Dunfermline Athletic 2 v 1 Ayr United
Once again Ayr United made the long journey home having failed to beat Dunfermline, leaving United without a win in the last 11 meetings between the two sides, and now having lost 14 out of the last 15 trips to East End Park. United boss Ian McCall was left to rue a number of chances that Ayr failed to take before Dunfermline finally got the upper hand, and in the dying seconds a launched body that blocked the ball denying United an equaliser.
The first half was very much an even contest with Dunfermline content to play long build-up play before using the flanks to try and get around the Ayr United rear-guard. United adopted a faster paced approach relying on speedy breakouts from defence and causing Dunfermline some panic as they scrambled to defend.
In the early stages both teams struggled against the strong swirling wind and to keep their feet on a slippery surface. In the 10th minute Ayr were the first to create a clear-cut chance. Robbie Crawford drove past three players and reached the corner flag before crossing the ball in towards the 6 yard line. As it looked as if either Preston or Beattie would reach the ball first a Dunfermline head appeared from nowhere and with the finest of touches flicked the ball away.
Ayr had two more chances in quick succession. In the 13th minute Beattie launched a drive from 35 yards but it was straight at Dunfermline keeper Scully who saved easily. Then Dunfermline gained a corner and moved all their big men up from the back, attempting to pressurise United. As the ball was knocked out of the penalty area, Michael Donald found himself with a swathe of green in front of him and he charged forwards. Jordan Preston came with him making a run to his left and as Donald reached the edge of the penalty area he attempted to play Preston through. Unfortunately for Preston the ball took the deftest of flicks off the heel of a defender and forced him to stop and turn backwards. The chance was lost, with Preston surrounded and the ball eventually cleared.
Dunfermline were causing Ayr some problems especially down the flanks through Hopkirk and George but good build-up play was regularly wasted by a poor final ball in dangerous positions.
The first booking of the match came in 17 minutes when Dunfermline’s Paul George caught Craig Beattie square on the shins with a straight footed and studied tackle that would result in Beattie leaving the field some 10 minutes later to be replaced by Ryan Donnelly. Beattie’s reaction of attempting to bounce straight back up off the turf probably saved George a more severe punishment.
The game began to increase in pace with chances for both sides. Dunfermline’s Paul George picked up on a slip by McKenna and darted to the line before hitting a flighted across the 6 yard line only for it to be narrowly missed by both Michael Moffat and Lewis Allan. Three minutes later Allan himself created a chance, darting down the left-hand side and getting into the penalty area before drawing the ball back behind a line of in-rushing Dunfermline forwards allowing Ayr to scramble the ball away.
Ayr were not to be out done, and when United gained a freekick 35 yards out after David Robertson had been upended, Adam Blakeman’s drive outwitted the keeper but slid inches past the post.
It was now Robertson’s turn to go into the book as he ‘professionally’ took down Pars’ Allan as he attempted to capitalize on a quick one-two with fellow striker Michael Moffat at the edge of the box. From the resulting freekick Ross Millen smashed the ball off the bar as Dunfermline came the closest they had to scoring in the first half.
At the break the score was tied at 0 – 0 and Ayr must have felt confident as this Dunfermline team showed little of their normal dominance, power or flair. In the second half Ayr shot out of the traps with Brian Gilmour blasting the ball from all of 35 yards out only to see keeper Scully pull off an amazing fingertip save at full stretch, pushing the ball against the post then watching as it came back right along the goal-line before going to safety.
Ayr were having the best of the game at this point and should have gone ahead in the 53rd minute when Donald controlled the ball well on the edge of the penalty area before putting through an inch perfect pass to Ryan Donnelly. Donnelly then contrived to miss the target from 6 yards when it seemed easier to score.
Dunfermline manager, John Potter had targeted the right-hand side of Ayr United’s defence as a weak spot, encouraging winger David Hopkirk to drive into that area at every opportunity. The signs were there that this tactic was having some effect. In the next five minutes Hopkirk created three clear chances the closest being when, put through by Michael Moffat, his crisp shot slammed back off the up right with Hutton beaten.
In the 61st minute Ayr’s luck ran out. Once again Hopkirk was released into the box and after good control his drive in from the left flicked off Nicky Devlin and into the net. This appeared to be ‘devilishly’ bad luck for Nicky as he did his best to block the incoming ball.
Two minutes later a darting run by Hopkirk saw him powering past Craig Murray before releasing a beautifully flighted ball onto the penalty spot allowing the onrushing Michael Moffat to powerfully hit goalwards, only to be denied by the alert Hutton.
In the 70th minute Ayr tried to freshen things up, and seal the gaping hole down the right-hand side of defence, by replacing Craig Murray and captain for the day Brian Gilmour with Morgyn Neill and Jon Paul McGovern, allowing Nicky Devlin to move into the right back slot. Shortly after Dunfermline replaced the tiring George with Shaun Byrne.
With United still trying to get back into the game came the sucker punch. This time Hopkirk played the provider with a beautifully flighted corner picking out Andy Geggan as he made a run towards the front post. Unchallenged the midfielder headed the ball past Hutton to make it two nil.
At this point not many people would have given Ayr a chance of getting back into the game but in the 85th minute they snatched a goal that was to turn the last seven minutes of this match into very uncomfortable period for the Pars.
As the ball came in from the left Dunfermline keeper Scully attempted to prevent Ayr striker Jordan Preston from a heading in from close range. The keeper’s efforts appeared particularly un-composed and somehow the ball dropped at the feet of Robbie Crawford who hit it goalwards through the legs of the keeper and into the net.
This was a signal for Ayr United to throw everything at Dunfermline who struggled to keep the Honest Men out. And right on the stroke of full-time it looked like United were going to do it as the ball was blasted goalwards only to be blocked by a Dunfermline defender despairingly throwing his body in the way.
It just wasn’t to be for Ayr, and due to results elsewhere the team drops back down into the play-off zone.
Scully, Millen, Urquhart, Martin, McAusland, Spence, George, Geggan (c), Allan, Moffat, Hopkirk Subs: Goodfellow (GK), Barrowman, Williamson, O’Kane, Thomson, Byrne, El Bahktaoui
Hutton, Devlin, Blakeman, Gilmour (C), McKenna, Crawford, Murray, Robertson, Preston, Beattie, Donald Subs: McGovern, Donnelly, Muir, Neill, McCracken, Newman (GK)