Morton 0 Ayr United 1
Ayr fans heading to Cappielow for Saturday’s league fixture against Morton did so with a sense of trepidation given United’s recent poor run of form. However the Ayr faithful were hopeful of a return to winning ways with experienced defender Martyn Campbell returning from injury and his central defensive partner Peter Murphy, also passing a late fitness test.
It was evident from the start that United were a more confident and assured side with their regular back four reinstated to the starting line up. However the opening quarter of this match didn’t create any significant opportunities but Ayr made most of the running by attempting to contain Morton in their own half by playing a higher defensive line.
In 17mins though a good early ball from Morton’s left back Mark Russell caught Ayr napping and he found Declan McManus in space down the left hand channel. Peter Murphy looked favourite to clear the danger but McManus made a last gasp lunge which resulted in the ball breaking kindly to Andrew Barrowman in acres of space just inside the Ayr penalty box. Fortunately for Ayr, goalkeeper David Hutton had read the situation and sprinted out to narrow the angle forcing Barrowman into rushing his shot which the keeper saved well.
Ayr shrugged off this scare and came back at Morton. On 22mins, good link up play by McLaughlin set up Beattie for a low shot from 15 yards that forced Morton keeper Gaston in action. With defenders blocking his line of sight the keeper reacted superbly, diving low to his left and turning the ball away.
Scott McLaughlin followed this up a minute later but his weak shot was easily saved by Gaston.
At this stage the game had opened up and again and it was United who looked the more threatening. A terrific Mikey Donald run saw him take on and beat two defenders. As he homed in on goal he was halted by a crunching challenge by Morton’s number 7 Joe McKee. The Ayr support, team and coaching staff all looked for and expected a penalty to be awarded but referee Calum Murray, who was right up with play, saw nothing untoward in the challenge and immediately pointed for a corner. The Ayr support raged at referee Murray, as did some of the Ayr players but he wasn’t having any of it and dismissed Ayr’s claims for a penalty.
Morton did threaten briefly in 30 mins when Connor Pepper released Crawford into the box but he lacked composure and his angled shot was high and wide.
Finally the breakthrough Ayr’s play deserved came. In 35mins Captain Scott McLaughlin celebrated his return to his favoured midfield role by finishing off a fine move. John Paul McGovern picked up a lay off from Craig Beattie in midfield and showed great awareness and vision by switching the play. His cross-field pass found Mikey Donald motoring in behind the Morton defence. He never broke stride and his volleyed cut back wasn’t gathered by keeper Gaston who, under pressure from Ryan Donnelly, only succeeded in parrying the ball to Scott McLaughlin. Scott couldn’t believe his luck and coolly side footed the ball into the back of the Morton net to put Ayr one up.
In the second half Morton started with more purpose and attempted to take the game to Ayr. In the 53rd minute Ayr’s McKinlay was booked for throwing the ball away after he was pressurised into fouling Morton’s McKee. Then in 54 mins Paul Slane almost followed McKinlay into Referee Murray’s book after a reckless challenge on Morton’s Crawford. Slane, whose excellent overall performance hid the fact that he had played although being ill, was replaced by manager Mark Roberts a few minutes later.
This change appeared to have an immediate effect as Ryan Donnelly headed home from 6 yards out in the 60th minute but the stand side linesman’s flag was already raised to deny Ayr a second goal.
Morton made a substitution of their own in the 62nd minute replacing Reece Hands with Jon Scullion and as both teams adjusted to the changes the game opened up.
In the 68th minute Morton appeared to be getting the upper hand and went close to equalising as they pressed Ayr back into their own penalty area. Morton changed the focus of their attack and after a long clearance was flicked on to McManus he composed himself before setting up Conner Pepper 15 yards out from goal. Pepper’s first touch set himself up for a shot but a terrific blocking challenge from AUMedia’s Star Man Nicky Devlin, prevented him from scoring. The blocked shot was again picked up by Pepper and he returned the favour by setting up McManus. His first time effort appeared to be sailing towards the back of the Ayr net but up popped Kevin McKinlay who headed off the line to prevent what had seemed a certain goal.
As Mark Roberts made his second change replacing Ryan Donnelly with Robbie Crawford in the 74th minute, Morton also decided to make further changes as replacing their Robbie Crawford with Lamie.
For the final 10 minutes Ayr flung on youngster Dale Shirkie for the hard working Craig Beattie as Morton attempted to find that elusive equaliser. With all substitutes used Ayr looked to be in trouble as Mikey Donald went down on the far side of the park with what appeared to be a serious injury as Morton pushed for the equaliser. But showing the grit and determination that had been evident through-out the whole team, Mikey came back on and, although in obvious pain, continued to play his part. For all their pressure and possession Morton couldn’t breach the Ayr rearguard and United comfortably saw out the closing few minutes to take all three points and leapfrog Morton in to third place in the league.
Attendance – 1,744
Hutton; Devlin; McKinlay; Murphy; Campbell; Beattie; Slane; McLaughlin; Donnelly; McGovern; Donald
Newman; McKenzie; Muir; Shirkie; Forrest; Crawford
Gaston; Kilday; Russell; O’Ware; Milojevic; Hands; McKee; Pepper; Barrowman; McManus; Crawford
Caraux; Scullion; Lamie; McNeil; Allan; Knight