Spring may have been in the air at Cappielow, but this game was more reminiscent of a wet Friday night in December as both teams failed to ignite in a scoreless encounter. Ayr dominated the first half, but Morton edged it in the second, despite Lawrence Shankland hitting the post in the dying minutes of the game.
The first real chance fell to Shankland in 10 mins. Collecting the ball just outside the centre circle the striker drove forward at pace. A neat side-step took the ball past Morton’s Kerr Waddell and Shankland was into the penalty box, but the onrushing Gregor Buchanan proved enough of a distraction for Shankland to fire the ball into the defender and the ball ended up safely cradled in the arms of Morton keeper Robby McCrorie.
Six minutes later and Ayr created another opportunity. A headed clearance from deep in his own half by Harvie reached Shankland midway into the Morton half and his neat head flick fell in to the path of Michael Moffat. With Morton’s defenders struggling to get back into positions, it looked like all Moffat had to do was chip the keeper to put the ball in the net. Yet again McCrorie showed why he was a signing target for Ayr at the beginning of the season with a one-on-one block to push the ball away. Andy Murdoch was first to the loose ball, but McCrorie recovered quickly to save yet again.
United thought they had broken the deadlock midway through the first half, but the officials thought otherwise. Robbie Crawford won a free kick on the right after a clumsy challenge from Iredale. Declan McDaid delivered a delightful ball into the box from the freekick that was met by Ross Docherty rising high above the Morton defence but as the ball hit the back of the net the referee’s whistle blew loud and clear. Sadly for Ayr it was to signal a push by Docherty rather than a goal and the deadlock remained unbroken.
Although Ayr continued to push forward for the remainder of the half, there were no further clear-cut chances for them as Morton defended in numbers and the first 45 mins petered to a close. Perhaps the most notable statistic was that Morton had no attempts on goal and had regularly squandered possession in the final third with misplaced and mistimed passes often ending up off the park.
Hopes of an exhilarating second half were soon to be dashed. Morton were content to retain as much possession as possible with the aim of drawing Ayr forward against a wall of defenders then employ route one tactics to impose the ball on a thinner United backline. The tactic showed some potential with the introduction of substitute Keelan O’Connell who added extra pace to the Morton front line, but in general Smith, Muirhead, Rose and Harvie were equal to all the ‘ton could throw at them. A spectacle of football it was most certainly not.
Ayr were being limited to longer range shots that did little to trouble the Morton keeper and even the double substitution of Nicky Cadden and Calvin Miller in the 67 mins for McDaid and Docherty did little to change the tempo of the game, although both showed a willingness to get on the ball and drive at the defence.
The final and perhaps closest chance of the game came in 86 mins. Harvie’s long throw into the penalty box was met by Shankland, bounced off two defenders to Craig Moore who touched it back to Shankland. Shankland struck cleanly and at pace and for once keeper McCrorie was beaten but the ball smashed off the base of the post and out, allowing Morton to clear. It seemed that luck was in short supply for the Honest Men.
A disappointing end to a game that had been devoid, for the most part, of incident, and certainly of goals as it ended 0-0.
Although United move to within two points of leaders Ross County they will need to find ways to goal against other sides who, as the league goes on, will employ similar tactics and try to stifle Ayr’s attacking intent.
McCrorie, Iredale, Buchanan, Waddell, Telfer, Millar, McAlister, McHugh, Dykes, Kiltie, Dallas Substitutes: Gaston (GK), Kilday, Thomson, Tumility, O’Connell, Lyon, McGrattan
Doohan, Harvie, Rose, Moffat, Crawford, McDaid, Shankland, Murdoch, Docherty, Smith, Muirhead Substitutes: Hare-Reid (GK), Higgins, Moore, Bell, Adams, Cadden, Miller
Referee: Colin Steven
Attendance: 2335 3