Ayr United 2 v 0 Stranraer
Whether locals like this being referred to as a derby or not this game had the feeling of a derby of old with crunching tackles, no quarter given, red cards, no little skill, burst nets, goals and, most surprisingly, a tension filled excitement that brought fans to their feet singing in the main stand.
The game started at speed and with some early crunching tackles. Andy Geggan was first to hit the deck when he was caught on the shin and ankle within the first minute as Stranraer tried to impose themselves on the game. Referee Northcroft made light of the incident while Geggan’s resultant swollen ankle would suggest there should have been a greater response.
Ayr dominated the first half with Geggan hitting the post on 16 mins, an audacious overhead kick by Shankland from 10 yards just going over one minute later, and then his swerving 30-yard drive only just stopped by keeper Belford. Ayr’s chances kept adding up with Michael Moffat, Declan McDaid and Chris Higgins also going close.
Stranraer were still dangerous on the counter attack, especially when spurred on by the excellent freekicks and passes from former Ayr man, Scott Agnew. Stranraer’s best chance came on 20 mins when Ryan Wallace turned quickly at the edge of the box before sending a powerful drive inches past the post.
Ayr thought they’d taken the lead on 30 mins when a Shankland shot appeared to have palmed in by Belford but referee Northcroft adjudged that defender Steven Bell had cleared before the ball was fully over the line.
A simmering feud was taking place between Ayr’s Geggan and Jamie Hamill and, on 40 mins, it looked like this had resulted in a United penalty when the Stranraer defender grabbed Geggan by the neck and body and then bundled him down straight in front of the referee. Referee Northcroft decided to take no action.
As the halftime whistle beckoned, a Docherty freekick was met by Rose but his effort hit the post and both teams went in at the break on level terms.
Manager McCall, replaced Geggan with Jamie Adams to add height and tactically insert Craig Moore for McDaid. McCall had at last unleashed his three-striker attack (Shankland, Moffat and Moore) that fans had been relishing but if he had hoped to defuse tensions with the withdrawal of Geggan he was to be disappointed in a second half that was to explode.
The touch paper was to be lit in the 57th min. Robbie Crawford broke down the left and, with the ball well away, the Blues’ young midfielder, Kyle Turner, lunged in with two feet. Crawford was left writhing on the grass, but the referee astonishingly only brought out a yellow card.
Things started to get ‘tasty’ but Ayr kept their composure and piled on the pressure with Higgins going close and Rose inexplicably heading past from close range.
On 65 mins Ayr finally took the lead. Keeper Hart rolled the ball to Chris Higgins who found Paddy Boyle to his left. The defender then picked out Lawrence Shankland, in an advanced position on the right. with an exquisite diagonal ball. Without a second thought, Shankland nodded the ball into the path of Michael Moffat who made his way into the box before putting it past keeper Belford and into the net. Ayr were ahead, and this was nothing less than they deserved.
And then came the first red card. Just as the whistle blew for an earlier foul and with no chance to stop, Adams tackled defender Scott Robertson and the Stranraer man grabbed him by the shirt before pushing him onto the ground. After consultation with his assistant the referee ordered Robertson from the pitch but strangely also booked Adams whose tackle, although strong, appeared to take the ball cleanly despite the reaction from the Blues’ bench.
United doubled their lead in the 79th minute with Shankland both starting and finishing the move. The striker, on the left at the halfway line and somewhat emulating Boyle in the move for the first goal, curled the ball into the path of the on-rushing Craig Moore on the right. Moore dribbled into the box before unleashing a drive that Belford could only palm away and the Stranraer defence struggled to clear. The ball arrived at the feet of Ross Docherty on the edge of the box and the United captain played it forward to Shankland who spun before hitting the ball home. Breathing space for Ayr at 2 – 0.
On 89 mins came the second red card as central defender Steven Bell pulled Adams down and appeared to push his hand in to the United man’s face when he was on the ground. 9-man Stranraer now had no way back.
Ayr should have made it three with seconds remaining when Shankland put substitute Forrest through, but the ball bobbled, and his shot flew over the bar.
On Saturday, another tricky away trip to Angus, this time to Arbroath.
Hart, Higgins, Boyle, Rose, Geggan, Moffat, Crawford, McDaid, Ferguson, Shankland, Docherty. Substitutes: Avci (GK), Gilmour, Moore, Forrest, McGuffie, Adams, Reid
Belford, Robertson, Neill, Woods, Bell, Wallace, Agnew, Anderson, Turner, Hamill, Thomson. Substitutes: Currie (GK), Barron, Lang, McGowan, Okoh, Gray, Stoney
Referee: Mat Northcroft