Ayr United 1 v 0 Kilmarnock
Premiership Kilmarnock came to Somerset Park for the Betfred Cup Group E match on Friday night, high on hopes and backed by bookies’ confidence in their superiority over League 1 Ayr United. That, however, is not all it takes to win the Ayrshire Derby. United had passion, a desire to win, a non-stop work ethic, organisation, not a little skill and talent, and a roaring home support; that made all the difference.
In front of a live TV audience on BT Sport, the 2017-18 Scottish football season burst into being in the most magnificent of fashions: a local derby and a ‘giant’ being brought to its knees in humiliating fashion. It may have been good viewing for the armchair fans but, to actually be there feeling the testosterone fuelled moments, hearing communities of loyal fans singing their hearts out, savouring the sweet taste of victory against your greatest sporting rivals, and sharing it all with like-minded others, is more than special, it is incomparable.
And Somerset Park, this may be a relic to some in the modern football world, but relic or not, this old lady is perfect, creating a cauldron of passion and excitement that the new generation of anodyne, all seated, kit grounds cannot hold a candle, and of which they can only fruitlessly dream.
This was the time and the place. Weeks of chest puffing and bravado, weeks of online taunting and workplace badinage and banter, this was over. It was time to step up, a time of proof. Bragging rights were at stake.
When referee John Beaton blew his whistle to start the match it was a signal for Ayr United to take the game to their local rivals who seemed surprisingly subdued and lacking desire through-out the first 45 mins.
Ayr created three excellent chances early on. First, on 6 mins, good interplay down the right-hand side saw Andy Geggan just fail to control the ball well enough and his effort went wide. On 8 mins, more close link up play created space for Docherty but his drive from 25 yards took an unfortunate deflection and, instead of bulging the net, flipped into the arms of keeper Jamie MacDonald. Just 4 mins later, Declan McDaid showed off his skills on the right, leaving three defenders trailing in his wake, before crossing into the box. With players lining up to shoot, no one managed to get a clear sight of goal and the panicked Kilmarnock defence finally got the ball away.
Kilmarnock were creating few substantial chances but were at their most dangerous from set pieces.
On 20 mins it was yet again Ayr who came close. With a corner coming in from the left, Jamie Adams punched a hole in the defence and headered powerfully goalward only to see keeper MacDonald pull off one of his numerous first half saves that kept Kilmarnock in the game. From the rebound Craig Moore’s drive smacked into the side netting to audible gasps of relief from the Kilmarnock faithful thronging the Railway End.
Challenges were tough and regular but referee Beaton kept a lid on things, while keeping his hands away from his card, allowing the game to flow and did much to help create the spectacle that the match became.
With 29 mins gone, Kilmarnock created a solid chance from a corner with Power coming into the penalty untracked and unmarked but somehow managed to volley the ball high and out of the park.
Ayr again piled on the pressure and the crowd could sense an upset was on the cards. As Robbie Crawford tried to carve his way across the front edge of the box from the left, experienced defender Kirk Broadfoot appeared outpaced and out turned and chose to pull the midfielder back. Referee Beaton had a simple decision to award a foul.
McDaid decided to go for goal from the freekick just outside the box. His strike was delightful getting the ball over the wall and quickly down towards the front post but once again keeper MacDonald pulled off an excellent save turning the ball away for a corner.
McDaid swung in the corner and Andy Geggan made his run into acres of space in the box and powerfully headed home to put the Honest Men one up with 38 mins on the clock.
Kilmarnock tried to respond but and on 42 mins Kris Boyd should have done better, meeting a cross from the left but only sending it straight into the arms of keeper Jordan Hart.
Kilmarnock looked out of ideas and lacking punch up front and craved the halftime whistle. The break was good for the East Ayrshire outfit with Manager Lee McCulloch altering their formation, and instilling a more aggressive and positive attitude.
The second half saw Kilmarnock attempting to dominate with impressive winger Jordan Jones becoming the heart of the best that the Premiership side could offer.
On 53 mins, Harts came to the rescue of Ayr with a fine save after Kilmarnock broke at speed from defence. Only 2 mins later and it was Jones again who was causing Ayr problems, getting past 3 United defenders on the left before coming into the box before being stopped by Rose.
Although Ayr were being forced backwards due to Kilmarnock pressure they defended with resolute strength preventing any opportunities from being turned into goals.
Unfortunately for Ayr, central defender Michael Rose had to be replaced due to injury but the defence remained rock solid with Adams moving back from midfield into defence with Brian Gilmour stepping into his role.
Ayr then came close through defender Paddy Boyle on 59 mins when his drive from 20 yards out was saved by MacDonald at full stretch.
Kilmarnock were, by now, huffing and puffing and Ayr had chances to seal the game. On 76 mins, a Gilmour freekick was met by Moore in the box but his powerful header went straight to the keeper. If that was close, an 81st min moment of genius by Robbie Crawford deserved to have ended in the back of the net. After picking up the ball in midfield, Crawford channelled his internal Leonel Messi, powered forward into the box, waltzed around four bemused Kilmarnock defenders before reaching the 6-yard line and poking the ball goalward. Somehow the excellent MacDonald in the Kilmarnock goals got his legs in the way to stop what should have been the goal of the tournament never mind the game.
These misses didn’t matter as Kilmarnock failed to summon up the energy or guile to break the United resistance. As referee Beaton’s whistle sounded signifying that the 90 + 2 mins were over, Somerset Park erupted into a sea of black and white and a hurricane of noise as the team and their vocal support celebrated victory over their Ayrshire rivals.
Bragging rights to Ayr.
Next time out, Ayr visit Dumbarton on Tuesday in the next match of the Betfred Group stage.
Hart, Higgins, Boyle, Rose, Geggan, Moffat, Crawford, Moore, McDaid, Adams, Docherty Substitutes: Avci (GK), Gilmour, Forrest, McGuffie, Ferguson, Faulds, McCowan
MacDonald, O’Donnell, Broadfoot, Power, McKenzie, K. Boyd, Jones, S. Boyd, Waters, Wilson, Frizzell
Substitutes: MacKay, Taylor, Higgins, Thomas, Samizadeh, Graham, Cameron
Referee: John Beaton
Asst Referee: Andrew McWIlliam
Asst Referee: Brian Templeton
4th Official: Alan Newlands
Match Report: AUmedia