Stranraer 1 v 0 Ayr United
If there were a machine called a ‘reporter’s auto-repeater’ it would be so easy to write about any Ayr United match in the last few weeks. ‘Good energy, good organisation, a solid defence, the ability not to score with ‘certainties’, deserving of at least a share of the points, and giving away an undeserved goal in tragic fashion’ would just roll off the word processor. But it is true.
For those of us who made our way down the road to Stranraer it was a tough experience. Certainly Stranraer put Ayr under pressure for the first 20 minutes of the first half but other than two wayward shots from Gibson and Aitken the United rear-guard seemed particularly comfortable and solid with Martin Campbell slotting in beside Murphy and McKenna.
After weathering the early storm it was United who started to move forward with a Donald free kick in 23 minutes being deflected narrowly wide and just two minutes later Preston, picking up on a mistake by Stranraer in midfield, driving past two players into the box only to watch his shot roll across the face of goal and scrape past the post.
Stranraer seemed temporarily shocked and were almost caught out on the 28th minute. Ayr gained a free kick almost on the by-line, but as the Stranraer defence marshalled itself for a cross, Blakeman saw an opportunity and drove the ball directly at goal. This time the ball fizzed across the front of goal and it appeared that Preston at the back post would easily tap in, but somehow it evaded everyone and went wide.
Stranraer were finding it more difficult in this Ayr’s best phase of the match. Both teams gave their all with some crunching tackles keeping the referee busy. Former Honest Man, and Stranraer captain, Chris Aitken found himself the first man in the book as his high boot clattered off of Adam Blakeman’s head.
Ayr still pushed forward and in 32 minutes Nicky Devlin sent in a shot from the right again just went narrowly wide. It was then that Ayrs best chance came and went.
In the 34th minute Craig Beattie was put through into the penalty area and was faced with a one on one with The Blues keeper Mitchell. Beattie was odds-on favourite with all his experience and he attempted place the ball beneath the onrushing Mitchell who with no little skill managed just to do enough to flick the ball past the post. Manager Ian McCall’s frustrated reaction showed just how much he could not believe that yet again Ayr had failed to score in a one-on-one situation.
For the last 10 minutes or so of the half Stranraer did their utmost to re-gain the upper hand but could only manage a single easily snuffed out break by Winter in 36 minutes for their efforts.
For all of Stranraer’s early pressure Ayr deservedly went in at half-time all square, but the home team’s electricity bill must surged during the break as they returned to the pitch with their batteries fully charged.
Stranraer opened the second half with all the intent they had shown early in the first. Ayr were pushed backwards and chance after chance came Stranraer’s way. In the first five minutes Chris Aitken had two chances, feeding on good work by Gibson down the left, his first effort saved by Hutton and the second going just over the bar.
In the 52nd minute Stranraer came the closest they had when McKeown knocked the ball down to Craig Malcolm whose first-time drive smashed off the nearside post and out for a goal kick.
Stranraer maintained the pressure and United were restricted in their forays forward and struggled in the last third with only Blakeman and Preston managing to get shots on target but these were easily saved by Mitchell.
In the 63rd minute the capricious gods looked down upon Stair Park and decided it was time for the usual doze of bad luck/comedy for this United team. Some good work from Stranraer down the left saw the ball hit across the edge of the penalty area to Chris Aiken whose mishit effort went powerlessly through a ruck of players towards the Ayr goal. With everyone expecting the ball to go harmlessly through to keeper Hutton the ball flew off Martin Campbell’s boot and up into mid-air landing in front of Craig Malcolm almost on the by-line. His response to the out rushing Hutton was to coolly flick the ball over his head and as everyone stood stunned in disbelief the ball floated downwards for what seemed an age and into the net. Comedy cuts had led to some skill of extreme quality and Ayr were one down.
Ayr replaced defender McKenna with Brian Gilmour as they adopted a more attacking posture and tried to up the tempo but Stranraer were determined this wasn’t going to happen. Gallagher, Mitchell, and Gibson all ended up in the referee’s book for persistent fouling, kicking the ball away, and what can only be described as high quality clothing grabbing and WWE skills, in that order.
Ayr still struggled to create any real opportunities and as the game went towards full-time. Continuing their positive attitude United brought on Nisbet and Robertson for Craig Beattie and Jon Paul McGovern. Stranraer were, however, determined not to let this lead slip and replaced strikers Longworth and Malcolm and winger Winter with Stoney, Stirling and Robertson while changing their formation to one upfront and wall of bodies at the rear.
With seconds left Ryan Nesbitt turned in the box and appeared to be caught as he tried to wriggle free. Ayr screamed for a penalty but referee Kevin Graham just shook his head, looked at his watch, and the game was over.
Mitchell, Pettigrew, Longridge, Rumsby, McKeown, Aitken, Winter, Gallagher, Malcolm, Longworth, Gibson
Substitutes Stirling, Robertson, Russell, McShane, Stoney, Tobin (GK)
Hutton, Devlin, Donald, Murphy, McKenna, McGovern, Campbell, Crawford, Preston, Beattie, Blakeman
Substitutes Robertson, Muir, Gilmour, Nisbet, Murray, Neill, Newman (GK)
Referee: Kevin Graham