Stranraer 3 v 1 Ayr United
As kick off time approached this south west derby looked in serious danger of being postponed due to the torrential rain that lashed the Stair Park playing surface. Referee Colin Steven twice put off making a final call on whether the game should go ahead or not after two pitch inspections. After some discussion with both managers the referee finally agreed that the game could go ahead, a decision which led to a result that delighted Stranraer manager Stevie Aitken and left United boss Mark Roberts ruing his luck.
Much rode upon the outcome of this match. Stranraer’s recent demolition of Peterhead had allowed them to leapfrog United into 4th spot and a win would see them cement their position in the play-off zone. Having won 3 of the last 4 meetings against Ayr they were hot favourites to do just that.
It was United who initially adapted better to the conditions and after a cagey start from both teams Ayr were gained momentum, playing the better football on the deck, and catching Stranraer on the backfoot.
Early on, Stranraer looked shaky at the back and struggled to clear their lines as Ayr poured forward in the downpour. Former Ayr starlet Jackson Longridge got caught up in the puddled surface and his attempted pass out of defence fell to Ayr’s Alan Forest who set a course for goal. Longridge, in an attempt to retrieve the ball, could only knock the ball for a corner. The deeply hit corner was only partially cleared with the ball landing at the feet of Ayr’s John Paul McGovern. McGovern, with time and space, composed himself before blasting the ball high into the roof of the Stranraer net, giving United the lead in just 8mins.
Stranraer immediately reacted and took the game to Ayr with good runs from wingers Sean Winter and Willie Gibson causing Ayr some concern. United, however, had grown in confidence following their early goal and were playing some good football, utilising the wide areas through Forrest and Slane.
In the 26th minute, Willie Gibson whizzed a long range free-kick just past Hutton’s upright in as Stranraer began to increase pressure on the Ayr defence. Stranraer were coming into the game more and more and should have equalised four minutes later when former Ayr striker Craig Malcolm found himself free just 6 yards out but his first time volley missed the target as the Ayr defence breathed a collective sigh of relief.
In 36mins the Ayr defence finally cracked. With United apparently comfortable and dealing with most of what Stranraer could throw came the moment that would change the pattern of the game and deflate Ayr’s confidence. Central defenders, trialist Kevin Rutkiewicz and Nicky Devlin presented Stranraer with a goal scoring opportunity of almost comical proportions. With Ayr in possession at the half-way line, the two defenders failed to communicate their intentions and left the ball to each other, allowing Jamie Longworth to nip in, then charge towards the United penalty area. As the disbelieving Ayr defence rushed to make up ground on the speeding Longworth he played a square pass to the unmarked Craig Malcolm who coolly swept the ball past Hutton to level the score at 1-1.
As Stranraer seized the initiative Ayr were about to suffer a blow which weakened the heart of their defence. Peter Murphy rose to header clear but landed awkwardly and seemed to aggravate his pre-existing shoulder injury leaving him in considerable pain. He was replaced at half-time by Dale Shirkie, who moved into midfield, with Scot McLaughlin dropping back in to the heart of defence.
Surprisingly it was Ayr who could have regained the lead. In 48mins Alan Forrest was put clear in the box but his angled drive from close range was anticipated by Stranraer goalkeeper Mitchell who darted off his line to save.
Momentum build for Stranraer and their growing pressure finally paid off in 51mins. After some excellent build up play on the edge of Ayr’s penalty area, Winter released Gallagher behind the Ayr defence with a neatly executed pass. Gallagher raced towards the by-line before whipping a tremendous low cross along the edge of the 6 yards box towards an again unmarked Craig Malcolm who slid in at the back post to put his team ahead.
Stranraer were now well on top and a superb reverse pass from Willie Gibson released Sean Winter in on the Ayr goal. David Hutton however had sensed the danger and was quickly off his line to narrow the angle and make a fine save.
Mark Roberts threw caution to the wind in the 79th minute when he withdrew full back Andrew Muir replacing him with another youngster, forward Ryan Nisbet, while changing to a three man back line.
Unfortunately for Ayr it was Stranraer who took advantage of these changes as late sub Danny Stoney capitalised on the extra space. His great run and shot from the edge of the Ayr box in the 81st minute put the Blues 3-1 ahead and ended Ayr’s hopes of a revival.
Those Ayr fans who remained in the ground loudly voiced their discontent as the final whistle blew.
Attendance – 630
Hutton; Devlin; Muir; Trialist (Rutkiewicz); Murphy; Gilmour; Forrest; McLaughlin; Donnelly; McGovern; Slane
Newman; Shirkie; McKenzie; McArthur; Nisbet; McGill
Mitchell; Gallagher; Longridge; Rumsby; McKeown; Aitken; Winter; Bell; Malcolm; Longworth; Gibson
Tobin; Stoney; Russell; Marenghi; Forde; McCloskey; Robertson
Report – AU Media