Stirling Albion 1 v 4 Ayr United
Ayr and Stirling were under no illusion as to the importance of Saturday’s fixture between the league’s bottom two clubs.
The statistics didn’t look good for either side ahead of this encounter with Stirling rooted to the foot of the league and yet to win a home game this season. As for United their last win was way back in mid-October, but they did have the advantage of a six point lead and a game in hand, as they looked to further extend their lead over The Binos.
Ayr added new signings David Robertson and Jordan Preston to the squad but were without Martyn Campbell and Peter Murphy through injury and Brian Gilmour who was suspended.
It was no surprise then with so much at stake that both sides took time to size each other up. Ayr were the more positive team in the opening stages and were unlucky not to go ahead in 9mins when a Robbie Crawford header crashed off the upright.
However Ayr’s brighter start was rewarded just 3mins later when the Stirling defence failed to clear an Alan Forrest cross. The ball fell to Jordan Preston and his snap shot cannoned off Stirling keeper Paterson’s post into the path of new signing David Robertson who had the simplest of tasks of tapping in from close range to put Ayr one up.
On the quarter hour mark Ayr were celebrating again when a well worked short corner ended with Stirling’s Gordon Smith heading into his own goal as he diverted a vicious in-swinging cross from Adam Blakeman beyond Stirling keeper Greg Paterson.
Stirling could have crumbled at this point but they came back strongly at Ayr and created chances for McKinlay, Smith and Johnston as the game approached the half hour mark before Stirling skipper Smith was forced to head clear a goal bound Blakeman free kick from under his cross bar.
Shepherd then spurned a good opportunity to score as he ended a well worked Stirling counter attack with a shot that David Hutton comfortably saved. Stirling had Ayr on the back foot at this point in the game and Lewis Coult hit the post from 15 yards when he really should have scored after another good Stirling move.
Ayr survived to go in at half time two goals to the good but all the good work in the first half was undone early in the second.
United were forced in to replacing David Robertson with Craig Beattie at half-time through injury and this enforced change allowed Stirling more space down the left hand side. Phil Johnston made the most of this extra space when he latched on to a Lewis Coult flick on. He collected the ball before cutting back inside and striking a low drive through the legs of Craig Murray, beating the unsighted Hutton at his near post, to bring Stirling back into the game at 2-1 with 54mins played.
Ayr were then dealt another blow as Robbie Crawford limped off with a knee injury and was replaced by Andrew Muir. United took time to adjust to the changes but they finally got the balance right as Forrest was moved to the right side of midfield. Ayr started to regain their composure and grip on the game as momentum started to shift the way of The Honest Men.
The game finally swung back in Ayr’s favour when another dangerous corner was flicked on at the near post by Morgan Neil into the path of Craig Beattie, who was lurking unmarked at the back post, to header home from close range and give Ayr some breathing space at 3-1.
But United were not ready to rest on their laurels just yet. The impressive Jordan Preston, who had previously been denied a début goal ruled out for offside, latched on to a loose ball in midfield with 83mins on the clock. And with the Stirling defence backing off him he showed great composure to play a neat one-two with Craig Beattie that allowed him space and time in the box to drill a low shot past the helpless Stirling goalkeeper to give Ayr an unassailable 4-1 lead.
So finally after a long wait Ayr managed to get that monkey off their back and record their first win since October 2014. The joy and relief amongst players and fans was obvious to everyone who travelled through to Stirling on Saturday.
A special mention goes out to the travelling support who turned out in numbers and were in full voice once more, as the United fans savoured the team’s performance. The Ayr victory coupled with Stenhousemuir’s defeat allowed Ayr to leapfrog above the Warriors, a point to the good and with a game in hand.
Hutton; Devlin; Blakeman; Robertson; Neill; McGovern; Murray; Crawford; Preston; Forrest; Donald Subs: Beattie; Donnelly; Nisbet; McCracken; Muir; Newman
Paterson; Hamilton; McKinlay; Beith; McGeachie; Smith; Johnston; Comrie; Coult; Smith; Shepherd Subs: Forsyth; Cunningham; Robertson; Paton; Herron; Wedderburn; Reidford