Albion Rovers 1 v 3 Ayr United
Ayr opened at pace immediately pressurising the Albion Rovers defence and giving them little time on the ball a tactic that would continue for the whole 90 minutes. With less than two minutes on the clock Ryan Stevenson whipped a curling freekick into the box which centre half Mick Dunlop failed to fully head clear. From around 16 yards out Jordan Preston composed himself before driving the ball high into the right-hand corner of the net and United were one up.
Before Albion Rovers could recompose themselves they were two goals down, and what a goal was. Ryan Stevenson gained possession some 25 yards out and fired a screaming drive into the top corner of the net with goalkeeper Stewart left waving at the blur that passed by him.
On 8 mins Albion Rovers did come close with McBride breaking through but his flick towards the goals was hooked off the line by the excellently positioned Murphy.
Things didn’t get better for the Albion when in 16 minutes experienced striker John Gemmell suffered a recurrence of an ankle injury and had to be replaced by diminutive but speedy Callum McRobbie. This resulted in an imposed change of approach for Albion Rovers who were denied the use of Gemmell’s bulk and height against a very composed central defensive partnership of Graham and Murphy
For much of the rest of the half chances were limited for Albion Rovers as Ayr seemed comfortable and in control. Albion’s only chance came in 19mins and this was from a set piece. A corner from the right seem to evade all the United defenders and gave Michael Dunlop a free header from only 6 yards but he somehow managed to knock this high and wide.
Ayr were still pushing forward and in 27 minutes a neat and precise passing move between Forest, Moore and Preston created space for the young striker to hit a shot which Stewart got down well to save.
As the first half came towards a close became inevitable that United would go further ahead and in 42 mins they do just that. Wardrope collected the ball and moved forward laying it off to Stevenson who half-volleyed from over 30 yards sending the ball crashing off the underside of the bar leaving the hapless Stewart floundering but the ball bouncing back into open play. Jordan Preston was first to react and pounced strongly heading the ball into the net and United were three up.
Of the ball, in the build-up to the goal, there was an unsavoury event with Albion Rovers Josh Mullin appearing to elbow Mikey Donald full in the face leaving the defender flat-out on the pitch and the nearby United supporters howling for a red card but the officials had failed to notice the incident.
3 – 0 at half-time did not flatter Ayr who had the majority of the play and the midfield and defence playing with confidence in a manner which hadn’t been seen in the matches against Cowdenbeath and Stranraer.
The second half gave much of the same with the Ayr, if anything, being happy to allow Albion Rovers to huff and puff while the Honest Men controlled the match.
In 52 mins Ryan Stevenson again came close with a freekick from just outside the box fizzing narrowly wide.
As Ayr pushed forward Forrest, Moore, and Preston were all thwarted by last-second tackles or blocked shots as Ayr tried to add to the score. Meanwhile Albion Rovers were reduced to distant shots or attempts from set pieces but appeared unable to get anything on target but for the second time in the match also spun the great opportunity to pull one back with a mess very similar to that from Michael Dunlop in the first half. Again ball in from the corner evaded the United defence this time leaving winger Scott McBride with a free header from within the 6-yard box but to the amazement of all he sent his header well wide.
In 72 mins Mick Wardrope showed a delightful piece of skill picking the ball up and then striking it towards goal from some 25-yards out only to see it smack off the base of the post and go wide.
With Ayr still trying for another goal Ryan Stevenson again came close to a 20-yard drive that just went over the bar.
With such a good performance the biggest disappointment came in the 90 min with Albion Rovers claiming a consolation goal that they barely deserved. As Ayr backed off the ball was played in from the left, flicked forward into the box and substitute Ally Love ran in to place the ball past Greg Fleming and into the net.
This was a good performance by a hard-working United team manager Ian McCall must be relishing the return to fitness of Boyle, Crawford, Docherty, Adams, and Gilmour, but feeling is that the depleted team has proved that it has the commitment and ability to compete at this level.
Stewart, Reid, Turnbull, Fisher, R. Dunlop, M. Dunlop, Mullin, Davidson, Gemmell, Willis, McBride Substitutes Lochhead (GK), Love, Young, Talu, Ferry, McRobbie
Fleming, Devlin, Donald, Graham, Murphy, Stevenson, Wardrope, Forrest, Preston, Trouten, Moore Substitutes Newman (GK), Muir, McCracken, Crawford, McKenzie, Gilmour.
Referee: David Lowe