Raith Rovers 2 v 1 Ayr United
Match Report by AUmedia
After a week of concerns that this game might come too early for an injury stricken United, the team returned from Kirkcaldy wondering just how they hadn’t collected three points.
The game was played at a cracking pace with both teams worthy of praise. With only 1 min gone, Lewis Vaughan went close for Raith with a sweet diagonal drive from 30 yards out which curved inches wide. Ayr responded quickly through Craig McGuffie who first found a shot blocked inside the 6-yard box. Then keeper Smith managed to stop a McGuffie drive, from the edge of the area, at his bottom left corner. Only 3 mins gone and the fans were on the edges of their seats.
With both sides playing some quality football, Raith attempted to take the advantage with high curving crosses into the Ayr goalmouth hoping for ‘big men’ Spence, Benedictus and Murray to cause problems. On 7 mins Murray came close, powerfully heading goalward, from Barr’s cross but had to watch as somehow Ferguson got in the way and the ball was kicked clear.
Ayr began to create a shed load of chances down the right with Crawford, Geggan, Reid and McDaid creating space with some delightful interplay. The Raith defence could not cope. McDaid and Reid’s crosses were crying out for a finish but blocks, flying bodies and a fantastic diving defensive header kept Ayr from a finishing touch.
On 23 mins Vaughan struck a freekick from 20 yards out on the right and smashed the ball against the right-hand post. This should have provided a warning for keeper Hart and Raith’s star man would come back to haunt him in the second half.
Ayr were very much in control with Raith being restricted to less and less frequent fast breaks. As halftime beckoned, Raith sprang forward and Liam Buchanan’s drive from the right side of the box was well saved by Hart although he couldn’t hold on to the ball. Although it looked like the danger was over, Raith returned the cleared ball into the box and Craig Reid diverted the ball straight into the path of John Herron, 8 yards out with only the keeper to beat, who seemed amazed that he had received the ball and let it bounce off himself and back to Hart.
Two minutes into added time, Ayr finally got the goal that their play deserved. From a McDaid corner from the right the ball was knocked out to McGuffie whose drive was going well wide but the alert Lawrence Shankland snuck in at the back and poked the ball goalward. Keeper Smith got down well to save but couldn’t hold onto the ball and Shankland followed up, smashing the ball into the top of the net.
As the second half started, Ayr were well on top, and looking quite comfortable. In the opening few minutes first Crawford then McGuffie had shots on target block as they looked certain to increase Ayr’s lead. Then the world started to crumble for United as the first of Hart’s game changing mistakes allowed Raith to get on level terms.
On 50 mins Raith were awarded a freekick 20 yards out and Vaughan curled a relatively soft shot around the Ayr wall and Hart seemed to have a comfortable save as he dived towards the ball. Somehow the keeper let the ball go under his gloves and into the net to gift Raith an equaliser they hardly deserved. Worse was to come 9 mins later.
Ayr piled on the pressure. First, Crawford’s shot from near the penalty spot was well saved, then a McGuffie surge to the edge of the area led to a shot which went inches over, and minutes later a drive from 25 yards out by Chris Higgins was tipped over by Smith. Ayr were pushing forward and Raith were forced to sit deep when self-inflicted tragedy struck again. Ayr claimed for a penalty, but Raith Keeper Smith belted the ball downfield to Buchanan who held the ball up before slipping it through to right back Jason Thomson who fired a lacklustre shot between Ferguson and Higgins. Hart seemed to go down in slow-motion and let the ball go under his body and into the net. This was a severe sucker punch for United.
Raith went even deeper into defence, relying again on speedy break out attacks which almost resulted in a third when Barr dragged his shot wide from inside the box.
As Ayr pressed for the equaliser they were hit by another hammer blow. Chris Higgins, who had been booked for an earlier rash tackle, was given his marching orders for a second yellow, when he appeared completely innocent. Referee Muir and his assistant will have to do a lot of explaining about this decision when they view the video evidence!
Although down to ten men, Ayr continued to play fast attacking football and almost, and maybe should have, snatched an equaliser in the 92 min when the ball was played to McDaid in the penalty area. With time to shoot, McDaid decided to slip the ball left to substitute Leon Murphy who was easily blocked out. It was hands on heads time, while time and opportunity had run out for the valiant Honest Men.
Next, it’s back to Somerset Park on Saturday for a League 1 encounter with Alloa Athletic.
Smith, Thomson, Davidson, Benedictus, Murray, Barr, Matthews, Robertson, Vaughan, Spence Buchanan Substitutes: Brian (GK), Berry, Herron, Osei-Opoku, Court, McKay, Zanatta
Hart, Reid, Rose, Higgins, Ferguson, McDaid, Geggan, Crawford, McGuffie, Moffat, Shankland Substitutes: Avci (GK), Gilmour, Hilton, Faulds, Waite, Murphy, McCowan
Referee: Alan Muir