Dunfermline Athletic 4 v 2 Ayr United.
Preparing for this match, a quick flick through the statistics did not do much to build confidence that United could come away with three points. Last season Ayr had faced the Pars on no fewer than six occasions, in both league and cup, and could only manage a draw in two matches. Further research was needed to delve deep into the historical records to find Ayr’s last win at East End Park: over four years ago, in February 2010, when a Tam McManus goal brought Ayr victory. That win came after 10 visits to the former Scottish capital (historical research does bring up some interesting facts!) had seen Ayr fail to secure a victory.
And so it turned out, the road to Fife was a journey too far for the out-of-sorts United team, and as has become the norm on their visits to East End Park. Ayr fans who made the journey could only return content at sampling the legendary ‘Stephens’ pies and steak bridies.
Just as United’s injury woes appeared to be coming to an end, with the return of Martin Campbell, Kevin McKinlay and Paul Slane to the line-up, Ayr were forced into a last-minute change. Influential defender Peter Murphy failed to recover from a back injury received in training on Thursday night and was in a great deal of pain, ensuring that he could take no part in the match.
Dunfermline’s intent was evident from the off. Their fast-moving, sharp passing, style caused Ayr a number of problems in the early stages. In the third minute Allan Smith stole the ball on the left, then played a succession of one twos across the edge of the penalty box before sliding the ball to Andy Geggan in space on the right. Geggan delivered powerful cross behind United’s back four and Chigozie Ugwu was only an inch short of connecting as he darted in.
It was no surprise when in the 18th minute Dunfermline went ahead. Former Ayr player Andy Geggan released winger Andy Stirling on the right, he twisted and turned around Mikey Donald before driving the ball low and hard towards the goal, where it deflected off Kevin McKinlay and into the net.
Only four minutes after losing the opening goal, Kevin McKinlay played a straightforward pass back to keeper David Hutton who appeared totally in control but decided to take an extra touch before clearing. This gave Dunfermline forward Allan Smith the time to charge forward and block the keepers attempted clearance, which spun behind Hutton, allowing Smith to stroke the ball into the empty net.
In the 22nd minute a moment of superb skill brought Ayr back into the game. A long high ball to the edge of the penalty area was controlled expertly by Craig Beattie who laid the ball off to Scott McLaughlin. McLaughlin twisted and smashed the ball into the net from 18 yards.
If Ayr believed this would be the sign of a resurgence their hopes were truly cut short by a wonder strike by the Pars central defender Shaun Byrne just four minutes later. Ross Millen’s free kick midway into the Ayr half was comfortably cleared by the United defence but was picked up by Byrne some 25 yards out who then released a drive that flew past the outstretched arms of David Hutton before testing the tensile strength of the top right-hand corner netting.
Dunfermline were comfortably in control and not content with merely a three goal haul. Ayr had barely restarted when the Pars again went close. Another Millen free kick, this time from the left side, was left by the Ayr defence as it appeared to be going out. Dunfermline’s Andy Smith had different ideas and sprinted to the ball, catching it before it crossed the line, before flicking it back to centre half Gregor Buchanan whose shot was saved on the line by Hutton.
With Ayr’s forays forward petering out without causing any problems, the Pars continued to dominate, a series of corners seeing Ayr scrambling the ball away and Hutton forced to punch the ball clear as Dunfermline pressed to increase their advantage.
Ayr were beginning to show some frustration and in the 42nd minute Brian Gilmour received a yellow card for a late challenge on Ross Millen.
Trailing 3-1 at half-time Ayr attempted to up their game as the second half commenced but it was Dunfermline who created most of the early chances. In 51 minutes Dunfermline defender Alex Whittle made a jet propelled run before releasing Alan Smith in on the left-hand side of the box, but Adam Cummins stood strong, forcing the danger man to shoot painfully wide.
In the 50th minute the struggling Mikey Donald was replaced by Alan Forrest and the youngster was soon to make an impact. With 55 minutes gone, Craig Beattie drove the ball into the Dunfermline penalty area when it deflected off of central defender Craig Buchannan. Forrest was first to react and sweetly struck the ball past Ryan Scully.
Only 60 seconds had passed when Dunfermline restored their lead. With Ayr fans looking for offside, Chigozie Ogwu found himself running into acres of space down the right-hand side. He played the ball into the box but somehow Smith failed to turn it in. As Ayr desperately tried to clear Thomson, under great pressure got the ball through to Smith again who this time smashed it into the net from 8 yards.
Apart from a flurry of substitutions, Donnelly and Muir replacing Beattie and Devlin, and bookings for Dunfermline’s Buchanan and Ayr Cummins, Donnelly and McGovern as tempers flared, the game was all but over. Ayr huffed and puffed but failed to show the ability to break down the composed Dunfermline defence.
Scully. Millen, Whittle, Byrne, Buchanan, Geggan, Smith, Thomson, Ugwu, Falkingham, Stirling
El-Bakhtaoui, Forbes, Potter, Spence, Chemin, Mercer, Goodfellow (GK)
Hutton, Devlin, Donald, Cummins, Campbell, Gilmour, McKinlay, McLaughlin, Beattie, McGovern, Slane
Donnelly, Crawford, Muir, Keenan, Forrest, Newman (GK)
Referee: Euan Anderson