Forfar Athletic 2 v 2 Ayr United
Ayr could not have had a worse start to this match with Forfar taking the lead in only 1 min 47 secs. Ayr’s central defence were posted missing as winger Andrew Black’s cross reached Danny Denholm in acres of space in the box. Under no pressure Denholm slammed the ball home much to the delight of the home fans.
This early goal settled the hosts who for the rest of the half had the luxury of defending in numbers, thwarting Ayr’s forward movement, and catching United on the break through the pace of Swankie, Denholm and Black.
In 5 mins Forfar were forced to shuffle their backline after centre-half Michael Travis slipped awkwardly and had to be carried off with a knee injury. Kerr Hay replaced the injured Travis, with midfielder Thomas O’Brien stepping in beside Kevin Nicoll in the centre of defence. If Ayr had felt that this would create a weakness they were to be disappointed with O’Brien and Nicoll creating a formidable central partnership negating the effectiveness of striker Jordan Preston in particular.
Forfar worked hard at shutting Ayr down and the Honest Men had few opportunities in the first half, only three of which went close. The first of these came in 15 mins when Brian Gilmour released a drive from 25 yards which went just over the bar. Then on 35 mins Jordan Preston ran onto a long pass on the right and took the ball to the line before lifting it to the far post but full back Paddy Boyle could only shoot into the side netting. With only two minutes till the break Alan Forrest found himself in space but his left footed shot slipped wide of the post from a difficult angle.
Almost within grasp of half-time and a necessary tactical shuffle Ayr went further behind. With 2 mins of additional time played Ayr only half cleared the ball and it landed at the feet of Forfar’s Iain Campbell some 40 yards out. Under no pressure the defender adjusted his body before releasing a powerful drive that ripped into the top of the net giving keeper Greg Fleming no chance.
At half time Ian McCall needed to do something to alter the pattern of play that had Ayr restricted to scraps and two goals in arrears. It was here that the Ayr boss wove his tactical magic replacing the labouring Forest with Ross Caldwell and Jamie Adams with Robbie Crawford. These alterations had immediate effect with Ayr more direct and combative putting pressure upon the Forfar backline which for the first time looked fallible.
In 53 mins Ayr struck back. Gilmour’s corner from the right was headered goalwards by Andy Graham but keeper Rab Douglas looked odds on to save. Inexplicably Douglas flapped at the ball with both his hands and it dropped into the net.
Ayr stepped up a gear, bringing on Mikey Donald for the increasingly frustrated Preston to give more pace on the left, and it looked only a matter of time before the equaliser came. Then came the big talking point.
In 68 mins Nicky Devlin stretched out to try and reach a ball which had gone past him, while from his blind side Forfar’s Danny Denholm raced in. Devlin caught Denholm who hit the deck for what looked an unintentional foul. Referee Walsh had a different opinion and the United skipper was given a straight red card.
It might have been expected that Ayr would try to shut up shop but with Gilmour moving deeper on the right United maintained an attacking formation often leaving only two at the back and didn’t look like surrendering control.
Mikey Donald had been causing all kinds of problems for the Forfar defence and it was no surprise when he had a hand in the equaliser. In 71 mins he charged down the left before picking out Ross Caldwell in the centre of the box and the big striker stretched to deflect the ball down into the bottom right hand corner.
Ayr were dominating the match with Forfar restricted to distant shots from Iain Campbell and Gavin Swankie and causing few problems for the visitors. Ayr, on the other hand, were carving out chance after chance with Docherty, Donald twice and Caldwell all going close and Douglas pulling off some excellent saves in the Forfar goal.
At the final whistle the Ayr fans applauded their team off the park but must have been left wondering how they had not come away with 3 points. The greatest disappointment would be that this allowed Dunfermline to leap-frog the Honest Men to the top of the league.
Douglas, Baxter, Campbell, Nicoll, Travis, Hodge, Black, O’Brien, Templeman, Swankie, Denholm Substitutes: Fotheringham, Hay, Smith, Kennedy, Clark, Gallacher (GK)
Fleming, Devlin, Boyle, Docherty, McLauchlan, Graham, Forrest, Adams, Preston, Trouten, Gilmour Substitutes: Crawford, Caldwell, Donald, Muir, Nisbet, McCracken, Newman (GK)
Referee: Nick Walsh