Queens Park 1 v 4 Ayr United
Hampden Park welcomed Ayr with rain, a cold, blustery, swirling wind and a Queens Park team determined to grab points and drag themselves away from 9th place in the league. Spiders’ head coach, Gus MacPherson, had set up his team to try and take the game to Ayr but in the end, they could not deal with United’s clinical finishing and spark of genius in front of goal. After 90mins, United left with a win and had regained top place in the league as Raith Rovers stuttered to a draw against Alloa.
The match started off at pace, with Queen’s Park going immediately into attack with tricky winger David Galt darting forward with only the speedy response of defender Craig Reid allowing United to force the ball out of play. This was to become a regular pattern in the first 45 mins as Galt proved to be a thorn in the side of United defence while Craig Reid and Michael Rose stood out in the centre of defence.
In the week where we celebrate the birth of our National Bard, for Queens the words of Robert Burns ‘the best-laid plans’ were never truer when in the 5th min they were hit with a real double whammy.
Ayr played the ball out from keeper Ruddy and, from a ball forward by Reid, Shankland nodded to Declan McDaid, on his right, then received the ball back before again finding McDaid, by now in behind the defence. The winger surged forwards before smashing the ball across to the 6-yard box where Craig Moore stroked the ball home for the opener. As the ball hit the back of the net, Queens’ key central defender Kevin Green pulled up and, after a lengthy spell of treatment, was replaced by Ciaran Summers.
Although Ayr looked dangerous with every attack, it was Queen’s Park who held the majority of possession throughout the first half, a hefty 57% of play. The Spiders’ looked confident in their task but lacked a cutting edge in the final third. They had their chances, with Adam Cummings, free from his marker, tamely heading a Galt freekick well over on 16 mins; a 30-yard curling drive from Sean Burns, in 25 mins, brought out a good save from Ruddy at his left post; and 1 min later, following another Ruddy save from Luke Donnelly, McVey headered strongly past the post from a Galt cross.
On 27 mins, United counter-attacked at speed, the attack reminiscent of their play for the opening goal, with Shankland sliding the ball behind the Queens’ defence to McDaid on the right. This time the winger lifted the ball into the middle where Cummins, at full stretch, headered the ball towards the edge of the box. United’s Alan Forrest was there but his shot went well over.
Queens then pressed the self-destruct button, never mind plans going ‘awry’, they were the architects of their own downfall. Under no pressure from United, Cummins decided to let a pass from Robbie Leitch go past him expecting his keeper to be there: he wasn’t. Shankland nipped in a stole the ball before pulling both defender and keeper to one side and then finding Forrest in the space he had engineered. Forrest slid in and turned the ball into the net. 42 mins on the clock and Ayr were two up, a lead they took into half-time.
The second 45 mins saw the introduction Andy Geggan with Jamie Adams making way for his return after injury.
Ayr were looking comfortable with some slick passing moves and good interaction, but it was to be Queens who were to have the first real chance with a speedy break-a-way effort. Sean Burns out-muscled United captain, Paddy Boyle with a hefty old-fashioned shoulder charge at the edge of the Queen’s penalty area. Burns then charged forward down the right into the United half before finding Billy Mortimer with an inch-perfect pass forward. The striker then hit the ball into the 6-yard box where Leitch contrived to miss-hit, lifting the ball up and wide of the far post. An unbelievable miss that had Queens’ fans shaking their heads in disbelief.
Then came a moment of controversy which left a sour taste in the mouth of United fans. After play stopped due to a suspected injury a drop ball was arranged and after what seemed like an arrangement with Queens Park, Ayr defender David Ferguson stepped away expecting Queens’ substitute Aiden Keena to return the ball to Ayr’s advantage. The young loanee from Hearts instead sprinted away with the ball and made his way goalward evading tackles before Forrest blocked his path in the penalty area. Loud booing rang round the national stadium with only Keena unable to see the under-handedness of his actions.
Ayr them brought on Michael Moffat for the hardworking Moore as they refreshed their attack.
On 71 mins the Spiders almost pulled one back when Leitch went one-on-one with keeper Ruddy. Again, it looked an ‘odds on’ goal but Ruddy stood strong and Leitch could only half-heartedly poke the ball forward, and the keeper blocked the attempt with his legs. This certainly wasn’t the midfielder’s day in front of goal.
Next, it was Ayr’s turn with Boyle driving into the box before seeing this powerful drive saved by an excellent acrobatic save from Michael Williams at his near post.
On 76 mins manager McCall unleashed Craig McGuffie on the unsuspecting Queens’ defence with Forrest being replaced in a like-for-like swap. The result was a golden-double in just 8 mins, the first coming on 79 mins.
Ayr won the ball some 30 yards from their own goal, some cute one-touch play between Geggan and Mark Kerr found Moffat on the halfway line and he lifted the ball first time over the defence to Shankland on the right. On his second attempt, the striker passed the ball along the 18-yard line to Kerr who delightfully flicked the ball to McGuffie and the youngster curled the ball around the defence and keeper from 20 yards. A goal of quality, Ayr were three up and there would be more from McGuffie later.
To their credit, Queens still tried to push forward but again seemed to contrive to miss with the goal beckoning. A beautifully flighted freekick by Galt cut out the United defence letting Cummins move into space just seven yards out. Under no pressure, the big defender elected to drop to his knees to header but didn’t make clean contact and the ball flopped forward to give keeper Ruddy a simple save.
At the other end Shankland dived in to header at the back post but somehow got under the ball and it went over.
On 88 mins another moment of sublime skill put United 4 up and it was that man McGuffie again. Shankland and Moffat did well under pressure down the left before working inside where Moffat played the ball to McGuffie at the edge of the area on the right. Drifting into the penalty area, a couple of step-overs to confuse defenders and create space, a quick look up, shift to the left foot and curl the ball between two markers, around the keeper and in off the back post: this was McGuffie at his instinctive best. Exquisite, and Ayr were on easy street.
Disappointing for United was the momentary switch off just one minute later when Cummins rose at the back post to meet an in-swinging corner and header a consolation goal.
And so, it finished 1 – 4 in Ayr’s favour and United travelled back to South Ayrshire as league leaders once again.
On Saturday, United are at home to Alloa Athletic who had proved to be a tough test for Raith Rovers at the weekend.
White, McVey, Gibson, Green, Cummins, Fotheringham, Galt, Leitch, Mortimer, Donnelly, Burns Substitutes: Stott (GK), Orr, Docherty, Summers, Millen, Gullan, Keena Stott
Ruddy, Ferguson, Reid, Rose, Boyle, Adams, Kerr, McDaid, Shankland, Moore, Forrest Substitutes: Hart (GK), Geggan, Moffat, McGuffie, Faulds, Murphy, McCowan
Referee: Greg Aitken