If ever a game could be described as a game of two halves, then it was this Tuesday night encounter between Ayr and Greenock Morton, with a goal each side of half time and Ayr dominating in the first 45 minutes with Greenock Morton taking the reins for the second.
Fielding the same starting eleven that ran out winners against Dunfermline the week before, United were looking to improve their points tally against Caley Thistle, one place below them in the league and to try and close the gap on Dundee United in second place. Heavy rain and hail showers just before the 7:45 kick off had made the top surface greasy, but as usual, the Somerset turf looked in excellent condition and all set up for good football.
Ayr United kicked the game off, playing towards their supporters in the Somerset Road End, and looked far the brighter of the two teams with Shankland in particular playing some nice touches to frustrate the Morton defenders. It was Moffat that was to have the first shot on goal. Receiving the ball from Shankland on the right wing, the striker drove forward to the 18 yard line but his shot flashed wide of the right hand post and in to the Somerset Road end.
Ayr were looking dangerous in attack as Morton struggled to close down players and connect with their passes. As much as the Morton defenders looked shaky though, the Ayr United defence seemed determined to be just as profligate as a series of Morton attacks were not dealt with efficiently and corners in particular were poorly defended with Morton having three of four free headers at goal before 15 minutes were on the clock.
The opening goal, when it came, was to the home side and from the penalty spot. With Ayr pressing hard up the pitch, it was Harvie on the left hand side who slid a ball through to Andy Murdoch just inside the box. Morton defender Lee Kilday running on to the ball didn’t notice the Ayr striker behind him and going for the ball brought Murdoch crashing to the turf and referee Willie Collum had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Star striker Shankland set the ball down and made no mistake in sending the ball in to the bottom left hand corner of the net with McCrorie going to wrong way. 1-0 to Ayr United with 20 minutes on the clock.
The goal settled the home sides nerves a bit and their play became more assured as they pulled the Morton defence from one side to the other of the field and forced them in to making more mistakes as they tried to deal with the Ayr attacks.
On 34 minutes, Declan McDaid, now playing on the right-hand side, went in for a 50/50 ball with Greg Kiltie but both players missed the ball and connected hard with each other. McDaid was only able to play on for another five minutes before he was substituted by Forrest who slotted in to the position vacated by the departing player.
The first half drew to a close with no more scoring and very few clear-cut chances for either team and so they went in with Ayr holding on to their slender 1-0 lead.
If it had been Ayr who were the dominant force in the first half, they handed that role to the visitors for the second and where it had been Morton making the mistakes it was now Ayr who started to rack up the error count.
Morton thought they had a penalty claim of there own on 65 minutes and Jack Iredale appeared to be tripped by the outstretched leg of Robbie Crawford, but on this occasion Willie Collum saw it differently and booked the Morton player for diving instead of awarding the spot kick.
The visitors didn’t have to wait much longer though as only a minute later they were on level terms. A free kick just inside the Morton half taken by Reghan Tumilty was chested down by Gregor Buchanan in the box and amidst a ruck of Ayr players was toe poked in to the net by Kilitie. One goal apiece and if nothing else, Morton deserved to draw level with their hosts after dominating the play for the majority of the second half so far.
Ayr rang the changes on the 67th minute, with Mark Kerr being replaced by Andy Geggan and on the 72nd minute with Craig Moore coming on for Michael Moffat, but neither player was able to make their usual impact on the game and the final whistle brought to an end a disappointing night for the home side.
On the balance of play, a draw was probably a fair result, but it does mean that Ayr have now won only one of their last eight home league games. However, with Inverness losing 1-2 at home to leaders Ross County, Ayr retain third spot in the league eight points behind Dundee United, but with two games in hand over the Tayside team.
With games now coming thick and fast, next up is Saturday at home with Inverness the visitors. A vitally important game for the Honest Men this one. A win would see them move four points clear of Caley Thistle, whereas a loss would drop them back a place and down to the final playoff slot with only the six games remaining. Signs of improvement over recent weeks are evident in the side, and with pivotal players coming back from injury, the league is far from over and there is still a good possibility of Ayr finishing strongly and clinching any one of the playoff spots and potential promotion.
Doohan, Harvie, Kerr, Rose, Moffat, Crawford, McDaid, Bell, Shankland, Murdoch, Smith
Substitutes: Hare-Reid, Geggan, Moore, Forrest, Docherty, Muirhead, Miller
McCrorie, Kilday, Iredale, Buchanan, Telfer, Millar, McAlister, Tumilty, Oliver, Kiltie, Lyon
Substitutes: Gaston, Thomson, Dykes, O’Connell, Hynes, Watt, Dallas
Referee: Willie Collum