Ayr United Academy 20s edged Morton 2-1 to earn their fourth straight Development League West win.
James Hilton’s double from the penalty spot was enough to clinch a thrilling contest at Townhead Park.
Both teams were sussing each other out before United took the lead with a clever move on 13 minutes.
A quick free-kick from David Waite was slipped down the line to Luke McCowan. He managed to get to the byeline and his pullback to Hilton who got there ahead of the Morton defender who tripped him.
Hilton dusted himself down and sent the goalkeeper the wrong way to give Ayr the lead.
The visitors looked to respond and Stuart Faulds made an important block on 21 minutes to preserve United’s advantage.
Hilton forced a corner at the other end that Jamie Ballantyne flicked wide and McCowan fired a 30-yard free-kick over the crossbar.
Morton spurned a great chance to equalise when Ayr were cut open on 31 minutes but Ben Armour poked the ball wide after being one-on-one with United goalkeeper Ellis Reid-Hare.
Robert Griffiths and Grant Thorburn both made crucial clearances as Ayr held on to their lead just before half-time.
United emerged from the interval strongly and Morton stand-in stopper Charlie Carracher was the man to thwart Ayr from extending their lead.
On 47 minutes, he denied Hilton’s 22-yard piledriver by somehow diving to his left and tipping the ball on to the bar.
A lightning Ayr counter-attack on 52 minutes created another chance.
Hilton picked up the ball in the centre circle and offloaded to Mark McKenzie, he charged down the right win and picked out the onrushing Kieran Balfour but the midfielder’s effort was expertly beaten away 12 yards out.
Reid-Hare was forced into a fine save of his own moments later with a block from close range.
The game had ignited.
Leon Murphy picked up an injury just before the hour mark on his left knee after a studs-up tackle. Ruaridh Langan could count himself lucky that only a yellow card was shown.
It was end to end action and McCowan picked out Hilton who curled a 20-yard shot with his right foot that curled agonisingly wide.
On 74 minutes, Morton were reduced to ten men.
A wonderful one-two between Martin and Hilton released the former clean through. Morton’s Nathan Durham was tracking but caught on the wrong side. He had to time his tackle to perfection, the referee though he didn’t.
As the last man, Durham was sent off. McCowan’s free-kick forced another decent save from Carracher.
Morton responded and went three at the back to force an equaliser.
McCowan, Martin and Waite were all cheaply booked as the Greenock men applied the pressure and it told on 82 minutes.
Reece Lyon looping a header home at the far post that kissed off the underside of the crossbar.
The goal kicked Ayr into life and they reclaimed the lead under controversial circumstances three minutes later.
McCowan’s chipped ball into the box tried to seek Balfour, the midfielder charged into the area with three Morton defenders for company. He ended on the deck after crashing into the post.
The referee pointed to the spot, signalling a penalty. Morton were furious. Balfour had to be taken off after treatment on the goal-line.
Amidst all the drama and delay, Hilton kept his cool. He had led the line brilliantly all evening. Chased everything, a constant thorn in Morton’s side.
It was fitting that he had the final word, disposing the penalty in a similar manner to the first beyond an inspired keeper. Low, hard and right in the bottom corner.
‘That’s our fourth win in a row and it shows that we are gaining more consistency,’ said David White afterwards. ‘I’m proud of the performance. It was a real battle. A difficult game and our shape was good. The guys helped each other through. It was intense and it’s another good learning experience.’
‘The referee missed a couple of things. The tackle on Leon was poor and perhaps the worst in the game. Their red card was maybe a good tackle and the late penalty is just a stramash and the referee must have seen something. Kieran was brave in the box and had to come off’
There was also words of praise for two-goal hero Hilton. ‘That’s four goals in two games for him,’ added White. ‘He’s certainly progressing. He’s had two of the best games for us in recent weeks and long may it continue.
‘The defence were really solid and we’ve worked on it well. I’m very happy with that and it’s all about just keeping those standards at a consistently high level.’
Ayr: Reid-Hare; Waite, Ballantyne, Griffiths, Thorburn; Faulds, Balfour (Baird 88); Murphy (Martin 66), McCowan, McKenzie; Hilton. Subs not used: Graham, Ecrepont, Connolly, Wardrope.
match report by Calum McClurkin