Ayr United 2 v 0 Partick Thistle
There was an audible buzz of excitement around Somerset Park as Ayr prepared to enter the Championship following their league winning exploits of season 2017-18. And what a game it was to be at a sun-drenched Somerset Park, but before that, there was the formality of the League 1 winner’s title flag to be raised.
With flames firing into the sky, the flag raising party, Anton Fagan (SPFL), Lewis Grant (Ayr United Managing Director), and Moira Bowman (Ladbrokes) marched onto the field. Lewis Grant was given the honour of unfurling the flag, and despite initially tangling, swift-acting assistants finally had the flag flying above the lush green turf.
The ceremony may have stuttered but United didn’t over the following 90 mins of action, delighting all Honest Men and Lasses in the stadium with a scintillating performance of attacking football, determination, and skill.
As with the previous weeks’ encounter against Partick in the Betfred Cup, United got off to a flier. With only 8 mins on the clock, Ayr took the lead. Partick only partially cleared and Crawford picked up the ball some 20 yards out and darted into the penalty area. Central defender Sean McGinty rushed forward and stuck out a leg, clipping the United midfielder who had, in an instant, shifted inside of him. Referee Craig Thomson showed no hesitation and pointed to the spot: penalty to Ayr.
Up stepped Lawrence Shankland to blast the ball past keeper Cammy Bell and into the net. 1 – 0 United.
Partick looked stunned and were put under the cosh by a United side determined to ensure that the Glasgow side were given no opportunity to get back into the game.
On 11 mins, after a series of balls into the box which Partick failed to clear, McDaid curled the ball back in, Adams knocked on, Shankland flicked to the side and Michael Rose blasted a first-time volley which went wide.
Partick’s assured play of just 7 days earlier appeared to have been left in the locker, with Ayr keeper Doohan being left as a bystander for much of the opening 15 mins, as Ayr relentlessly drove forward.
With 18 mins gone, Harvie raced on to a through ball on the left and whipped the ball across the face of goal with Shankland only inches away from making contact, and a second goal of the match. However, it wouldn’t take long for United, and Shankland, to get that second goal which their play deserved.
1 min later, Max Melbourne, Thistle’s loanee defender from West Brom, failed to control a cross-field pass at the halfway line and McDaid nipped in to steal the ball and break forward. Thomas O’Ware put in a solid tackle to stop the United winger and the ball broke to the chasing Melbourne who again struggled, his weak clearance going straight to Michael Moffat a couple of yards away. Moffat’s response was sublime, a delicate stroke with the outside of his right foot, behind Melbourne and to McDaid who powerfully cut the ball back Shankland who fired home. 2 – 0 and United were in dominating form.
Other than a 14 min header straight into the hands of Doohan, it took Partick 26 mins to have their first shot on target, and when it came it was of the disappointing variety. A misplaced pass from Daniel Harvie was picked up by Chris Erskine who drove straight toward the penalty area but his shot from 20 yards was miss hit and trundled through to the United keeper.
On 32 mins, Ayr sliced through the Partick rear-guard with a move of precise passing and slick interplay between Forrest, Shankland, Moffat, and Crawford at the edge of the box. Crawford then found Forrest in the box, but he was denied by McGinty throwing himself in front of the ball and blocking.
Partick upped the pace in the last 5 mins before the break but still struggled to find a cutting edge. On 41 mins Storey did well on the left before playing a diagonal ball across the box where it was met by striker Kris Doolan but his header went over.
Right on the stroke of halftime, the Jags’ live-wire midfielder Craig Slater received the ball from O’Ware, and from 35 yards out tried his luck. Keeper Doohan threw himself across goal at full stretch tipping the ball past the post, taking no chances that the low hit drive may have been going just wide.
Halftime couldn’t have come at a better time for the visitors who appeared to be struggling to cope with United. The Maryhill side re-emerged with a more attacking formation and additional bodies in midfield, but it was United who still appeared to have the upper hand.
Within seconds of the restart, Harvie stormed down the left racing past the Partick defence before firing in a shot which keeper Cammy Bell did well to save. 2 mins later, Ayr worked the ball forward on the left before Murdoch switched to Geggan on the right with an inch-perfect cross-field pass. The right-back whipped the ball to the centre of the box where McDaid, after sprinting in, first time volleyed over the bar. Sumptuous football from the Ayrshire men, and deserved of a goal.
On 54 mins, Ayr worked the ball to the left before Forrest darted inside across the face of the box. His first attempt was blocked but he chased rebound to the line before clipping the ball towards goal where Bell turned it wide of his post. From the corner, Crawford controlled the ball, turned past one defender, and played across to Moffat whose shot was saved by Bell.
With 21 mins to go, Partick introduced Aidan Fitzpatrick for Melbourne, and this appeared to give the Jags a much-needed injection of attacking potential. Within seconds of his arrival, the youngster showed Geggan a clean pair of heels down the left and sped towards the corner flag before delivering a flashing cross into the box, but Doolan failed to rise high enough for contact and the ball exited the field on the far side. 2 mins later, Fitzpatrick came close to connecting with a Spittal long ball into the box as he darted forward and created space for himself.
65 mins gone and Moffat slipped the ball behind Spittal and into the path of Forrest in the box. Apparently blocked, Forrest curved the ball from the left and out just past the far post with the fans applauding his audacious attempt. Minutes later the hard-working winger was replaced by Craig McGuffie.
McGuffie didn’t take long to show his attacking credentials. Seconds after his arrival he collected a pass from Crawford on the right and moved in along the line into the penalty area, nutmegging Penrice, before slipping the ball inside where Moffat’s effort was blocked by O’Ware’ s last-gasp block.
With 6 mins to go, McGuffie played the ball to Moffat on the right who then cut the ball back to the edge of the box. Shankland, although not making clean contact, hit the ball towards goal and forced Bell to save.
United picked up their first 3 points in the Championship after an impressive performance, and manager Ian McCall will be sure to encourage the maintenance of the high standards set as they travel to Inverness next Saturday to face Inverness Caley Thistle.
Doohan, Geggan, Adams, Rose, Harvie, Forrest, Crawford, Murdoch, McDaid, Moffat, Shankland Subs: Hare-Reid (GK), McGuffie, Ferguson, Bell, Docherty, McCowan
Bell, Melbourne, McGinty, O’Ware, Penrice, Spittal, Gordon, Slater, Storey, Erskine, Doolan Subs: Sneddon (GK), Keown, Wilson, Fitzpatrick
Referee: Craig Thomson