After a nervy first half Ayr got back to winning ways with what turned out to be a comfortable victory in the first round of the Scottish Communities League cup.
The first 10mins saw Ayr dominate possession forcing East Stirlingshire back into their own half and limiting them to the occasional foray forward. However a mix up between Devlin and goalkeeper Hutton at a throw-in, almost let East Stirlingshire in on goal and this seemed to instil some confidence and belief into Shire’s play.
A flurry of chances followed this new found confidence with a rasping free kick from all of 30 yards, by East Stirlingshire’s Greenhill, fizzing inches wide of Hutton’s left hand post. This was quickly followed by a stinging shot from the edge of the box by McGregor which Hutton did well to parry for a corner. Diminutive forward Max Wright caused the Ayr defence problems with some intuitive play while left back Nathan Shepherd’s probing runs down the left flank were a constant source of irritation for the United defence.
It took time for Ayr to come to grips with this lively East Stirling side but by the half hour mark Ayr started to reassert themselves. Driven on by the impressive Peter Murphy, Ayr began to exploit the space East Stirlingshire were leaving at the back. The final 10mins of the half saw Ayr dominating. Mikey Donald went close when he broke free on the left hand side but unfortunately for Ayr, East Stirling keeper Barnard was quick to spot the danger and sprinted out of his goals to make a fine save at the feet of the onrushing winger.
In the 40th minute Mikey Donald fell awkwardly and had to be replaced by Peter McGill with the youngster slotting in well no doubt benefitting from his outing against Clyde last week.
Ayr continued to pile on the pressure but couldn’t make the all-important break through and as referee Greg Aitken finally blew for half-time it was the East Stirling players who looked to be the more relieved to be going in at the break still level.
Ayr began the second half with renewed impetus and within just four minutes took the lead. John Paul McGovern, looking much more comfortable playing a deeper role than in the first half, drove Ayr forward. In the 49th minute he latched on to a loose ball in midfield and drove straight for the heart of the defence. The East Stirlingshire defenders attempted to close ranks but McGovern slipped the ball to Donnelly in the right hand channel who adjusted his feet before curling a sublime left foot shot past keeper Barnard.
East Stirlingshire’s woes were further compounded in the 57th minute. Following a corner for the home side, referee Greg Aitken showed no hesitation in flashing a straight red card to former Stranraer player David McKenna for an off the ball incident. The player, head in hands, offered no remonstration as he swiftly departed the field of play.
In the 61st minute things got even better for Ayr when Scott McLaughlin struck a superbly hit penalty high into the net after Connor Greene’s foul halted Nicky Devlin’s mazy run in the box.
United were cruising at this point but got a bit of a wakeup call in the 72nd minute when Greenhill picked up the ball on the right. He cut into the box past a struggling McKinlay with a darting run and crashed a terrific left foot shot off the angle of post and bar. Manager Mark Roberts was immediately forced into action and replaced McKinlay, handing Andrew Muir his debut in the process. Nicky Devlin moved to left back for the remainder of the game and Andrew Muir slotted in at right back, with the youngster looking composed and comfortable on the right hand side of the defence, even finding time to get himself involved in a couple of Ayr attacks.
Ayr stepped up the pressure with the extra man advantage and in the 76th minute should have put the game beyond doubt when first McGill, then Forrest and finally Donnelly all had attempts blocked or saved in a goal mouth scramble. However the travelling Ayr support, stoically braving the torrential wind and rain, didn’t have to wait much longer as Ryan Donnelly notched his second and Ayr’s third with a low drive past Barnard in the 77th minute.
Ayr began to relax and turn on the style and in the 86th minute Scott McLaughlin almost tricked home keeper Barnard with a well taken free kick. As Gilmour, McGovern and McLaughlin all hovered over the ball, seemingly undecided who was taking the free kick, Scott McLaughlin suddenly sprung into life and curled a tremendous left foot shot over the East Stirlingshire wall. The ball cannoned off the inside of the upright and back across the face of the goal, behind the flat footed Barnard, before being cleared to safety.
The game became a ‘stroll in the downpour’ as Ayr, three goals to the good, wrapped up the game in the 90th minute. Brian Gilmour broke free for a one on one with Barnard and, as the keeper rushed out to meet him, Gilmour composed himself before calmly passing the ball into the net to give Ayr a convincing 4-0 win.
Following the match manager Mark Roberts was pleased with the performance of the team and the improvement shown from the previous week. He was able to confirm that Mikey Donald and Kevin McKinlay’s injuries didn’t appear to be too serious and he expected them both to be fit for next week’s crucial opening league fixture against Morton at Somerset Park.
Ayr United team:
Hutton; Murphy; McKinlay (Muir – 75’); Campbell; Devlin; Donald(McGill – 40’) McLaughlin; Gilmour; Forrest; McGovern; Donnelly
McArthur; McKenzie; Roberts; Muir; McGill; Newman
East Stirlingshire team:
Barnard; Bolochoweckyj; Greene; Kinnaird; Shepherd; MacGregor (Shields – 84’); Greenhill; Wright; Brisbane (Doyle-68’); Vidler(McMullan-66’); McKenna
Doyle; McMullan; Glasgow; Shields; Deans; Shaw; Kay
Bolochoweckyj; Greene; MacGregor