Inverness Caledonian Thistle 0 v 0 Ayr United
On Saturday Ayr travelled north to Inverness to face much fancied Inverness Caley Thistle at the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium and returned clutching a well-earned point in dramatic circumstances. United played the final 60mins with only ten men after Daniel Harvie received a second yellow for tugging back striker George Oakley, resulting in a penalty for the Inverness side. The resultant penalty was missed, and it was United who almost snatched victory with a superb second-half performance where the Honest Men ignored conventional wisdom and took the game to Caley Thistle.
Before the match commenced there was a minute’s silence in memory of Caley Thistle’s former player, 52-year-old Alan Hercher, who passed away on the previous day. The tribute was immaculately observed by the players and both sets of fans in a fitting and moving tribute to the Inverness side’s first ever club captain.
The first half was an exciting affair with ICT trying hard to dominate, stroking the ball around and regularly pushing towards United’s goal. Ayr took their time, doing well to frustrate Caley Thistle while countering at pace on the break. In general, the home side had the majority of the play but lacked the guile or patience in the final third to take advantage of this possession when coming up against the strong and resolute United defence with captain Jamie Adams, and Michael Rose dominant in the centre.
Thistle held possession for most of the opening minutes of the match, with a Tom Walsh drive on 2 mins signalling their intent but Ayr stood solid and slowly edged into the game, soon giving as good as they got with some delightful passing football working the ball from back to front.
With 11 mins Murdoch played a ball through behind the Caley Thistle defence and Daniel Harvie charged forward from the halfway line and raced shoulder to shoulder with Shaun Rooney to try and get in front and win the ball. The United defender slid in to try and whip the ball away from Rooney, just as he flicked the ball back to his keeper and clipped the Caley Thistle man’s legs. Referee Andrew Dallas blew for a foul and flashed a yellow card at Harvie, one that would come back to haunt the United defender.
On 18 mins United came close to opening the scoring. A long ball from the back was cushioned off the chest by Shankland, some 30 yards out, to Moffat who immediately flicked the ball back to Shankland who drove left and slid the ball to Crawford. Crawford moved into the penalty area and, with quick sleight of foot, created the space that allowed him to curl a delicious effort just wide of the far post assisted by the finest of touches by Ridgers. From the corner, Michael Rose powerfully headed downwards but Ridgers did well to smother the ball on the line.
With 19 mins gone it was one booking each as Caley Thistle captain Carl Tremarco lunged into United’s Alan Forrest shins in a manner that made Harvie’s tackle seem mild, but this only received a similar booking.
Ayr started to become more and more adventurous going forward and on 24 mins Harvie darted down the left and slid the ball to Moffat whose cross into the box was taken by keeper Ridgers just as Shankland looked ready to pounce.
On 28 mins, Charlie Trafford delivered a long sweeping ball into the Ayr penalty area with Oakley looking odds on to reach the ball first as he darted behind the United defensive line. The forward tangled with Ayr’s Harvie before going down and referee Dallas pointed to the spot indicating that the United defender has pulled the Caley Thistle’s striker’s shirt. A second yellow and Harvie made the lonely walk off the field of play and United faced the last 60 mins with 10 men.
Liam Polworth stepped up to take the penalty but, to howls of derision, he smashed the ball wide of Doohan’s left hand post. It stayed 0 – 0 and Caley Thistle had missed a guild edged chance.
Manager Ian McCall re organised Ayr’s structure to cope with the diminished manpower, Forrest making way for Ferguson who slotted in at left back, with Moffat dropping into midfield leaving Shankland upfront.
Rather than being downhearted, the sending off seemed to energise the Ayrshire men, and on 36 mins they had a penalty shout of their own. Shankland fought and won the ball on the edge of the area only for defender Donaldson to tackle from behind trapping Shankland’s legs and bringing him to the ground, but referee Dallas waved away the striker’s furious claims.
3 mins later Caley, yet again, refused a great opportunity to go in front. Austin moved onto a ball behind the United defence and, with no defenders to beat, sprinted goalwards. Twelve yards out the big striker took aim before placing the ball to the left of the advancing Doohan but well wide of the post. Yet again the vociferous Ayr support breathed a sigh of relief.
With 45 mins gone, and United forcing Caley Thistle to rely on shots from outside the box, Austin struck a hopeful drive which went through Adams’ legs but Doohan, unsighted to the initial shot, comfortably got down to clutch the ball.
The first half had been an energetic and fast paced one, with 10-man Ayr raising their game, attacking with energy, and also and nullifying the attacking efforts of Caley Thistle.
Received knowledge was that Caley Thistle, with a man advantage, would have a comfortable 2nd half and take the three points with Ayr unable to sustain their efforts: but this was not to be.
United came out all guns blazing and on 47 mins should have taken the lead. Shankland outmuscled Donaldson on the right and swiftly made for goal, before smashing a drive across the face of the goal and inches wide. No one could deny the striker taking his chance but a pass inside to Robbie Crawford, who had run into space in the box, would have resulted in a simple tap in for the attacking midfielder.
Just 1 min later centre half Coll Donaldson received a yellow card after taking out Robbie Crawford who was running in on goal after breaking from the half way line.
Then, with 50 mins on the clock, it was Moffat’s turn to set his sights on goal. Shankland held up the ball on the halfway line before releasing Moffat through the middle. Reaching the penalty area, Moffat skilfully mis-footed and turned Brad McKay, before sending his shot inches wide.
Robbie Crawford’s close control and footwork had been a highlight of the game and, on 54 mins, he deliciously cut a weaving swathe through 5 defenders, and left one other going the other way, before unfortunately slicing the ball high and wide from 25 yards.
In that 10 min spell, Caley Thistle were looking fragile, struggling to contend with the pace and skill of Shankland, Moffat, and Crawford as they carved pathways goalward, but they slowly started to come into the match. Caley Thistle turned up the heat, with headers from Austin, and Oakley going close, and a 30-yard drive by Joe Chalmers plucked out of the air by the strong and confident Doohan. United were being put under siege with a series of 5 corners in quick succession testing their resolve.
With Caley Thistle failing to make an impact on United’s rear-guard, it was time for them to make a change with stuttering striker Austin off for Jordan White. It was, however, Ayr who went closest next, Moffat finding Crawford who again used quick footwork to bypass defenders before releasing a left-footed shot which Ridgers saved at his near post.
The hard-working United defence ensured that most of Caley Thistle’s attacks broke down at the edge of the box and were being restricted to set piece moves to threaten. It was time for the home side to fully refresh their attack, with Trafford being replaced by McKay and Walsh by Doran.
With Caley Thistle now having 4 men playing upfront and 4 midfielders supplying ammunition, Ayr countered, removing the hard working Moffat and replacing him with Steven Bell to play a deeper roll and adding extra defensive capacity.
United were still up to the task and little change from the Inverness side with their closest attempt coming from a corner on the right with a flashing header by substitute McKay that rose over the bar and out.
It would be wrong to think that Ayr were now only defending, as they countered at speed, often causing deep concern to the Caley Thistle fans as they poured forwards. On 81 mins Shankland found Crawford with an inch-perfect cross-field pass. Crawford controlled then raced to the line before trying to lift the ball to the back post where Shankland had sprinted to in expectation. Just as the perfect moment seemed to have been created, Ridgers stretched and intercepted the ball mid-flightpath and it was the turn of the Caley Thistle support to breath a deep sigh of relief.
The final Ayr substitution was made on 82 mins with Docherty replacing Kerr in midfield.
Caley were now determined to throw everything at Ayr, but their attacks seemed rushed and at times seemed nervous and frustrated but on 84 mins they came close, a Jordan White header from inside the 6-yard box just going over the bar.
With 1 min to go and nothing much working for the frustrated Caley Thistle, Donaldson decided to take a shot from 25 yards but sent the ball flashing over the top.
On the final whistle, the United team and management went to their raucous travelling support and acknowledged the part they played in urging their team on.
A hard-working performance from this United side saw them stand up to a strong Caley Thistle team and come close to stealing all three points. With only 10 men on the park, Ayr showed determination, grit, and flair to bring a point back to Ayrshire, a point they justly deserved.
Next up Queens Park in the Irn Bru cup at Hampden Park on Tuesday evening.
Inverness Caley Thistle
Ridgers, Rooney, Tremarco (C), Chalmers, Donaldson, Polworth, Austin, Walsh, Oakley, McKay, Trafford Substitutes: Hoban (GK), McCart, Doran, Welsh, Calder, White, McKay
Doohan, Geggan, Adams, Rose, Harvie, Forrest, Murdoch, Kerr, Crawford, Moffat, Shankland Substitutes: Hare-Reid (GK), Moore, McDaid, McGuffie, Ferguson, Bell, Docherty
Referee: Andrew Dallas