Ayr United Academy 20s vs Queen of the South
Ayr United Academy 20s produced a magnificent performance at Palmerston Park as they thumped Queen of the South 5-0 on Tuesday night.
James Hilton continued his rich vein of form, netting four of the goals with Jamie Martin also on the scoresheet.
After 11 minutes of sparring in Dumfries, United struck with their first blow.
A free-kick 25 yards out was rolled from Stuart Faulds into the path of Hilton, the low strike took a wicked deflection from the charging wall and nestled into the far corner. After that touch of good fortune, Ayr dominated.
The fluid rotation of the attackers and the high pressure applied on the ball forced Queens into mistakes and left them dazzled.
Kieran Balfour won possession high up the field and fed Hilton, who stung the palms of the Queens keeper from distance on 19 minutes.
The Doonhamers were restricted to a few chances and two near-post headers were the only troubling moments for the Ayr defence in the match.
United played with purpose throughout and almost doubled the lead on 22 minutes. Nathan Baird charged forward down the right flank and played the ball to Luke McCowan, his deft one-two with Hilton released McCowan into the area, his left-foot shot across goal was clawed away at the back post.
A mazy run from Martin ended in a shot diverted behind and he came close with a half volley from the resultant corner, another goal-bound effort blocked. He was not denied on 29 minutes. Leon Murphy and McCowan helped engineer the move that sliced Queens open. Martin coolly applied the finishing touch from 12 yards.
Ayr continued to relentlessly pour forward.
McCowan thundered a 20-yard shot off the woodwork on 39 minutes as the visitors searched for a third before the break.
Seconds before half-time, Hilton obliged. Good high pressure and interchange from Murphy and Finn Ecrepont got Ayr in behind down the left flank, the low ball was fired to Hilton, who killed the ball stone dead with his first touch and rifled home beyond the keeper from a near impossible angle.
The hosts rallied in the second half but Jamie Ballantyne and Robert Griffiths guarded the goal of Ellis Hare-Reid well and ensured that it would be a relatively quiet night between the sticks for the keeper.
Hilton hit the post after 54 minutes from a tricky angle after linking up once again with McCowan.
Balfour was next to hit the frame of the goal, striking the bar from the edge of the box after Baird delivered another fine ball from the right flank. McCowan nodded the rebound straight at the goalkeeper.
The fourth arrived on 67 minutes courtesy of a flowing team move.
Ballantyne sprayed a diagonal ball out right to the galloping Baird, his low cross picked out Hilton who had the simplest of tasks of tucking the ball home from six yards to seal his hat-trick. United, and Hilton, were not done yet.
On 73 minutes, it was five. McCowan was a constant menace and found another gap between the lines, he slipped in Hilton who timed his run well and slotted home from 16 yards to complete the rout.
Ayr made four changes in the closing stages but no rhythm was lost.
Balfour almost grabbed the goal his display deserved but he scooped over from eight yards out. McCowan tried his best to notch one of his own but his shot was blocked at the death.
This was one of Ayr’s best displays of the season and one that was bound to impress the watchful eye of first-team manager Ian McCall.
With four games left to play in the Development League West, David White is urging his side to maintain this high standard until the end of the season.
‘There were definitely positives in attack and defence,’ said White. ‘Everyone contributed. Those who played 90 minutes, those who started and those who came off the bench. It was really good to watch and we played so positively by pressing the ball. We are ironing out the finer details. Our rotation was good and our transitional play was excellent. The last few weeks have been really good.’
Hilton is the man of the moment right now and is regularly finding the net in the second period of the season, scoring five against Clyde a few weeks ago.
‘His composure in front of goal really impressed me,’ added White. ‘They were all team goals and he’s scored about 12 times in three games. His second was a brilliant turn and finish. The boys have grown of late. They are highly motivated to end the season on a high. There was no one you could pinpoint, everyone was excellent. The intensity we played at was incredible.’
Team: Hare-Reid; Baird (Waite 75), Ballantyne, Griffiths, Ecrepont (Thorburn 76); Faulds, Balfour; Martin, McCowan, Murphy (McKenzie 75); Hilton (Campbell 76). Sub not used: Graham.
Match report by Calum McClurkin