At times this season following Ayr United has been a bit of an ordeal and in recent weeks it felt like one step forward with two back, as United’s results and performances would have tested the patience and faith of a saint, never mind that of the Somerset faithful.
However like all true believers United fans descended on Station Park on Saturday, for the last scheduled league game of the season, still believing that this United side could overcome all the odds and deliver a result against championship challengers Forfar Athletic in their own back yard.
Even though United started this game backed by an enthusiastic away support, who created a great atmosphere inside the ground, their faith appeared to be misplaced with only 6 mins on the clock.
Dale Hilson sprung United’s offside trap on the right hand side and homed in on David Hutton in the Ayr goal. As Hutton attempted to narrow the angle, Hilson cut inside him, but was brought down by the keeper for a penalty. Fortunately for Ayr referee Greg Aitken had decided that Ayr had covering defenders on the United goal line and only booked Hutton for the infringement. Hilson picked himself up, dusted himself down and calmly stroked the ball into the Ayr net for an early Forfar lead.
Ayr composed themselves after this early set-back and gradually came back into the game with some good spells of possession but for all their positive play their game lacked a cutting edge.
Then in the 34th min a forceful run down the left wing by Adam Blakeman saw him surge into the Forfar penalty box, drawing a clumsy challenge from full-back Michael Dunlop. This resulted in the Ayr player being upended and referee Aitken again pointing to the penalty spot and booking the Forfar full-back in the process. John Paul McGovern showed great composure as he stepped up and blasted the ball past Rab Douglas to level the score at 1-1.
Two minutes later worse was to come for Forfar and Michael Dunlop, after he was given a second yellow card for a rash challenge on Robbie Crawford and received his marching orders.
Ayr pressed home their extra man advantage and turned the game on it’s head in 40 mins as Jordan Preston out jumped the Forfar defence to power home a header from 12 yards to give Ayr a 2-1 lead at the break.
Forfar knew they had to win this game to stand any chance of becoming champions so they started the second half with three at the back and committing players to attack whenever possible. This formation unnerved Ayr and although they had the extra man advantage they were wary of how Forfar caused them problems on the counter attack.
As the game progressed however United started finding gaps in the Forfar defence and Rab Douglas did well to keep The Loons in the game in the 61st min with a point blank save from Jordan Preston as he wriggled through the Forfar rearguard .
But with 65 mins on the clock the Forfar defence was breached again after a neat move involving Forrest and Preston. The two youngsters linked up well with Preston laying off a pass for Alan Forrest who stroked a delightful shot low past keeper Douglas, without breaking stride, much to the delight of the travelling United support.
Danny Denholm almost got Forfar back into the game in 70 mins but he was unfortunate to see his close range shot come back off the Ayr upright.
The game opened up in the final stages with both teams going close as Forfar youngster Kerr Hay forced David Hutton in to a fine save from close range in 73 mins, before chances fell to Ayr’s Mikey Donald (75 mins) and Robbie Crawford (83 mins) as the game edged towards full time.
But in the end there were no further goals and at the final whistle there were mixed emotions for both sides as United players and fans enjoyed the heady mix of joy and relief after avoiding the relegation play-off’s. As for Forfar their players and supporters celebrations were more subdued as they contemplated missing out on the championship title and having to lift themselves and prepare for a promotion play-off.
Attendance – 1,916
Ayr United – Hutton; Devlin; Blakeman; Murphy; McKenna; McGovern; Gilmour; Crawford; Preston; Forrest; Robertson Subs – Beattie; Donald; Murray; Neill; Nisbet; Campbell; Newman
Forfar Athletic – Douglas; Dunlop; Travis; Malcolm; Dods; Malin; Denholm; Fotheringham; Templeman; Swankie; Hilson Subs – Husband; Kader; Dale; Hay; Smith; Kennedy; King
Report – AUMedia