After a three week enforced break Ayr returned to action against Forth Valley at Ochilview Park home of Stenhousemuir FC.
Following a positive display against Celtic in their last outing the Ayr team were hoping to put in another solid performance.
Conditions were difficult in the early stages due to heavy rain which duly impacted on both sides and affected any real fluency.
However, Forth were first to show and in 5 minutes slack marking in the wide area allowed a Forth midfielder to work his way into the Ayr box and his shot struck the away side’s crossbar and rebounded to safety.
Ayr were then almost caught out again when at a short corner they were slow to react but escaped without being punished.
Although Forth had a wind advantage in the first period Ayr were still struggling to find any real rhythm to their play and some poor decision making in the last third of the pitch didn’t help. However, Ayr threatened in the 20th minute when after good work by Robbie Laurie, Ayr striker Gabe Skeoch saw his shot smothered by the Forth keeper.
Forth were then back on the attack and Danny Graham made an excellent stop from the striker when left 1-1.
Ayr were very much in the game at this stage but in the 25th minute the first of a ‘number of controversial decisions’ went against the Honest Men. Ayr’s centre back Ross Love was clearly fouled some thirty yards from goal with the referee slow to blow his whistle for the foul.
The big centre back thinking the foul hadn’t been given stuck out his foot to stop the striker running through on goal. A booking looked on the cards however words were then exchanged between the official and the Ayr player resulting in a straight red card for ‘allegedly’ something said which the referee took exception to.
Ayr reduced to ten men reverted to a 4-4-1 formation leaving Gabe Skeoch up top. Ayr managed to see out the remainder of the half and the teams went in level at the break.
Half Time : Forth 0 Ayr Utd 0.
Ayr made two changes at the interval replacing David Oliphant with Lewis Nohar and the injured Joe Barker with Josh Dillon.
The away side continued with the 4-4-1 formation and Josh Dillon now in the lone striker role. Ayr gradually settled down into the adapted team shape and proceeded to defend stoutly throughout the half and fashion out more chances than in the first period.
Forth were struggling to break down the Ayr team and were extremely fortunate not to concede a penalty kick when Gabe Skeoch’s cross clearly struck a Forth defender on the arm while heading to Ayr’s striker Josh Dillon.
The official’s take on it this time was ‘accidental hand ball’ and play was allowed to continue. Ayr replaced Robert Frew with Logan Angus and then Danny Mitchell with Callum Bryce.
Using the extra man Forth managed to force a number of corners which the away team defended well. Again Ayr hit on the break and this time Finn Ecrepont was clearly pushed in the back inside Forth’s penalty box.
A ‘stonewall’ penalty kick!! But no! Once again the official deemed no infringement had taken place and play continued with Ayr striker Josh Dillon seeing his shot cleared off the goal line.
Ayr keeper Danny Graham and Hamish Brown then kept Ayr’s goal intact with a superb combined effort.
Ayr then replaced Robbie Laurie with Daniel Wamazuri. As the game ran into the fifth minute of stoppage time once more another decision by the official impacted adversely on the Ayr team. This time Gabe Skeoch was clearly elbowed in the face in front of the Main Stand by his opponent. As the. ball was played forward it was passed inside to a Forth player and his strong shot from the edge of the box beat Ayr keeper Graham.
The official this time called the elbow ‘accidental’ but to most people who follow football whether it is accidental or deliberate it is still ‘a foul’ and a free kick. Not in this game it wasn’t! There was barely time to centre the ball when the official blew his whistle for full time.
Full Time : Forth Valley 1 Ayr Utd 0.
Head Coach John Crawford was disappointed with his team’s first half performance both individually and collectively. Crawford felt that decision making particularly in the last third of the pitch was poor as was the execution of a number of basic principles of play discussed prior to the match. The coach was careful to avoid any possible veiled criticism of the officiating but was extremely disappointed that on the day ‘a number of key calls’ appeared to go against the Ayr team.
Ayr United : Graham, Oliphant, Brown, Love, Ecrepont, Griffiths, Barker, Laurie, Mitchell, Frew, Skeoch.
Subs : Nohar, Dillon, Bryce, Wazamuri, Angus, Smith, McKinnon.
Next Sunday sees the Honest Men welcome Kilmarnock FC to Belmont Academy with an 11.00am kick off.