Ayr United 0 v 2 Stranraer
Ayr United lost their unbeaten league record to a doggedly determined and well-organised Stranraer team in the blazing sunshine at Somerset Park. It had been expected that Ayr would return from the international break refreshed and back to their peak and so it seemed in the early exchanges of this match.
After only two minutes tricky Alan Forrest made the best of some confusion in the Stranraer back four inside the box and played the ball to Brian Gilmour who saw his flick goal-ward from four yards instinctively, and brilliantly saved by David Mitchell in the Stranraer goal.
Three minutes later Peter Murphy rose to meet a corner from the right and, although seeming certain to end in the back of the net, the ball was blocked and scrambled from the line by the Stranraer defence.
In the 13th minute Donnelly found space in the box and rose to meet a long cross, his perfectly timed header beating Mitchell hands up but as he turned to celebrate the far side linesman raised his flag as he had just strayed offside.
Stranraer were beginning to come into the game with some probing passes from Gibson, Gallagher and former Ayr player Anthony Marenghi causing some concern for the United defence as Longworth and Stoney attempted to get behind Ayr’s back four.
In the 15th minute Ayr raced forward down the left hand side, Devlin’s pass reaching McGill who flicked the ball around Stranraer’s right back Scott Robertson and span past him as he’s made his way towards the penalty area. Unfortunately for the defender he turned sharply as he tried to match McGill’s run and collapsed on the ground in some pain having dislocated his knee. This forced Stranraer into substitution, bringing on former Ayr youngster Jackson Longridge who moved into the left back position while Craig Pettigrew moved from his central defensive role to cover the right back slot.
The game settled into a lacklustre spell while, with both teams trying to press forward, lack of control and accuracy of passing let both sides down. Though Ayr had more possession, Stranraer’s players harried and chased for every ball in midfield, not letting Ayr settle to their usual passing style of play, while their deep and well-disciplined 4-4-2 formation denied Ayr much space or chances.
In the 38th minute Alan Forrest picked up the ball wide on the right and drove towards the Stranraer penalty area, cutting inside, turning the defenders on their heels and creating space for himself. With the ball on his left foot, Forrest saw space opening up and slammed the ball towards the goal only to watch it slide past Mitchell’s right-hand post.
The referee’s whistle for half-time couldn’t come quick enough for both teams as they had the chance to take on much-needed fluids and give their managers the opportunity to come up with a plan to break the deadlock. For fans it was a chance to applaud local hero, and Commonwealth games gold medallist, Paul Foster and to be amazed by the ball juggling skills of Scotland’s ‘keepy-uppy’ king Graeme Lightbody.
In the second half Ayr came firing out of the traps winning two corners in quick succession and having a Michael Donald flicked header from the centre of the box going close. But then Stranraer posted a warning with a quick breakaway resulting in a cross into the box finding Jamie Longworth un-marked in the centre but his header just strayed right. Stranraer’s speed on the break should have acted as a warning to Ayr and it acted as a precursor of what was to come.
Ayr continued to press forward and were awarded a freekick in a dangerous position just outside the box. In an attempt to confuse keeper Mitchell, three possible freekick takers stood around the ball, McGovern, Murphy and McLaughlin. It was McLaughlin who struck the ball sweetly lifting and curling it towards the top corner but Stranraer keeper Mitchell saved acrobatically.
In the 54th minute Peter McGill was replaced by the trialist, Paul Slane in attempt to freshen things up and find a way through the Stranraer rearguard.
The game started to open up and Stranraer’s speedy breaks were causing more and more problems for the United defence with, yet again, Jamie Longworth going close with a flicked header from inside the 6 yard box, scraping the post to the keeper’s right.
Ayr’s attacking intent was signalled with a substitution in the 64th minute when Brian Gilmour was replaced by new signing Craig Beattie who moved into the forward line. The addition of Beattie was to have little time to influence the match is within 40 seconds Stranraer pushed down the left-hand side with the ball reaching midfielder Grant Gallagher who cut inside, into what seemed like acres of space, and moved unchallenged towards the United penalty box. With the Ayr defence backing off he released a screamer of a drive from 20 yards, past the despairing Hutton and in to the bottom left corner.
The game then became frenetic with a cut and thrust of forward and backward movements. Stranraer’s Scott Rumsby was booked in the 68th minutes for a tackle from behind on Donnelly. A couple of minutes later Peter Murphy went in the book for a similar offence against Stoney.
Ayr’s captain Scott McLaughlin was left holding his head in disbelief as a neat pass by Beattie played him in behind the Stranraer defence and saw him clear in the box, but somehow he managed lose control and mistime a shot at the same time and the opportunity was lost.
Both teams started to change things around with Stranraer appearing to attempt to prevent Ayr winning the ball in midfield or scoring an equaliser with Sean Winter replacing Marenghi in midfield and Barry Russell coming on for the influential midfielder Willie Gibson, then slipping in to defensive possession. Ayr went out for the equaliser bringing Dale Shirkie on to partner Beattie up front with the tiring Ryan Donnelly replaced.
Things didn’t go to plan for Ayr as it was Stranraer who pushed forward with Stephen Stirling hitting a left-footed shot from the edge of the box but it rose high and wide. But Stranraer were only going to be denied for one more minute. With Ayr pushing forward they were caught on the break and Daniel Stoney released the ball to Jamie Longworth who had beaten the offside trap and was left one-on-one with keeper Hutton. Longworth expertly sidestepped Hutton, ran past him and stroked the ball into the net much to the joy of the travelling Stranraer support. With 80 minutes gone and only 10 minutes remaining Stranraer were not going to let this slip.
Jackson Longridge found his name in the book, as following Stranraer’s celebration in front of their fans, he did not heed the referee’s instruction to cross back across the halfway line but instead decided to over casually tie his shoelaces.
Although Ayr did not give up and continued to press, this game was well and truly over and as the full-time whistle sounded the Ayr team left the pitch disappointed men.
Referee: Calum Murray
Report by AUmedia