Ayr United 2 v 3 Airdrieonians
Ayr United: Campbell (50’), Beattie (79’)
Airdrieonians: Lister (30’), Gasparatto (85’), Bain (90’)
Everything was there to set up this match as one to watch. This was the top versus bottom of the table clash. Ayr had returned from Brechin with all three points while Airdrieonians had been unlucky to only come away with a draw against Stranraer the week before. If any of the 1,185 fans who turned out to watch had been unaware of Airdrieonians’ improving performances they would have left after 90 minutes much better educated.
Airdrieonians were determined and well marshalled throughout. They closed down Ayr at every opportunity, and were set up to attack, with big Jim Lister a constant threat causing endless discomfort for the Ayr defence.
There was little to write home about in the first half with both teams attempting to press forward but with most of the play stagnating in the middle. Ayr’s creative midfielders were given very little time on the ball as Airdrieonians harried and challenged. Due to this, Donnelly, upfront, was provided with little opportunity to show his goal scoring prowess. Most chances were created from set pieces with Martyn Campbell heading close on a number of occasions, and an opportunistic overhead kick from Donnelly on 28 minutes resulting in an excellent save from keeper McNeil.
But Airdrie were growing in confidence with nippy wingers Gray and Watt seeing more of the ball and Ayr looking uncharacteristically nervous at the back. There was a feeling that something was about to happen and when it did was no surprise that Jim Lister was involved.
On 30 minutes, following their own throw in, some slack passing saw Ayr needlessly giving the ball away some thirty yards out. Airdrie’s Prunty made towards the penalty box then flicked it wide to Gray on the right who, making the best of Ayr’s loss of possession turning the defence, darted in behind. His first-time cross to the back post was only partially cleared by Nicky Devlin’s header and the ball dropped to Lister 6 yards out. It was as if time was standing still, and with no one able to get near him, Lister buried the ball with a right-footed shot into the centre of the net.
Ayr went straight into attack as they tried to grab the goal back and saw two corners in quick succession. In 31 minutes ball in from wide right caused problems in the Airdrie defence, and keeper McNeil flapped wildly, managing only to direct the ball to Martyn Campbell 6 yards out. Campbell struck the ball hard but Airdrie threw bodies at the ball and it was blocked. In the following stramash Airdrie somehow managed to boot the ball clear.
With players forward, Ayr were almost caught on the counter-attack. In 33’ Nicky Devlin lost out on the ball in the Airdrie half and Watt slid it through to Lister who raced towards goal. Fortunately for Ayr he ran out of steam as Slane charged back to cover and his shot was powder-puff, trickling into goalkeeper Hutton’s hands.
If things had been bad for Ayr United in the 44’ they got worse as influential central defender Peter Murphy was forced to be withdrawn due to aggravating a ligament injury. This caused Ayr to reshuffle with McKinlay going to central defence, Donald to left back while substitute Shirkie moved into a forward left-sided position.
Half time came at a crucial moment for Ayr who needed a chance to regroup and change things around. And that’s just what happened. A reinvigorated Ayr United emerged from the tunnel with greater determination and more attacking ideas.
The second half burst into action with Ayr putting pressure on the Airdrieonians backline. In the 49th minute both McGovern and Donnelly forced keeper McNeil to pull off two good saves from headers.
In the 50th minute Ayr gained a corner after a header by Donnelly was tipped over by McNeil. McGovern’s curling in-swinger was nodded away from the 6 yard box to Paul Slane who lifted the ball back in again where it reached Martyn Campbell on the penalty spot. Campbell immediately reacted by flicking at the ball with his right foot and directing it into the net leaving fully stretched keeper McNeil clutching at thin air. Martyn Campbell goals are a precious and rare commodity and when they occur they trigger delirious celebrations. No change this time.
But this was not an Airdrieonians’ team that was going to be knocked off their game. They made their intent crystal clear in 53 minutes when the ball was knocked out of the United penalty area and was met by Airdrie defender Luca Gasparotto whose volleyed shot beat Hutton but only to rattle off the top of the bar.
On 60 minutes Ayr were forced to make another change when goal scorer Campbell suffered a muscle injury and was replaced by striker Craig Beattie. Ayr had now lost both of their central defenders and captain Scott McLaughlin once again dropped in beside McKinlay in the reorganised backline.
Both sides went out for victory with Ayr forcing a succession of corners and with Lister, Prunty and Watt all going close for Airdrie. With 79 minutes gone McGovern picked up the ball in midfield and drove down the left. He knocked the ball to Donnelly who cut inside and slid an inch perfect pass to Beattie at the edge of the penalty area. Beattie controlled the ball with one touch, flicked it to his left, giving himself space to snap off a shot that went diagonally across goal and in at the back post. 2- 1 to Ayr.
With just 10 minutes remaining most Ayr fans hoped that this would signal three points for United but yet again Airdrie had different ideas. Manager Bollan signalled for an all-out attack, at times leaving only two at the back and encouraging the towering twosome, Richards-Everton and Gasparotto, to range forward at will. ‘The Diamond’s’ were about to show their cutting edge.
With five minutes remaining, a somewhat innocuous coming together of Slane and Fitzpatrick was deemed as a foul for Airdrie by referee Northcroft. From 25 yards out on the left, Watt curled the resultant free kick into the box, and the ball was returned to him. Taking this second opportunity, Watt lifted the ball to the back post where Proctor rose unmarked to nod the ball into the centre, where Gasparotto out jumped and out muscled his markers to send his header goalward. Hutton reacted immediately to this almost point blank assault but, although managing to get one hand to the ball, he could only watch in horror as it dropped into the net. 2 – 2.
Ayr were toiling and under siege as Airdrie smelt blood and went for the kill. They pushed forward relentlessly, as Ayr desperately tried to hold on. Airdrie’s winner, when it came, was no surprise, the scorer possibly was. In the 89th minute, Gary Bollan sent on the diminutive Jamie Bain for the injured Scott Gray and with his first touch he was to send the Airdrie fans delirious.
After some header tennis on the halfway line, Ayr’s Shirkie and Airdrie’s Watt jumped for the ball some 20 yards inside the Ayr United half and Watt fell clutching his mouth. Again Ayr felt aggrieved but referee Northcroft awarded a free kick to Airdrie. Watt recovered quickly to place the ball and lift it into the centre of the Ayr United penalty box. Jamie Bain had somehow managed to lose his marker, McKinlay, and found time to place his header into the back of the net. 90 minutes had gone and there was no way back for United.
4 Campbell (Shirkie 45′)
5 Murphy (Beattie 62′)
3 P. Boyle
7 Gray (Bain 89′)
10 Prunty (Parker 80′)
Referee: Mat Northcroft