Ross County 2 v 1 Ayr United
Ross County leapfrogged United to the top of the Championship after this exciting and hard-fought encounter in Dingwall. A lacklustre first half performance had seen United struggle to compete with County and fall two behind to counters from McKay and Mullin. The second half saw a complete turnaround, and after an early goal from Shankland, United dominated, pummelling the County backline but somehow failing to grab the equaliser.
Ross County dominated the early stages of play, their determined approach, pace, and crisp incisive passing cutting through United’s midfield and piling on pressure in the final third. Cowie, Keillor-Dunn, Mullin, Lindsay, and McKay all created chances in the opening 15 mins before Ayr started to show signs of coming to terms with County’s approach.
Ayr’s first chance of the game fell to Shankland on 21 mins. A Crawford shot was blocked but fell to Moffat who lifted the ball towards Shankland in the centre of the box. The ball hung in the air and just wouldn’t drop far enough for Shankland who, under pressure from Keillor-Dunn, could only hit the ball high over the Jail End Stand’s roof.
Ayr were made to rue their missed chance when the hosts took the lead through McKay only a minute later. After a series of attacks by County had been repulsed, Mullin stroked the ball wide to the over-lapping Kelly on the left and his cross was flicked to the rear of the box by Keillor-Dunn where McKay slashed home from 12 yards. 1-0 to the hosts after 22 mins.
Ayr failed to conjure up any real response to this setback and the next chance came for County on 31 mins when Mullin hit a freekick inches past the post. United were struggling to contain the hosts who were in a clinical mood.
On 32 mins County went close again. A delicious backheel from McKay found Keillor-Dunn some 25 yards out, and the midfielder first beat Kerr to make space for himself before smashing a drive off the base of Doohan’s right-hand post.
Just 1 min later and County were two up, thanks to a superb solo effort from Josh Mullin. Picking the ball up some 25 yards out on the touchline on the right, Mullin first shimmied past Crawford, cut into the box between Geggan and Harvie before unleashing a powerful, curling drive into the back of the net.
The final chance of the half fell to County’s McKay who blazed his shot well wide from a tight angle as the home side headed into halftime with a comfortable two-goal lead.
Whatever Manager Ian McCall said at halftime it must have been powerful. United came out for the second half a completely different entity bursting with passion, intent, and belief. The match was turned on its head with County reduced to bit players in terms of possession and attempts. McCall had restructured his United team, McDaid replacing Harvie and Moore for Moffat, although the manager had toyed with keeping Moffat up front as well, such was his attacking frame of mind.
It didn’t take United long to drag themselves back into the game. With 47 mins on the clock Adams played a long ball forward and Shankland, apparently being held back by Watson, used his strength to pull away and into the box before firing a low shot beyond Fox to make it 2-1.
From the re-start, Ayr broke forward again McDaid crossing low to the front post where defender Morris seemed to poke the ball wide as Shankland prepared to strike. Surprisingly referee McLean pointed for a goal kick.
United began to turn the screw with McDaid’s pace and creativity torturing the County defence, and Moore and Shankland more than just a handful for the ‘Staggies’ to cope with.
Ayr’s next attempt, though, came from defender Liam Smith with a thumping drive on 51 mins which went over the bar. Moments later Kerr took a shot from 20 yards, but it was blocked by Watson.
On 56 mins, Kerr slipped Crawford into the box and, under pressure from Demetriou, attempted to curl the ball around keeper Fox but his effort drifted wide.
Ayr went close again on 64 mins. With players jockeying for position inside the box, McDaid saw an opportunity and aimed the ball directly at goal but, with keeper Fox totally beaten, his drive scraped the righthand post and went wide.
Next, a Shankland strike from the edge of the box was blocked as County players threw themselves at the ball in their determination to prevent an equaliser.
Ross County had an opportunity to make it three and kill off the contest on 73 mins when a ball across the area was missed by Geggan and was claimed by Keillor-Dunn. Keillor-Dunn turned in towards goal but Doohan got down well to palm away his drive from 8 yards.
Ayr turned it up again, with Martin again blocking, but this time from a McDaid drive after being put through by Shankland. Next, a cute backheel from Shankland allowed McDaid to drive into the penalty area, turn past Grivosti, only to see his shot blocked by a last-second slide in from Demetriou.
On 88 mins United came the closest in a half of close things. Substitute Alan Forrest made space in the box on the left, his blocked shot fell to Shankland who struck the ball well from 15 yards out only to see Fox pull off a great reaction save, tipping the ball over the top.
This was very much a game of two halves, Ayr can be proud of their efforts but ultimately drop to second in the league as the first quarter of the season ends. Ayr now travel to Firhill to take on Partick Thistle as they aim to bounce back in another challenging away game.
Fox, Kelly, Fontaine, Morris, Lindsay, McKay, Vigurs, Mullin, Watson, Keillor-Dunn, Cowie. Subs McManus, Demetriou, Graham, Munro, Dingwall, Stewart, Grivosti.
Doohan, Harvie, Smith, Adams, Rose, Kerr, Murdoch, Crawford, Geggan, Moffat, Shankland. Subs Hare-Reid (GK), Moore, Bell, Forrest, McDaid, Ferguson, Docherty.
Referee: Steven MacLean
Match Report: AUmedia