Some say that Scottish players are ‘genetically behind’
Some say that Scottish players are ‘genetically behind’, so it would be a surprise to Gordon Strachan to see the smallest man on the park sweep home a 93rd-minute free-kick to rescue a point for Ayr United Academy Under-20s against East Kilbride.
After going 2-1 down on 91 minutes, Jamie Martin stood tall. On the park for 30 minutes, he had packed a punch. Battered, bruised and even the meat in the sandwich of a tackle that saw him flip onto the pitch-side gravel at Somerset Park, the pint-sized forward took all the responsibility to get something from a frustrating match. There didn’t seem to be any time to respond but Martin charged forward, beat one man before the second chopped him down.
The free-kick was in an enticing position, 22 yards out and left of centre… Martin dusted himself down and curled the ball into the top corner. The keeper could only stand and watch as the ball kissed the post before nestling into the net. Height isn’t everything after all.
It looked destined to be a night of frustration for Ayr, who had senior players Alan Forrest, Robbie Crawford and Craig Moore starting. The trio looked sharp in the opening 20 minutes. Moore missed a close-range header after three minutes. Forrest released Kieran Balfour through on goal in 18 minutes but the midfielder’s effort was well saved. Moore slashed a shot wide moments later as United appeared to be in control.
However, East Kilbride took the lead on 22 minutes. Jack Sherrie failed to clear a routine chipped ball through and the visitors made no mistake in punishing the slack defending, firing the ball low under the helpless Lyle Avci. The error planted the seed of doubt in United and gave Kilby confidence. Sherrie redeemed himself with a couple of crucial interventions and Ayr equalised a minute from half-time.
Forrest’s ferocious free-kick was whipped into the near post and Jamie
Ballantyne was on hand to cushion the ball home from six yards out to give Ayr some impetus at half-time. United were quick out the blocks and Moore’s cutback on 50 minutes found Crawford, the midfielder’s initial effort was blocked but the rebound fell kindly. Crawford swivelled away from another defender before clipping the ball off the top of the crossbar from eight yards.
Ryan Connolly, Mark McKenzie and Martin all came on midway through the second half for the three senior stars and United looked more cohesive. Without creating any clear chances, Ayr were dominating possession and dictating matters. But there was a sting in the tail. United pushed for the winner late on and were caught cold on the break. A well organised East Kilbride stifled Ayr and broke forward on 91 minutes. They worked the ball from right to left and a clever finish past Avci at the back post appeared to consign Ayr to defeat.
Martin had other ideas. A brilliant free-kick salvaged a point. Genetics, eh?
David White couldn’t fault the effort of his players but admitted that there was frustration at not getting the full three points. ‘It was a really hard-fought draw,’ he said. ‘The effort was there but we lacked a little cutting edge at times. We scored twice from set-plays. The older players had most of the chances and we needed a little more creativity.’
‘We are disappointed with the second goal we lost. Conceding from our own corner. That’s the transitional process we had worked on in training, so we have to concentrate more in these moments. We tweaked things in the second half but we could have been tidier and we’re happy to get out of the jail, but the overall performance could have been better.”
‘There were good individual performances but the team display wasn’t quite there.’
Ayr: Avci; Baird, Granger, Sherrie, Ballantyne; Balfour, Faulds; Waite, Crawford (McKenzie 64), Forrest (Connolly 70); Moore (Martin 60). Subs not used: Brotherston, Millarvie, Ecrepont.