportunities and the game remained locked at 0-0.
Harkins had another effort saved before Ayr’s Conrad Balatoni, a dominant figure throughout the match in central defence, prevented Shepard from opening the scoring with a wonderful last ditch sliding tackle on 67 mins.
After 72 mins came the major turning point in the game. Peter Murphy was adjudged to have fouled Lee Miller inside the box and referee Alan Muir pointed to the spot. However, Greg Fleming was once again the hero as he produced a stunning save to tip Luke Leahy’s low drive onto the post. The score remained 0-0 but this incident provoked a much needed upgrade in impetus and tempo.
Mehmet then produced a terrific save on 77 mins to again deny Harkins. The keeper threw himself through the air himself to acrobatically tip the United frontman’s volley wide of the post.
With neither team able to find a goal in 90 mins the tie headed into extra-time. The first chance of this fell to Falkirk’s John Rankin but he lashed an effort high over the bar.
Ayr then had a huge claim for a penalty as Andy O’Connell seemed to be taken down in the box but Alan Muir this time waved play on, much to the bemusement of the majority in the ground.
Fleming produced another fine save from Hippolyte before Ayr finally made the break through. With 113 mins gone and penalties looming Harkins raced on to a delicious Andy O’Connell through ball before rounding Mehmet and slotting the ball home under pressure from Luca Gasparotto. A cool, calm and composed finish from Harkins, who had been a real threat all evening.
Falkirk made life uncomfortable for Ayr in the remaining seven minutes and it took a tremendous effort from the United backline to prevent the equaliser. An excellent save from Fleming prevented Leahy’s spectacular overhead kick finding the net with Nicky Devlin throwing himself in front of the ball as Lee Miller looked certain to smash home the rebound.
1 – 0 was how it finished at Somerset Park and it was Ayr who progressed to the last eight of the completion with Harkin’s strike the decisive goal after an entertaining extra-time.
Next week back to Championship action as Ayr travel to Dumbarton in a vital and compelling fixture for the United faithful.
Fleming, Devlin, Murphy, Gilmour, Forrest, McGuffie, Cairney, Harkins, Meggatt, Balatoni, Docherty Subs: Hart (GK), Crawford, Donald, Rose, O’Connell, Wardrope, Donald
Mehmet, Kidd, Watson, Gasparotto, Leahy, Shepard, Rankin, Kerr, Hippolyte, Miller, McHugh Subs: McMinn (GK), McCracken, Baird, Sibbald, Henderson, Gallacher, Blues
Referee: Alan Muir