Ayr United 3 v 3 Ross County
Sometimes ‘top of the league’ clashes are disappointing, often dull, with teams letting the fears associated with ‘leads being clawed back’ or ‘distance being put between teams‘ to dominate their thinking. What tends to be the result of this is a defence minded, stagnant, match lacking any excitement or true entertainment. Not this one, where both teams set out to win while the weather joined in to add to the uncertainty of any result up till the final whistle.
The first half started at pace with Ross County intent on making their mark early on while United appeared at times apprehensive and uncharacteristically lacking composure at the back, but soon this developed into an end to end attacking feast of cup tie proportions.
On 12 mins Ross County took the lead. Ayr seemed to have stopped the threat when Smith and Murdoch teamed up to block Demetriou’s shot at the edge of the box, but County’s Lindsay collected the ball on the left, slid it forward down the line to where Cowie flicked to Demetriou who had stayed in an advanced position. The wing-back made it to the line then played a curling, lofted ball back towards Mullin who volleyed home.
This seemed harsh on a United team that had just got onto the front foot, but they didn’t waste any time feeling sorry for themselves. 3 mins later, Shankland picked up a through ball from Crawford, made his way into the box, turned inside Watson, before seeing his shot well saved by keeper Fox.
With 21 mins on the clock, United were awarded a corner on the right. As McDaid’s high curving ball came into the box, Rose got away from his marker Draper who elected to barge him from the back to prevent him heading towards goal. Rose hit the deck and referee Bobby Madden pointed to the spot. Up stepped Shankland who slammed the ball to the keeper’s right and into the net.
Ayr stepped up the pressure and it only took a few minutes to put themselves in front, and for Shankland to claim his second. Demetriou’s reckless late challenge on Geggan resulted in a freekick for United some 20 yards out on the right. McDaid lifted the ball into the box and, with County defenders slow to react, Shankland nipped in and directed the ball home. 25 mins on the clock and it was 2 – 1 to United.
United were on top although County were still dangerous on the break. Ayr dominated the possession and created numerous chances with Shankland and Moffat repeatedly denied by Fox. It took until 43 mins for the Honest Men to get their much-deserved third.
Shankland laid the ball off to his right from where Smith fizzed in a powerful drive only to see defender Draper bravely dive in, blocking with his face before dropping poleaxed to the ground. The ball flew into the air, Moffat knocked to the edge of the box, McDaid flipped it forwards, and in the great tradition of stramashes, Geggan headed over the keeper, Shankland’s attempt was blocked on the line, before Geggan smashed the ball into the top of the net. 3 -1 and nothing less than what was United’s due.
Cue halftime and enter the giggling gods of weather conditions. The sky turned black, the wind from the East rose to ‘wild’, and the clouds unleashed a deluge of icy rain and sleet. For the second half, United would have to face into the teeth of this icy gale, and a Ross County determined to get back into the game.
County’s tactics changed to take advantage of the conditions with the long ball deployed to add additional pressure onto the United back line and within 3 mins of the restart, they’d pulled one back.
Staggies’ captain, Fraser first appeared to control the ball with his arm deep in his own defence and then under pressure booted the ball clear. With the wind at it’s back the ball flew over the Ayr backline to the on-rushing McKay who went in one-on-one with keeper Doohan. McKay appeared to have lost control of the ball and shot wide, but referee Madden decided that the chasing Bell had made slight contact and awarded his second penalty of the match. Up stepped McKay who slotted home and it was Game on at 3 – 2.
Ross County tried to press on and were creating chances through their long ball approach, Stewart using his height and bustling style well to disrupt the United defence with McKay showing threat and skill supporting the big forward.
United were still an attacking force and were only denied a 4th by Fox who dived at the feet of Shankland just yards out. In a game of ‘anything you can do’ McKay was denied an equaliser by a diving one-on-one save by Doohan at the other end.
On 52 min it was all tied up at 3 – 3 when another long ball following an Ayr attack went over Ayr’s defence and into the box. Mullin got to the line before bringing out a good block from Doohan, but Cowie was first to react and thumped the ball into the back of the net.
Ayr changed formation to try and deal with County’s tactics, Higgins entering the field for McDaid, to attempt to shore up the back. This change seemed to nullify most of the threat, but Ayr had to continually be aware of the threat posed by the incessant wind and worked hard throughout the remainder of the half.
That neither side didn’t add to their total was a miracle with Ayr’s Smith (blocked by Fox just a yard out) and Shankland denied, and Gardyne and McKay for County also going close.
The final whistle saw one point for each side… and 3 for the second half weather. Next up for United a pre-Christmas trip to East End Park, and Dunfermline Athletic on Saturday.
Doohan, Smith, Bell, Rose, Harvie, McDaid, Geggan, Murdoch, Crawford, Shankland, Moffat Substitutes:Hare-Reid (GK), Higgins, Moore, McGuffie, Ferguson, Docherty, McCowan
Fox, Fraser, Watson, Grivosti, Demetrious, Draper, Cowie, Lindsay, Mullin, Mckay, Stewart Substitutes: Munro (GK), Gardyne, McManus, Vigurs, Keillor-Dunn, Wallace, Kelly
Referee: Bobby Madden
Attendance: 2,030 0pt; mso-borde