Wonderful Walsh shines as Ayr triumph over Alloa
Ayr United earned their first win of 2021 as they comfortably dispatched Alloa at Somerset Park on a cold Saturday afternoon. Jack Donnelly reports.
It was a one-sided showing at Somerset Park on Saturday afternoon, with Ayr running out as 4-1 winners over Alloa. An early goal from Tom Walsh was cancelled out by an incredible equaliser from Alan Trouten, but two goals from Luke McCowan and an Aaron Muirhead penalty ensured that all three points would stay in Ayrshire.
Ayr were chasing their first victory of 2021, with the Honest Men not having won in the Championship since the reverse of this fixture played out at the beginning of December at the Indodrill. Meanwhile, Alloa were desperate for any semblance of points, with Inverness’ three games in hand leaving the Wasps stranded in 9th with a mountain to climb in terms of ascending the Championship table.
After earning a credible point away at Dunfermline, Ayr player-manager Mark Kerr made one change to his starting eleven, adding new signing Andre Wright to the team in place of Dario Zanatta. Wright, who joined the club on a deal until the end of the season from Bohemians, was due to be involved in Ayr’s trip to Dens’ Park earlier in the week, but the game was postponed.
As for the visitors, Alloa made four changes from the team that lost at home to Hearts. After Lucas Williamson’s red card, Liam Dick came into the back line to replace him, while there were also returns for Alan Trouten and Edin Lynch. Innes Cameron, who spent the first half of the season on loan at Ayr, was also drafted in to make his first appearance for his new club.
The Match Itself
Of the two teams, it was Ayr who started the brightest, with Andy Murdoch looking to slip Wright in after just four minutes, but the midfielder’s searching pass was cut out by a yellow and black shirt.
Ayr remained positive, however, and found the opener after just six minutes of action. Walsh advanced down the left flank and sent a cross into the Alloa area, with McCowan his intended target. The pass was glanced behind for an Ayr corner, which found Walsh at the far post, with the winger striking the ball low and hard into the bottom right corner. The Honest Men had capitalised on a bright start and with the bulk of the match remaining, they suddenly had a lead to defend.
That very defence was called into action shortly after Ayr took the lead, with Kevin Cawley working the ball down the left-hand side before whipping a cross to the back post. The ball was knocked down, but on-loan defender Corrie Ndaba threw himself into action and emphatically cleared the ball before any damage could be done.
Coming into this match, Viljami Sinisalo was leading the race for the Championship’s Golden Glove award and would no doubt have been keen to build on his five clean sheets but, after 11 minutes, that chance would fade away. After a foul in the centre circle, Alan Trouten stood over the free kick. Looking up, the striker saw Sinisalo off his line and reacted by blasting the ball hard and high, with the effort looping over the retreating ‘keeper and nestling into the back of the net. Ayr’s lead had gone and, out of nothing, Alloa were back in the game.
Midway through the first half, momentum seemed to swing back to the home side, with Wright being involved heavily. The striker was bundled to the ground in the 26th minute by a combination of Parry and Andy Graham, but the referee waved the striker’s claims away. Shortly afterwards, Walsh attempted to find the striker with another cross from the left, but both Graham and Nicky Jamieson got crucial touches on the ball before clearing.
A Walsh cross would find its target after half an hour, and Ayr would be thankful it did. The pass from the left found McCowan on the right of the box and Ayr’s number 11 faced up his man, shifted the ball onto his left foot and curled it beautifully into the bottom left corner, leaving Parry with no chance of making the save. Ayr had upped the pressure and Alloa’s back line finally cracked, with the Honest Men taking a 2-1 lead.
Alloa were really struggling to deal with Tom Walsh and in the 32nd minute, the winger fired yet another cross into Parry’s box in an attempt to find Wright, but the Wasps’ ‘keeper was quickly out to smother the ball.
Alloa made a couple of half-chances for themselves in the closing stages, but neither effort did much to worry the home side – Andy Dick sent an early cross in towards Cameron, but the forward’s header was weak and Sinisalo collected with ease. Following up on that effort, Trouten decided to attempt the spectacular once again, rushing onto a loose ball and firing from 35 yards out, but lightning wouldn’t strike twice, and the effort flew over Sinisalo’s bar.
Trouten’s strike from range occurred in the 36th minute and after nine minutes without much action, the referee blew his whistle for half time. Despite Trouten’s goal sparking some life into the team, Alloa did nothing much to trouble Ayr in the rest of the first half. Ayr, on the other hand, had started the match strong and did well to cope with the increased pressure from Alloa, before growing back into the tie and remaining on top after their second goal.
As the game resumed, Ayr were immediately back on the front foot – Michael Miller took a pass from McCowan on the right and fired a ball into the box towards Wright, but once again, Parry was able to get his hands on the ball.
In the 48th minute, Ndaba latched onto a slack pass in the Alloa midfield and strode forward with the ball. The full back shrugged off a challenge from Graham and advanced into the box, but his shot could only hit the side netting. If Alloa needed a sign that Ayr were keen to extend their lead further, this was it.
Alloa’s best chance for a second equaliser came after 55 minutes. Cameron played a lovely one-two with Stefan Scougall on the right-hand side, with the young forward floating a ball into the Ayr box. Ndaba managed to get his head on it, diverting the ball to the back post and unfortunately for the away side, the follow up attempt from a yellow and black shirt was scuffed wide for a goal kick.
The away side were demoralised even further after an hour played, when Steven Hetherington fouled Miller inside the Alloa area, with there being no room for argument when the referee pointed to the penalty spot. Muirhead stepped up and sent Parry the wrong way, firing into the bottom left to give Ayr a 3-1 lead with half an hour left to play.
Wright had his best chance to make it a debut to remember in the 67th minute, as he was found by McCowan after Ayr broke forward quickly. Under pressure from an Alloa defender, Wright held the ball up before turning and firing an effort towards goal, but his strike went just wide. That proved to be the striker’s last action of the match, as he was replaced by Michael Moffat.
Ayr sealed the points in the 69th minute as yet another Tom Walsh cross was whipped into the box. McCowan burst across from the right and swung his left foot at the ball, looping it across into the top right corner of Parry’s goal, increasing Ayr’s lead to three.
Ayr remained in the driving seat for the rest of the match, seemingly happy to soak up any additional chances that Alloa would create. Said chances were minimal, to say the least, with Trouten’s 74th minute effort on goal being dealt with comfortably by Sinisalo, and Lynch’s 86th minute cross being cleared by a white shirt.
Ayr didn’t just sit and do nothing for the final twenty minutes, however, with McCowan and substitute Dario Zanatta having good chances to extend their lead late on, but both were unable to convert. After a couple of non-consequential minutes of stoppage time, the referee blew his whistle, bringing the match to a close.
With this being Ayr’s first win of 2021, player-manager Mark Kerr was understandably very happy with the performance that his team put on:
“It’s brilliant to actually get the team on the pitch that we spoke about, and then get four goals, so that’s the pleasing thing.
“I’m pleased for the boys. They’ve done really well; they’ve worked hard and we’ve came through a lot.”
Corrie Ndaba impressed at the back, as well as going forward and Kerr was full of praise for his new man at the back:
“It was brilliant, big Corrie, driving with the ball… I mean, you bring boys up from down the road and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t with loans, but the big man’s going to be a brilliant player for us.”
Tom Walsh was the main creative force for Ayr in this match, scoring the opening goal and assisting both of McCowan’s. The forward has had injury troubles this season and has been pleased with getting back to playing again:
“It’s been really frustrating. When you come to a new club, you want to play as many games as soon as possible and show what you can do, so I’ve had to be patient.
“The gaffer’s been brilliant with me and even with that disappointing Queens’ game, he’s kept me in for the last two and hopefully I’ve been repaying him with the last couple of performances.”
Ayr face a tough test at home to the league leaders in Hearts this coming Friday, while Alloa, now at the bottom of the league, are set to face Queen of the South at the Indodrill on Saturday afternoon.