Beith Juniors 0 v Ayr United 3
A 0 – 3 win over Ayrshire Juniors side Beith in the William Hill Scottish Cup saw Ayr United awarded another Ayrshire ‘derby’ against Auchinleck Talbot. Although the result looked convincing on paper, the Championship side were made to work hard for their victory. A crowd of 1780 watched on as the two teams battled it out on a cold, but bright, November day in a typically towsy cup game.
Ayr United won the toss and elected to play up the slope in the first half, a slope of eight feet between one end of the park and the other. The slope was to play a vital part in the game in the second half.
United were in attacking mood from the start, with the first attempt of the game coming from McDaid rushing down the right-hand side straight from the off. His cross into the box was not hit with enough power and Beith keeper, Grindlay, who played a pivotal role in this game, made a comfortable save.
Two minutes later and Liam Smith, from inside his own half, slid the ball to Moffat who, hearing the shout from his strike partner Shankland, let the ball travel through to him on the edge of the box. Shankland’s first touch put the ball in the perfect position to launch a powerful dipping shot at goal and only an athletic one-handed save from Grindlay kept the ball from the back of the net. The Beith number 2, Connor McGlinchey cleared the ball from the danger zone and the Beith fans breathed a sigh of relief.
Seconds later, Shankland was ready for another go. A cross-field pass from Michael Rose saw the ball being picked up by Daniel Harvie on the left wing with Shankland just in front of him. With Moffat occupying the attention of two Beith defenders, Shankland was free to turn and fire a powerful shot at the goal, where yet again Grindlay was up to the task, diving at full stretch to push the ball past the post for a corner. Ayr were unable to capitalize on the resulting corner and the score stayed at 0-0.
Ayr were not quite finished yet. After some good one-touch passes moving the ball from left to right, Liam Smith received the ball close to the right touch-line. Getting past his marker and down to the goal-line, he whipped in a fearsome cross over the heads of the Beith players to reach Andy Geggan at the far post, but his header went over the bar.
Ayr were now going full out on the Beith goal to try and open the scoring. Chris Higgins, looking assured and confident on his return to first team duties after injury, sent a long, inch-perfect pass into the Beith penalty area where Shankland was unmarked. The ball dropped neatly over the striker’s shoulder allowing him to get to the line, but his shot from an angle was blocked by Grindlay and again Ayr were denied the goal they were desperately seeking.
Beith were not out of the picture though and always looked dangerous on the counter-attack, with their two wingers, Christie and Bradley, determined, skilful and speedy. Defensively, Beith were well organised, working hard and getting everyone behind the ball in their own half, forcing Ayr to knock the ball back and forth looking for the opening to send the ball forward.
Long probing kick-outs from Grindlay offered Beith their best chances, looking for a forward to get in behind the Ayr defence as it pushed up, or relying on centre-forward Milliken to hold up and lay off to support as it arrived. The junior team showed great intent but could not unlock the defensive backline, superbly orchestrated by Rose and Higgins.
On 30 minutes United thought they had found the breakthrough as a bundled shot through a melee of players saw the ball nestle in the back of the net, but the far side assistant had his flag up for offside much to the chagrin of the attacking Ayr players.
With no quarter being asked in the tackles, it was merely a matter of time before the referee was required to pull a card from his pocket and on 37 mins Geggan was the unlucky recipient of a yellow, being adjudged to have made a dangerous tackle. In truth, the tackle was no worse than some that had been meted out by combatants from both sides throughout the game.
Beith continued to frustrate Ayr for the remainder of the half and as the whistle blew for half-time the score stood at 0-0. Ayr certainly had the bulk of the possession and chances on goal throughout the first half but, it had literally been a bit of an uphill struggle. The second half would see Ayr increase their dominance and make good use of the advantage of the steep gradient against what became a tiring Beith side.
The half started with Ayr shooting downslope, but straight into the low winter sun that by now was clear of the clouds that had obscured it for most of the first half. Ayr came out with a more zip to their play as they upped the tempo and started to pull the Beith players out of position with fast, accurate, crisp play.
Moffat was first to try his luck on 53 mins, his right footed shot from the six-yard box again being saved by the on-form Grindlay. Geggan was next up.
A forward pass from the half-way line by Rose saw Shankland at the edge of the box surrounded by Beith players. Unable to turn or get a shot away, he neatly back-heeled the ball through a gap and into the path of the charging Geggan but, yet again, Grindlay denied Ayr the goal they desired, diverting the ball for a corner with his feet. From the corner, the ball fell again to Geggan shot blasted against the Beith crossbar. With the metalwork still thrumming from the impact, a left-footed strike on the rebound from Rose saw the ball skim millimetres over the top.
The deadlock was finally broken on 64 mins. Moffat crossed the ball into the box from the left side, but Bell was unable to gain full control under pressure from two Beith defenders. The ball spun backwards and Shankland was first to the ball, his left-footed shot evading Grindlay for the first time and ending up in the back of the net. 0 – 1 United and the Ayr fans breathed a sigh of relief.
The Beith players were beginning to tire and United ratcheted up the pressure. Ayr then made two substitutions, Crawford being replaced by McGuffie and Docherty coming on for Geggan. It was Docherty who was next to make his mark on the game.
On 80 mins, a cross from one side of the box to the other saw Shankland unmarked and in acres of space. Selflessly turned the ball to Docherty close to the penalty spot, and the midfielder ‘passed’ into the net to double Ayr’s advantage and all but kill off the game.
The result was signed, sealed and delivered on 88 mins. Harvie charged forward and slid the ball wide to late substitute Luke McCowan who pushed towards the line and delivered into the box where Moffat dinked the ball into the net to make the score 0 – 3 to the Honest Men. Ayr were assured their progress to the next round of the cup.
Although the final score was a convincing win for Ayr, Beith can rightly hold their heads high having provided a tough, uncompromising test for the Championship side.
Next up it’s back to league action as United travel to Dundee United on Friday for Ayr’s first televised game of the season.
Grindlay, McGlinchey, Noble, Nicky, Sheridan, Wilson, Christie, Frize, Milliken, Collins, Bradley
Substitutes: Haggerty, Docherty, Middleton, McPherson, Green, MacDonald, Miller
Doohan, Higgins, Harvie, Rose, Geggan, Moffat, Crawford, McDaid, Bell, Shankland, Smith
Substitutes: Hare-Reid, McGuffie, Ferguson, Murdoch, Ecrepont, Docherty, McCowan
Referee: Colin Steven