Ayr United 2 v 2 Stranraer
(Stranraer win 6 – 5 on penalties)
On Saturday, following a bonus point shoot-out loss to Stranraer, United failed to progress to the knock-out rounds of the Betfred Cup for the first time since the format’s reintroduction in 2016. First-half goals from Michael Moffat and Steven Kelly, with Adam Cummins pulling one back for Stranraer, gave Ayr the advantage at halftime, but a late equaliser from Cummins took the game into a penalty shoot-out in which Stranraer came out on top.
The Honest Men got off to a perfect start when Michael Moffat opened the scoring only 2 mins into the match. As Stranraer attacked, Sam Roscoe won the ball in Ayr’s penalty area an launched the ball forward. Stranraer’s David Smith jumped with Michael Moffat but at a stretch could only knock the ball backwards allowing Moffat to turn and sprint towards goal. With Smith and McManus in chase, the striker made his way into the penalty box and slotted the ball past Stranraer keeper Burgess from 16 yards to give Ayr the lead.
After the early goal, the game went flat with both teams creating chances but neither finding the cutting edge that could turn these into goals. United had the upper hand but Stranraer were still dangerous on the break.
Note must be made of Stranraer’s on form keeper Dale Burgess who, on several occasions, pulled off saves that blunted United’s attacks. On 15 mins, after some intricate build-up play, David Ferguson fired a low ball into the penalty area from wide on the right which Kris Doolan flicked goalward only for Burgess to dive acrobatically and turn it past the post. 3 mins later Luke McCowan played a short pass through midfield which was met Moffat at the edge of the penalty area. Burgess rushed out to defend and denied Moffat one-on-one with a spectacular block.
After a period of dominance, Ayr began to take the foot off the pedal and allowed Stranraer to get back into the game. The Blues started to gain impetus and confidence, creating chance after chance as the game moved towards halftime.
Stranraer’s best chance came on 41 mins and it should have provided a warning for United. Ryan Thomson slid a short pass through to former Ayr player James Hilton who made space for himself at the edge of the penalty area and sent in a low drive which was saved by Ross Doohan at his bottom left-hand corner.
Stranraer were knocking on the door and finally got their equaliser with 42 mins on the clock. Hilton played in a high corner from the left, Adam Cummings lost his marker near the back and rose high to head the ball home.
United found almost immediate redemption 2 mins later when Stranraer captain Jamie Hamill conceded a free kick at 30 yards with a reckless tackle from behind on Kris Doolan. Steven Kelly stepped up to take it and lifted a delightful shot over the Stranraer wall and into the top left-hand corner to give Ayr the lead at half time.
Going into the second half, it was all Stranraer at Somerset Park. The visitors were chasing the one-goal deficit and showed their ambition early on with a great chance on 52 mins. Smith turned Daniel Harvie on the right-wing to set up Connor McManus for a stinging shot from 25 yards which was only kept out by an excellent full stretch save from Ross Doohan in the United goals
Ayr looked rattled and struggled to deal with Stranraer’s attacking force which kept the upper hand throughout the second 45 mins. United’s only real chance of the second half came late in the game in the 82nd minute when Craig McGuffie sent a short cross from the left to Alan Forrest at the edge of the box whose curling shot was blocked by Burgess at the post initially and then cleared off the line by Cummins to deny the home side a match-winner.
Stranraer finally got the goal they deserved on 86 mins and it was a carbon copy of their first one. Jordan Allan lifted in a corner from the right and it was Cummins, who had again slipped his marker, who rose in the box to head the ball home and level the game.
With neither side finding a late goal, the game went to penalties to decide who got the vital bonus point. With the penalties being taken at the Somerset Road End,
McGuffie, Moffat, Forrest, Docherty and Steven Bell all scored comfortably for Ayr and Allan, Hamill, Dangana, Cummins, and Hilton did so similarly for Stranraer. The shoot-out then went into sudden death mode.
First, it was Daniel Harvie for United, but he was denied by Dale Burgess who palmed away his low shot. All Ryan Thomson had to do was find the back of the net for Stranraer to come out on top. The midfielder sent Ross Doohan the wrong way and hit the bottom left-hand corner of the net, securing the bonus point and bragging rights for Stranraer.
The result means that Ayr finished the Betfred Cup group stage second in Group G on 7 points which unfortunately wasn’t enough to take them through to the knock-out rounds.
Next up, the start of the league season with Morton visiting Somerset Park on Saturday.
Doohan, Harvie, Roscoe, Moffat, Doolan, McCowan, Ferguson, Bell, Murdoch, Docherty, Kelly Substitutes: Hare-Reid (GK), Muirhead, Kerr, Forrest, McGuffie, Ross, McKenzie
Burgess, Allan, Cummins, Hamilton, Smith, Hamill, McManus, Hilton, Pignatiello, Thomson, Elliott Substitutes: Currie (GK), Robertson, Smith, Dangana
Referee: Grant Irvine