Dundee 0 v 3 Ayr United
The opening 45 mins saw United create numerous chances and easily match Dee who struggled to create much in the final third where United were strong, with Rose and Adams in the centre of defence bolting the back door with determination and skill. Only Ralph’s overlapping surges on the left seemed to be posing any questions but all the answers were in the hands of the United rear-guard.
United were fast and furious moving forward with neat interplay, and probings from the dynamic midfield creating openings with Forrest, Geggan, Crawford, Moffat, and Shankland all going close early on against a shaky Dundee defence.
On 16 mins, Shankland went within inches of putting United ahead when his first-time volley from the edge of the box was deflected past the post by the outstretched knee of Josh Meekings.
It took Dundee 22 mins to have a shot on goal. After slight hesitation in the United defence, Mendy twisted and turned in the penalty area before slipping the ball to Wighton just 12 yards out. The striker’s shot was low and hard but keeper Doohan got down to smother with ease. Ayr immediately responded with a Shankland shot from the edge of the box going over.
Next came Dundee’s best effort in the game. Ralph played the ball to Nabi at the edge of the box on the left and the midfielder made space for himself before hitting a glorious right footed curling drive which bent just past the far post with Doohan at full stretch.
On 38 mins, United almost took the lead. After working the ball from the back and switching play from right to left, Moffat chased a Harvie pass down the wing. Centre half Kusunga got in in front but slipped, leaving Moffat with a free run to the edge of the 6-yard line. He turned the ball back to the edge of the penalty box where Murdoch was racing in, but the midfielder’s shot went over with the help of a slight touch from keeper Hamilton.
From the resultant corner, Nabi collected the ball and played an inch perfect pass forward to Mendy who tried to break clear but Harvie had seen the danger and raced across to hold him up at the edge of the box. Mendy took a step inside before hitting a sizzling drive goalward, but keeper Doohan matched this effort with an excellent save, tipping the ball round the post at full stretch.
There was still time for another United chance before the break. On 45 mins, Crawford flicked the ball between Curran and Kusunga, followed it into the box, and selected his right foot and shot for goal, only to see Meekings somehow deflecting wide.
The only surprise at halftime was that Ayr had failed to score and Dundee were still in the game. Dundee were struggling, and manager McCann replaced striker Wighton with recently signed Benjamin Kallman in the hope of a sharpened edge up front, but he was also to remain mostly anonymous.
In the opening moments there was sign of a more direct approach from Dundee, with wing-back Jesse Curran pushing further forward and providing impetus which, unfortunately for him, the rest of his team mates seemed to resist.
On 47 min, Curran overlapped at pace and raced onto a Madianga pass, chesting it over and behind Harvie and into the box before releasing a flashing first time drive which Doohan did well to get down to and save at his front post.
4 mins later and United were in the lead, with Doohan claiming the assist. United’s keeper blasted a long goal kick forward, it flew over the heads of the jumping Moffat and Curran, bounced some 35 yards out and into the penalty area, where Shankland had sneaked behind Kusunga and Meekings. Within seconds the ball was in the back of the net, courtesy of a powerful Shankland shot, and the striker posed imperiously in front of the United fans and awaiting his team mates’ congratulations.
Ayr were deservedly in front and Dundee had lost it, in more ways than one. Cue the introduction of Sofian Moussa on 62 mins, and a surreal 15 mins of action for the hot-headed Tunisian striker. Within 60 seconds the substitute had pulled and hacked at Daniel Harvie and ended up in a face to face confrontation. Free kick and first warning. Without yet playing a ball that hadn’t resulted in a freekick the next 2 mins saw him dangerously challenge twice resulting in 2 more freekicks, the last of these an elbow to Geggan’s head. Referee Beaton had had enough, and out came the yellow card, when many felt his actions had deserved red.
The Tunisian wasn’t finished yet, with another lunging tackle, again on Harvie. With the referee preferring leniency, signalling his last chance, and his manager screaming at him to calm down, Moussa preferred to argue back with his boss and keep his own over-heated counsel.
A pass back to one of his defenders, minutes later, was his only legal contribution of the game and on 74 mins he was shown a red card. A long kick forward by Hamilton was headed clear by Kerr, only for the striker to jump in late and batter the midfielder from behind. A long diagonal walk to the dressing room followed for Moussa accompanied by the boos of the home support.
United turned up the heat, and on 82 mins almost doubled their tally. Shankland flicked a Geggan forward pass to substitute McDaid on the right. The winger did well to control the ball and dart into the box before rolling the ball inwards. Shankland appeared to be barged to the ground by Madianga, causing cries for a penalty, but still the ball reached Crawford, who hit his drive over the bar.
With 5 mins to go, Crawford laid the ball back to Harvie at the edge of the box and his pin-point cross found Shankland 6-yards out and he powerfully headered against the bar with Hamilton beaten. The striker would only have a minute to wait before he grabbed goal number 2.
Ayr were all over Dundee, with the home team being forced backwards and struggling to clear their lines. First, Ayr pressed down the right, Meekings failing to clear with a hacked ball going skywards. Murdoch won the aerial challenge, Geggan, Moffat, and then substitute Bell, worked the ball left for Crawford, who was surrounded instantly by four defenders. Crawford dropped the ball back to Moffat who found Harvie in space on the left, all the defenders having been sucked in to try and stop Crawford. Harvie’s low and powerful drive into the box was met by Shankland who stabbed the ball home. 0 – 2, 86 mins gone, United flying, and raptures for the black and white in the Bob Shankly Stand.
Surely this couldn’t get any better, but it did. As Dundee fans poured out of the stadium, Ayr poured on more pressure. Ayr worked the ball out from the back, a long ball into midfield was turned wide to the right by Shankland and McDaid sprinted into the box before firing it across to Moffat who tapped home from 2 feet out. Raptures turned to full on ecstatic delirium for the Ayr fans while Dundee blew their final self-destructive fuse.
With 3 mins of added time gone, Kusunga nastily and unnecessarily chopped through Moffat from behind and received a straight red card, adding to the woes of his manager, team mates, and fans.
A dominant and well-deserved win for the men in black and white. Victory now gives United a potential cash grabbing, and not unwinnable, tie against Rangers at Ibrox in the quarter finals. More important for Ayr at present is this Saturday’s home match in the Championship against a fancied Dunfermline Athletic side.
Hamilton, Ralph, Kusunga, Ngwatala, Mendy, Nabi, Madianga, Meekings, Curran, Spence, Wighton Substitutes: Parish (GK), Kerr, Caulker, Kamara, Moussa, Kallman, Lambert
Doohan, Geggan, Adams, Rose, Harvie, Forrest, Murdoch, Kerr, Crawford, Moffat, Shankland Substitutes: Hare-Reid (GK), Moore, McDaid, McGuffie, Ferguson, Bell, Smith
Referee: John Beaton