A poor display from Ayr United on Friday night meant their long run of games without a win continued as they left Falkirk with no goals and no points after a 2-0 defeat at the hands of a resurgent Bairns.
Heavy rain prior to kick-off had left the artificial pitch’s surface wet and sticky in places, resulting in awkward bounces and erratic movement of the ball for passes, something that both teams struggled with in the opening minutes of the game, but it was the Bairns that looked the stronger of the two teams in the opening salvos.
Falkirk nearly opened the scoring in only the second minute when a speculative dink forward by Paul Paton was not dealt with at the first ask by the Ayr United defence and the ball was pushed in to the path of Petravicius, but he also failed to control the ball and it was eventually cleared away Michael Rose.
On the three-minute mark the visitors had a chance at goal. Crawford picked up the ball at the half-way line and a neat header got the ball under control and allowed the player to race in to the penalty box where he got the cross away in to the path of the waiting Shankland, but the off form striker was unable to control the shot and it went sailing over the hosts cross bar and in to the crowd.
Ayr were causing Falkirk problems with Crawford and Harvie playing wide on the wings, and with Falkirk’s Paton playing on the right of the diamond formation, the defender was constantly having to make lung busting runs to intercept Ayr’s wingers. Although Ayr had the bulk of the possession in the first twenty minutes, it was mostly confined to cross field passes as Falkirk continued to close down the strike force of Moffat and Shankland and restricted Ayr to speculative long-range shots.
It was the hosts that were to break the deadlock in the 27th minute, both against the run of play and with an outrageous attempted cross. A throw-in on the right-hand side to Falkirk appeared to have been dealt with as Ayr pushed Falkirk back in to their own half, but McKenna worked the ball back up to Deimantas Petravicius who slid it through to captain Jordan McGhee. The defender looked goalward and seemed to be attempting a cross to the far post and the onrushing Zak Rudden, but the flight of the ball confused everyone and sneaked in to the top left-hand corner of the goal over the despairing Ross Doohan. 1-0 Falkirk.
The Bairns grew in confidence having taken the lead and proceeded to go up through the gears, putting Ayr under renewed pressure with Keillor-Dunn being the architect of things in the midfield. The Ayr defence was looking decidedly shaky and not sure how to deal with Petravicius and Rudden in the Falkirk attack.
The next goal was to be another one for the hosts as McGhee doubled his and Falkirk’s tally five minutes before the break. Tommy Robinson crossed a high ball in to the box from the left-hand side but it sailed over the heads of both attackers and defenders and fell to McGhee loitering just outside the penalty box. A single touch to pull the ball down and under the control, and he hit a right footed half volley in to virtually the same place of the net as his first. 2-0 Falkirk and Ayr needed the next goal without question.
Ayr manager McCall rang the changes at half time, bringing on Declan McDaid to play on the left-hand side in place of Calvin Miller and Robbie Crawford pushing more in to midfield. United did start to grow in to the match after the hour mark with both Shankland and Liam Smith causing problems in the box, but Harry Burgoyne was on top form making a couple of important saves to deny the Ayr strikers and keep Falkirk in the game.
Youngster Luke McCowan replaced Moffat on 61 minutes and Nicky Cadden got a run out as he replaced Murdoch on 75 minutes. Both substitutes brought vigour and determination to an Ayr side that were looking more and more shell shocked as the game progressed. McCowan in particular was chasing down every ball and clocking up the miles.
Ayr thought they had pulled one back in the 76th minute when a long, floating pass from Harvie far out on the left wing was met on the volley by Shankland and in to the net, but the Ayr striker was marginally offside and the assistant referee rightly had his flag up immediately to signify the transgression.
Falkirk held on for the remainder of the game and closed out the match with their two goal lead intact to record their eight unbeaten game on the bounce.
With only nine games left in the season, and a place in the play-offs still up for grabs, United are going to have to identify and resolve the issues they have encountered over the last few games as they look to regain some of the form they exhibited at the start of the season. The next game, at home to Queen of the South, whilst not being a season definer, is now of massive importance and a good performance is crucial if Ayr are not to slip further down the table and out of contention at the top.
Ayr United: Doohan, Harvie, Kerr, Rose, Moffat, Crawford, Shankland, Murdoch, Smith, Miller, Muirhead. Subs: Hare-Reid, McDaid, Adams, Docherty, Cadden, McCowan, Hilton
Falkirk: Burgoyne, McGhee, Edjenguele, Paton, Petravicius, Keillor-Dunn, Robson, McShane, Rudden, Osman, McKenna. Subs: Mitchell, Kidd, Todorov, Jarvis, MacLean, Brough, Waddington.
Referee: Alan Muir Attendance: 4334 fffff