Inverness weather the storm as Ayr lose at home again
On a wet and windy afternoon in South Ayrshire, it was Inverness that weathered the storm to come out victorious against Ayr United. Jack Donnelly reports.
With the wind blowing feverishly and the rain falling sideways, the conditions were against both sides on a dour afternoon in Ayrshire. However, Inverness were able to cope with the weather and inflict Ayr’s second home defeat of the season, with the Honest Men only having suffered their first in their last match.
This fixture had plenty of relevance in terms of the Championship table, as a win for the visitors would see them draw level on points with Ayr but would go above them on goal difference. Inverness had also not won since December 4th, meaning that the Highlanders came to Somerset Park desperate for three points.
Ayr United manager Mark Kerr was forced into one change from the team that lost against Hearts in their last outing. Andre Wright missed out of the squad entirely after injuring his groin in training – Michael Moffat was recalled to the team in his absence.
With Inverness set to play a number of games in hand with quick succession, manager John Robertson had no qualms about making a number of changes. Of the team that lost at home to Queen of the South, Brad McKay, Sean Welsh, Miles Storey and James Keatings were on the bench, while Danny Devine, David Carson, Roddy MacGregor and top scorer Nikolay Todorov made the starting XI.
Ayr had the good fortune of being backed by the wind in the first half and as a result, the vast majority of the first 10 minutes was spent in the Inverness half. A couple of corners in the opening two minutes will have looked promising from an Ayr perspective, but it was Inverness who found the back of the net first. Unfortunately for Daniel Mackay, he was well offside when receiving the ball and the match remained goalless.
Somerset Park is no stranger to a long-range wondergoal, but no one could have expected an attempt from Ayr’s goalkeeper. With the wind carrying Viljami Sinisalo’s kick beyond his intended target of Moffat, Mark Ridgers was left sweating as the ball bounced up over him. Luckily for the Caley keeper, the ball also bounced over the bar. A massive let off for Ridgers, in what would have been a spectacular goal.
As the clocked ticked over past 20 minutes, Inverness began to see more of the ball, with the height of their backline lending itself well to Ayr’s long ball approach. Within the space of three minutes, both Shane Sutherland and Todorov had identical chances – they collected their respective passes at Ayr’s penalty spot, turning and firing towards goal after holding off an Ayr defender. However, on both occasions, the efforts were tame and Sinisalo could collect with ease.
In between those Caley chances, the home side thought they had opened the scoring. Tom Walsh found himself in plenty of space on the left and hung up a perfect cross to the back post. Michael Miller rose highest and nodded the ball past Ridgers, but, like Mackay earlier in the half, the right back was adjudged offside and the teams remained at a stalemate.
That stalemate didn’t last for much longer, as Inverness opened the scoring after 31 minutes. Todorov picked up a Caley clearance and broke towards a scrambling Ayr defence. The forward was joined by Sutherland on his left, who received the ball before playing in the advancing Mackay. The number 27 fired at Sinisalo and despite a touch from the big Finn, the effort found the back of the net and broke the deadlock.
Ayr knew that they would have the wind against them in the second half and pushed for an equaliser before the referee blew his whistle. In possession down the right, Walsh cut a pass back to Luke McCowan, but United’s top scorer saw his effort easily gathered by Ridgers. The number 11 saw Ridgers deny him again just two minutes later, with the Caley keeper leaping to his left to deny a glancing header from the Ayr man.
In the final significant action of the half, Joe Chalmers took it upon himself to try and force an equaliser, as the midfielder let fly from 35 yards. With the wind carrying the effort, Ridgers was almost left helpless as the shot barely edged past the top left corner. After a couple of minutes, the referee brought the half to a close.
After a promising opening spell, Ayr were left frustrated by Inverness throughout the half, with the visitors happy to sit in against their opponents and break quickly, keeping the ball on the ground as much as possible. After Mackay’s opener, the momentum seemed to swing back to the home side as they tried to find a leveller before the break, but with the wind blowing against them for the second 45, it would be a real challenge for Ayr to get back into the tie.
As the second half began, Caley were clearly keen to take full advantage of the wind, with Sutherland letting fly from 25 yards, but his effort didn’t leave the floor and rolled into Sinisalo’s grasp comfortably.
After a fairly innocuous spell, Inverness doubled their advantage in the 54th minute. Todorov fired towards goal from the edge of the box, with his effort deflecting into the path of Sutherland. Despite calls for the Caley striker to be offside, Sutherland remained composed and finished calmly past Sinisalo, making it 2-0 to the visitors.
In an effort to get his side back in the game, Mark Kerr brought Michael Miller off for Mark McKenzie, switching to a three-at-the-back formation. With the change in system, Ayr began to carve out chancers more regularly as Caley sat back to cope with the increased pressure from the home side.
It could have been a much more embarrassing defeat for Ayr, had it not been for the efforts of Viljami Sinisalo in the United goal. The Finnish stopper did well to force Todorov into shooting from a tight angle, saving the resulting effort with his legs. He also saved well from a clever Scott Allardice free kick, which was fired under the Ayr wall, and had to react incredibly quickly to deny a powerful Robbie Deas header from four yards out.
Ayr saw their best chance of the half fall to substitute Mark McKenzie in the 74th minute. After receiving the ball from Jack Baird, Walsh whipped an effort across the box from the right, with Moffat leaving it for McKenzie to control. However, the forward could only fire wide from the penalty spot.
Walsh had a final chance himself, again after receiving the ball from Baird. The Ayr captain knocked it down for his number 10 from a corner and after shifting into a bit of space, Walsh let fly with a shot destined for the bottom corner, but Ridgers flew across to save with his legs.
The rest of the game petered out slowly, with neither team offering much else in terms of clear chances and after a couple of minutes of stoppage time, the referee blew his whistle to bring the match to an end, consigning Ayr to a second consecutive home defeat.
After a positive start to the match with the wind blowing in their favour, Ayr manager Mark Kerr admitted that he was expecting his side to take the lead.
“Up until the disallowed goal, I thought we were on top of the game. We looked really comfortable and I was just waiting on us scoring in that first half. I thought we’d go in with the lead, but they hit us with that breakaway.”
“After the goal, we started to rush it, putting the ball down channels and just chasing it. With the conditions, it can be difficult for defenders when the ball is dropping in front of them like it was, but we spoke about that before the game.”
Andre Wright has led the Ayr line in the last two matches, but missed out on this match after straining his groin in training – Kerr believed the team missed his presence up front.
“We put the ball in the box, I don’t know how many times, and the centre backs just fired it back out. 100%, losing Dre yesterday has killed us a bit, to be honest.”
Inverness manager John Robertson was delighted with his side’s result, especially with the conditions that both teams faced at Somerset Park.
“It was very tough for both teams and we probably played the conditions slightly better. Obviously, going into half time 1-0 up in that one was huge, with a really good counter-attack goal, it’s exactly what you’re after in these conditions.
“We managed to see it out and the early goal in the second half really settled the nerve. Fair play to Ayr, they changed to three-at-the-back and caused us problems, but the difference is we got the breaks today and the goals came at the right time for us.”
Both teams are back in action on Tuesday evening – Ayr will be hoping it’s third time lucky and their game away at Dundee actually goes ahead as planned, while Inverness host basement boys Alloa, as they look to propel themselves right up the table.