Ayr United 2 v 0 Dundee United
Saturday afternoons don’t get much better than this, bright sunshine, a vociferous United support, and a comprehensive 2 nil victory maintaining Ayr’s position at the top of the Championship league table as the teams go into the international break.
Dundee United haven’t had their troubles to seek recently, their 5 – 1 home defeat to Ross County last weekend signalling the end of Csaba Laszlo’s term as manager with coach Laurie Ellis taking the reins as interim manager. There had been much ‘informed’ speculation that the change in manager would see a ‘bounce’ put back into the step of the Dundee United team and its performances, this just did not happen. The Tayside United looked a shadow of what would normally be expected of them, while table-toppers Ayr impressed in all areas, with the stats showing a dominating 57% possession.
Prior to kick-off both sides and officials lined up in front of the stand, raising red cards to show their support for the ‘Show Racism the Red Card’ campaign Fortnight of Action 2018. All teams in Scotland and others in over 40 European countries will also be taking part in similar events, condemning all forms of racism and stating that any racist behaviour will not be tolerated within their clubs.
The match got underway with both teams showing their intent to attack, and as early as 2 mins Ayr carved out their first chance. Murdoch found Forrest at the halfway line who then made his way into the Dundee United half, slipping the ball to Shankland in the penalty area. The striker then tried to play the ball to Geggan, but his pass was short giving the Tayside men the chance to scramble clear.
Ayr were truly on the front foot putting relentless pressure on the Tangerines’ rear-guard in the opening 10 mins, with Shankland being foiled twice, first by keeper Siegrist, and secondly by a last-second slide and block as Ayr turned up the heat.
It took Dundee United 11 mins to create their first chance. Bouhenna lifted the ball to the edge of the box, and Safranko flicked on to McMullan who found King to his left. King made his way into the box and onto his left foot and letting fly with a shot that Doohan did well to block at his right-hand post.
If Dundee United fans were hoping this would signal that their team were getting to grips with the game they were to be disappointed as Ayr continued to dominate and on 21 mins were to get the goal that their play deserved.
Doohan kept the ball deep into the Dundee United half and, under pressure from Shankland, Frans failed to clear with his header, and Murdoch played the ball forward to Moffat who immediately flicked it into the path of Shankland who had spun away from Frans and into the penalty area. As Siegrist advanced Shankland composed himself and coolly slotted the ball home with his left foot. 1 – 0 Ayr.
Ayr fought like terriers all over the park, giving the Tayside men very little time on the ball, Geggan, Murdoch, and Kerr in midfield working tirelessly, while Smith and Harvey rampaged up and down the wings providing tempting crosses and steely defensive work when necessary.
On 29 mins, looking suspiciously offside, Moffat sprinted clear on the right and onto a ball over the top from Smith and made his way into the penalty area. Bouhenna and Watson rushed back into their penalty area to block Moffat’s direct path the goal, but the striker attempted a left-footed short which, unfortunately for him, lifted and flew over the bar.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, came 2 mins of incident where Dundee United went close to finding the equalizer. After a short period of header tennis at the halfway line, an attempted clearance by Adams smacked off fellow defender Smith and into the path of Safranko who threaded the ball forward to McMullan. With Adams caught out of position on the right, Harvie moved across to cover and slid in on McMullan to block his progress. Harvie appeared to catch the ball with his arms and referee Greg Aitken signalled for a free kick and booked the Ayr man for his efforts.
In an attempted diversion, Booth ran over the ball before Fyvie’s powerfully hit free kick smashed off the wall and out to Bouhenna, who played the ball wide hoping to find a Dundee body. With no man in tangerine in sight, Liam Smith comfortably trotted after the ball, but he hadn’t reckoned on Paul McMullan who sprinted out to the wing, dispossessed the Ayr man and made his way back toward goal. McMullan then slid the ball into the 6-yard box and Matthew Smith flicked towards goal only for Doohan to pull off a superb reaction save to his right. Quality goalkeeping from the keeper and Ayr maintained their lead.
For the rest of the half, Ayr seemed comfortably within themselves as they controlled the game but couldn’t find the final touch to extend their lead and put space between the two United’s. For the Taysiders, half-time, when it came, was a chance for a breather and rethink as to how to add some energy to the performance. Something must have clicked as they returned to the pitch with added vigour and a greater attacking intent.
The opening 20 minutes of the half were played at a ferocious pace, with both teams wearing their attacking hats, and spectators treated to an exciting end-to-end spectacle. It was during this period that the quality and ability of players such as Ayr’s Kerr and Shankland came to the forefront. Not for them the hash and dash of testosterone filled intent, but a controlled, purpose-filled direction and understanding of the situation. Shankland’s strength, hold up play, eye-for-goal, and awareness of the needs of others around him was matched by Kerr who skilfully made his own time for thoughtful creativity while directing play from midfield.
United went close on a number of occasions, a Forrest shot going narrowly wide, a cute one-two at the edge of the box with Moffat allowed Shankland to dribble past three defenders only to be denied by Siegrist’s dive at his feet, and some controlled build-up play leading to Moffat dribbling into the box only to be denied his shot from 10 yards by the hopeful outstretched leg of Bouhenna.
When Declan McDaid was introduced for the hard-working Alan Forrest on 64 mins he soon found himself in the middle of the action. Within minutes of entering the field of play he could, and probably should, have put Ayr two up thanks to an horrendous pass back from Tangerines’ captain Frazer Fyvie which put him clear through on keeper Siegrist and just 8 yards out. Instead of taking a shot the selfless winger attempted a cut back to Shankland who was free in the centre of the box, but the ball was easily intercepted by Watson.
On 71 mins, McDaid found himself with another chance. Moffat charged across the halfway line found Shankland at the edge of the penalty area where the striker skilfully slid the ball between defenders and into the path of McDaid. The winger’s quick footwork bamboozled
Watson who fell to the ground, opening up a view of the goals for McDaid, whose powerful quick-fire shot curled past Siegrist and slammed off the underside of the bar before Booth hacked clear.
With 73 mins on the clock, McDaid finally got his goal. A long freekick forward from Jamie Adams resulted in Ayr swarming around the Dundee United box, Geggan, Shankland, Smith, and Murdoch all exchanging passes as they probed for a route to goal. As the ball came in from the right Bouhenna seemed odds-on to clear but instead nonchalantly prodded a foot towards the ball allowing the vigilant Murdoch to nip in and steal the ball then clip a reverse chip-pass across the face of goal to McDaid whose first-time volley smashed into the back of the net.
Ayr were two goals up, and although Dundee United tried to intensify their attacking options by bringing on Nikki Clark and Samuel Stanton to join earlier substitute Yannick Loemba, the home side never looked like losing their two-goal advantage.
With the full-time whistle sounding, and 3 points in hand, Ayr entered the international break with their lead at the top of the Championship table maintained.
In two weeks’ time, Ayr make their way north for an exciting top of the table clash with Ross County at Dingwall.
Doohan, Smith, Bell, Adams, Harvie, Geggan, Kerr, Murdoch, Forrest, Moffat, Shankland Substitutes: Hare-Reid (GK), Moore, McDaid, McGuffie, Crawford, Ferguson, Docherty
Siegrist, Booth, Frans, McMullan, Fyvie, King, Safranko, Smith, Bouhenna, Rabitsch, Watson Substitutes: Matej Rakovan (GK), Clark, Stanton, Robson, Wardrop, Loemba
Referee: Greg Aitken