United eased their relegation fears after a resounding 4-0 victory over the league’s bottom side Stirling Albion, at Somerset Park on Saturday. They were further boosted by the news that Stenhousemuir, after racing into an early 2 goal lead, were held 2-2 at home against Brechin City.
The Stenny result sealed the final promotion play-off berth in Scottish League One for Brechin and saw Ayr move to 8th in the league, just 2 points clear of The Warriors who returned to the relegation play-off spot.
Ayr had the luxury of a fully fit and suspension free squad to choose from heading into this game but Ian McCall decided to make two changes to the team that started against Airdrie last week. Crawford and Forrest returned to the starting eleven in place of Beattie and Murray, as they both dropped to the bench.
Stirling were in the middle of a clear out as they prepared for life in League 2 next season, so it was an unfamiliar looking line up that started the game against Ayr.
Both teams took time to settle into the game as the blustery conditions, combined with a firm pitch, caused both sides difficulties as the opening stages of the game saw a scrappy affair.
This was a must win game for United and in front of a healthy 1608 attendance Ayr managed to gain an early advantage. As United attacked the Railway End they won a free kick in line with the corner of the 18 yard box on the North terrace side. Adam Blakeman stepped up to whip in a dangerous looking left foot free kick that saw Nicky Devlin connect with a flashing header that diverted the ball into the path of Scott McKenna who scored from close range at the far post.
United seemed to gain in confidence from this early breakthrough and started to dominate possession and take the game to Stirling. But after some good pressure United’s fragility reappeared and The Binos started to gain in confidence with some good counter-attacking moves committing players forward in numbers. United’s defence held firm though and they weathered the storm.
Then in 20 mins they scored against the run of play. A high looping cross was sent to Adam Blakeman at the far post and although he out jumped the defender his header down toward the Stirling goal looked to be a straightforward save for Cammy Binne in the Stirling goal. However as Blakeman’s downward header skipped off the Somerset surface the keeper appeared to take his eye off the ball and only succeeded in parrying it into the far corner to give Ayr a surprising 2-0 lead.
Again this second goal gave Ayr more confidence and after good spells of pressure United seemed to lose their way a little. This allowed Stirling back into the game with some decent spells of possession of their own, but rarely threatening the United goal, and the first half ended with no further goals.
The second half started with David Hutton pulling off a tremendous one handed save as Stirling threatened to score from the off, but it wouldn’t have counted as the far side assistant referee had flagged for offside. Apart from this early attack the opening quarter was uneventful.
Ayr were dominating possession but struggling with the conditions as they appeared to lack any rhythm and cohesion to their play.
Ian McCall had seen enough by 71 mins and decided to make a double substitution replacing Donald and Preston with Robertson and Beattie. This change paid off almost immediately as United won a penalty for deliberate handball, that saw Lee Hamilton red carded for the offence, before Jon Paul McGovern despatched the spot kick to give Ayr a 3-0 lead with 73 mins played.
Craig Beattie then missed a good opportunity in 81 mins, pulling his shot wide from close in, before Adam Blakeman showed him how it should be done. His initial shot from a free kick was blocked by the Stirling wall but as his momentum carried him forward he met the rebounding ball with a low strike from 15 yards that was deflected past Binnie to make it 4-0 to Ayr.
So this result lifted United out of the relegation play-off slot setting themselves up for a do or die trip to promotion chasing Forfar in the last scheduled game of the season next Saturday.
Attendance – 1608
Hutton; Devlin; Donald; Murphy; McKenna; McGovern; Gilmour; Crawford; Preston; Forrest; Blakeman Subs – Newman; Robertson; Beattie; Nisbett; Neill; Murray; Muir
Binne; McGeachie; Sinclair; Beith; Davidson; Forsyth; Hamilton; Comrie; Smith; Stirling; Cunningham Subs – Robertson; Paton; Johnston; Hurst; D.Smith; C.Smith