Stenhousemuir 0 v 1 Ayr United
365 travelling Ayr fans witnessed United going ten matches without defeat but with a score line that tells little about this entertaining, thrilling and at times nail biting match.
Stenhousemuir opened at pace attempting to put Ayr under early pressure and twice in the opening 6 mins they created good chances.
In 2 mins, after good build up play the ball reached winger Alan Cook but his volley went over the top. Just four minutes later striker Colin McMenamin should have done better as he found himself unmarked but his header went high.
United took time to adjust to the speed of the ball and the irregular bounce off the surface but their first quality attack resulted in a goal. In 9 mins Jordan Preston latched onto the ball some 40 yards out and moved forward before spotting Ross Caldwell’s run into the box on his right. Preston’s pass reached Caldwell and after some good close control he slammed the ball into the left- hand corner of the net. One nil to Ayr and this was a signal for United to start their domination of the first half.
Wave after wave of Ayr attacks resulted in numerous close things. Preston, Caldwell and Docherty all went close with shots and a stinging 30 yard drive from Brian Gilmour in the 37th min brought out a magnificent fingertip save from Jamie Barclay in the Stenhousemuir goal. This was the first of a string of excellent saves from the keeper.
In 43 mins the impressive Preston took the ball on a run forward before slipping it to Caldwell who found Trouten at the edge of the penalty area. Trouten’s beautifully curled shot beat Barclay and looked certain to find the back of the net but instead just rose over the bar.
At half-time and with Stenhousemuir having been restricted to limited forays into the Ayr half in the first 45 mins it looked as if it would only be a matter of time before Ayr went further up, but it wasn’t to be. Stenhousemuir restructured with obvious attacking intent, going three at the back and at times pushing five up front.
Ayr started well and in 47 mins Docherty flashed a drive goalward but again Barclay was equal to the effort.
Just 5 minutes later Ayr suffered a blow which appeared to shake their hold on the game. Brian Gilmour, whose forward movement, crosses and set plays had created so much for Ayr in the first half, suddenly drew up clutching his leg after suffering a hamstring injury which could see him out for 4 – 6 weeks. Mikey Donald replaced the unfortunate midfielder.
Stenhousemuir then turned up the heat, pushing forward and giving the Ayr fans’ some nervous moments. McMenamin and Cook (twice) went close as they put pressure on the Ayr rear-guard.
In 63 mins Stenhousemuir missed a great chance to pull level. Right on the edge of the penalty area with his back to goal Stenhousemuir substitute Jason Scotland was taken down from behind by an unnecessary tackle from Robbie Crawford. Referee Greg Aitken had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. The usually assured Colin McMenamin stepped forward to take the penalty but slipped in his run in mishitting the ball allowing Greg Fleming’s outstretched legs to deflect the ball away. The Ayr fans erupted in applause with all of them aware how fortunate their team had been and the quick reactions of their keeper.
With Stenhousemuir pushing so far forward Ayr did create chances breaking quickly and trying to utilise the space at the back. Donald hit the side netting from a Crawford cross and a Boyle surging run into the box allowed him to find Caldwell whose shot was again well saved by Barclay.
Stenhousemuir still tried to get something from the game and McMenamin, Cook (twice) and Gilhaney (twice) all managed to put good chances over the bar.
For the second week in a row there was a controversial sending off and this time it was for Stenhousemuir. In 88 mins Robbie Crawford seemed to knock the ball too far in front of himself a slid in hard to recover the ball at the same time as John Robertson. This appeared to be two players challenging hard for the same ball with no malicious intent, each giving as good as the other. Referee Aitken saw this differently and issued a red card to Robertson. Both managers would later comment that they did not feel that this should have been a sending off offence.
Stenhousemuir seemed shaken and struggled through the final minutes (some 6 mins of added time) with Ayr doing well to run down time in the corners while still looking for opportunities to score. The final chance of the match fell to Mikey Donald in 93 mins whose beautifully chipped freekick from 22 yards was again brilliantly saved by the fingertips of Barclay.
So 0 – 1 it remained and Ayr returned home with another useful 3 points.
Barclay, McCormack, Paterson, Malcolm, Meechan, Robertson, Gilhaney, Millar, McMenamin, Small, Cook Substitutes: Scotland, Murray, Mazana, Stirling Shaw (GK), McRoary, Marenghi
Fleming, Devlin, Boyle, Docherty, McLauchlan, Graham, Gilmour, Crawford, Preston, Trouten, Caldwell Substitutes: Forrest, Muir, Donald, Adams, Nisbet, McCracken, Newman (GK)
Referee: Greig Aitken