Stranraer 1 v 2 Ayr United
Right from the kick-off both teams set out to attack with Stranraer first to come close in under two minutes when McGuigan attempted to capitalise on a Gerry McLaughlin loose ball but just failed to convert the opportunity. But Ayr were not to be outdone and went ahead just one minute later.
Jamie Adams got his foot to the ball in midfield and flicked through to Alan Forrest who delicately lifted it over the Stranraer backline and into the box. Craig Moore raced through to meet the ball, getting a shot off whilst under pressure, only to see keeper Brennan partially block. Although off-balance Moore managed to regain composure and reach the ball before turning it into the net to put Ayr one up.
With Stranraer still recovering from the early opening goal United almost went two up with Forest put clean through only to see his shot well saved by Brennan.
This stung Stranraer into action with a passing move across the field some 25 yards out finally seeing the ball land at the feet of Andy Stirling on the right. Stirling turned inside giving himself space at the edge of the box before releasing a drive that slammed off the bar.
Stirling’s threat was becoming evident and in eight minutes he played a one-two with Thomson in a move that saw him bypass three players before reclaiming the ball. He then moved into the box before slamming the ball across the goal mouth only to see striker Craig Malcolm fail to connect.
Ayr were still managing to create chances. In the 14th minute a pinpoint cross-field pass by Nicky Devlin found Paddy Boyle forward on the left. His touch inside found Forrest who created space for himself before releasing a drive just over the top from some 22 yards.
In the 20th minute came the first moment of controversy. Alan Forrest drove into the box using some neat footwork and appeared to be getting to the goal line when an excellent recovery tackle poked the ball away from him for what appeared to be a corner. The tackle resulted in Forrest but there was no appeal for a penalty with players on both sides preparing for a corner. However for the second match in a row the youngster was booked for simulation much to the bemusement of all involved.
Stranraer’s patient, carefully controlled build-up play created the best of their chances down their right mostly through the influence of Stirling. On the 25th minute his close control again allowed him space at the edge of the box but this time his cutely curled effort went narrowly wide.
In the 32nd minute Stirling nutmegged Crawford before finding Robertson with an excellent through pass but at full stretch McGuigan was blocked by keeper Fleming. Shortly after this Stirling picked up the ball on the right of midfield before cutting diagonally across the edge of the penalty area before finding Thomson in the box with an audacious flick of his right boot. Thomson laid the ball back to Bell whose drive was sliced over the bar from just 5 yards out by Ayr’s Nicky Devlin.
At half-time manager McCall pulled a masterstroke with a tactical change designed to negate the influence of Stirling while at the same time giving Ayr an alternative attacking strategy. McCall replaced goal scorer Moore with Mikey Donald and at one stroke Stirling was denied the space and time on the ball which had allowed him to dictate much of the first-half play.
The first 20 minutes of the second half saw Stranraer still having the majority of the play but restricted to only half chances from Malcolm and McGuigan with Ayr’s central defensive pairing of McLauchlan and Murphy relatively comfortable. Both sides attempted to freshen up with United replacing Alan Forrest with Alan Trouten and Stranraer bringing on Jamie Longworth for the tiring Mark McGuigan.
The match had changed with a number of niggling tackles and some which were a little bit more tasty from both sides but it was surprising when Ayr’s Murphy became the first to be booked in the second half (joining Forrest and Adams who had already been booked in the first). In 67 minutes referee Walsh booked the defender for time wasting during a free kick. This was in itself surprising due to the early time on the clock and as Murphy was attempting to take a freekick deep in his own half but was restricted by the tight marking of the forwards he was trying to reach.
Shortly after this Ross Docherty of Ayr was deservedly booked for a tackle on Stirling as the Stranraer man attempted to make a break for the halfway line following an Ayr attack. Docherty then got involved in an incident that resulted in his sending off.
United’s Robbie Crawford broke over the halfway line and after releasing a pass forward he was chopped down by Stranraer’s Craig Pettigrew in a manner which could have caused injury, leaving the United man clutching his ankle and shin. The referee and Pettigrew were instantly surrounded by players, first on the scene being Stranraer’s Craig Malcolm but joined a few seconds later by Docherty, Adams, Murphy and Trouten and Stranraer’s Bell, Longworth, Robertson and Thomson. Although there seemed to be angry words exchanged there was no physicality between the players and most appeared to separate possible combatants. The referee, supported by his assistants who had also run onto the pitch, decided to book Pettigrew for the initial tackle and Robertson and Docherty for the following incident. This being Ross Docherty’s second booking he was also shown a red.
As Ayr reorganised Stranraer went for the kill. In 73 minutes Pettigrew picked up the ball some 30 yards out and unleashed a drive that smashed off the post with Fleming beaten at full stretch. It only seemed a matter of time before the weight of numbers and Stranraer pressure would result in an equaliser. But it was not to be so easy and this Ayr team had not got the memo to lie down and play dead.
In 76 minutes Donald stole the ball off of Thomson just inside the United half and flicked the ball on to Trouten who surged forward before releasing Preston into the box. Under intense pressure from Robertson, Preston somehow managed to slide the ball past keeper Brennan but only found the post. The ball bounced back into the 6 yard box and there was Trouten to hammer the ball into the top of the net putting United two up and signalling a jubilant reaction from the noisy travelling support.
Again Ayr restructured in an attempt to consolidate their position with Brian Gilmour replacing Jordan Preston and Stranraer responded with former Ayr youngster Peter McGill replacing Thomson and Chris Aitken coming on for Cairney.
The remaining minutes were breathless, nerve-racking yet entertaining with Stranraer desperate to get something from the match while Ayr defended stoutly and attacked on the break. With only a few seconds of normal time left Stirling pulled one back for The Blues with another moment of individual excellence picking the ball up just outside United’s box to the left before curling an immaculate drive into the top corner. Although nearly 5 minutes of added time were played this was to be the final goal of the game and United had come out on top.
Brennan, Robertson, Keenan, Pettigrew, Rumsby, Thomson, Cairney, Bell, Malcolm, Stirling, McGuigan Substitutes Aitken, McCloskey, Longworth, McGill, Mair, Rowan, Currie (GK)
Fleming, Devlin, Boyle, Docherty, McLauchlan, Murphy, Adams, Crawford, Preston, Moore, Forrest Substitutes Trouten, Gilmour, Caldwell, Donald, McCracken, Muir, Newman (GK)
Referee: Nick Walsh