East Fife 1 V 4 Ayr United
United stretched their unbeaten run to 9 Leagues games in what could honestly be described as the proverbial game of two halves with East Fife dominating the first half and in the lead through a Duggan goal on 35 minutes. Not many neutrals wold have given Ayr a chance, but United fans know better, this is a team that just never gives up and they stormed their way to victory with an outstanding second half performance.
Manager Ian McCall felt that the balance of his team during the first half was not right, but two half time substitutions and a tactical change in mid-field gave United the impetus and possession that turned subservience into their own dominance. The gaffer also savoured the second half partnership of Shankland and Moore, describing it as ‘mouth-watering’.
Apart from an early couple of attacks, United struggled against a very direct and hard-working East Fife team, with Mark Lamont, for the home side, impressive in mid-field. Time after time Lamont, Smith and Wilkie cut through Ayr’s defence with intricate pin-point passes, creating opportunities for Duggan, Page and Piggot. To a great extend United were lucky, struggling to clear from their own box and profiting from some poor finishing by East Fife, missed chances the Fifers would come to rue not converting.
On 35 minutes, the home side finally got the goal their play deserved. Dunsmore slid a beautiful ball through the Ayr defence into the path of Duggan in the penalty area. Duggan then stroked the ball past the despairing Hart and into the back of the net. 1-0 for the Fifers.
Try as they might, United just couldn’t do anything to get themselves in to this game, and as the half time whistle blew, United needed to find inspiration and something different to rescue the game.
Ayr rang the changes at half time, with Adams and McDaid being replaced by Moore and Gilmour. Moore slotted in up-front to partner Shankland, with Gilmour sitting in a deep mid-field role, while Forrest moved in behind the strikers. Suddenly the Honest Men were transformed into an attacking machine, with Gilmour, in one of his best performances of the season, providing the missing link between defence and the forward line, collecting, passing, probing and providing a creative platform for the United attack.
Ayr pressed forward with wave after wave of attacks, finally getting the breakthrough they were looking for in the 56th minute. Forrest lifted a high, curling corner into the centre of the box where Rose leapt above his marker to head the ball powerfully in to the back of the net. 1-1, and there was something in the air that indicated this was not going to be the last from United.
East Fife were now causing few problems for the Ayrshire men being limited to set-pieces and long-range shots. Hart, however, had to come to the rescue on 67 minutes when Docherty tried his luck with a 25-yard attempt.
On 72 minutes Ayr took the lead and it was that man Rose again. Forrest took a corner on the left towards the back post, and with the defenders content to watch it curl out for a goal kick, Rose darted in to slam the ball high in to the back of the net. 1-2 United.
Two minutes later and it was 3. Shankland controlled a pass from Geggan at the edge of the box before turning and slipping the ball through to Moore who stroked home. The vociferous Ayr support could not believe their team’s transformation since half time never mind the three goals.
East Fife had a brief rally which ended in a magnificent save from Hart. Lamont worked the ball to the edge of the box and found Linton on the left. Linton lifted the ball to the back post where Wilkie nodded on to the penalty spot and Duggan overhead kicked goalward. Gilmour tried to block but the ball spun towards the line where Hart instinctively reacted, diving and clawing the ball away with one hand.
There was to be no consolation for the Fifers and it was the visitors who grabbed another. In the 87th minute, Shankland received the ball some 30 yards out, looked up, saw the keeper coming off his line, and sent a pile-driver of a shot in to the back of the net. 1-4 and the icing on the cake for United.
With Raith not playing, Ayr have taken an 8-point lead at the top of the league, although Raith do still have two games in hand.
Next up for Ayr is a trip to Airdrieonians.
Hurst, Dunsmore, Docherty, Page, Lamont, Duggan, Smith, Wilkie, Millar, Piggot, Linton SUBS: Goodfellow, Kane, Willis, Wilson, Reilly, Hurst, Mutch
Hart, Higgins, Boyle, Rose, Geggan, Moffat, Forrest, McDaid, Ferguson, J Adams, Shankland SUBS: Lyle Avci (GK), Gilmour, Moore, McGuffie, Faulds, Murphy, Reid
Referee: John McKendrick