Ayr’s winless run continues as Arbroath extend unbeaten streak
Arbroath extended their unbeaten run to eight matches at Somerset Park, consigning Ayr to a 1-0 defeat, their third on the bounce. Jack Donnelly reports.
With the two teams separated by a point coming into this match, there was a real sense of importance surrounding the fixture. After dropping five places last weekend, Ayr had the chance to move right back up the table and into fifth, depending on other results. Arbroath also had the chance to rocket up the table, with a win giving them the opportunity to sneak into the playoff spots at the expense of Queen of the South.
There was a last-minute inclusion in Ayr’s matchday squad – after Viljami Sinisalo injured himself in training, St. Mirren goalkeeper Peter Urminsky signed for the Honest Men on an emergency loan, with the 21-year-old Slovakian going straight into the starting lineup. Michael Miller, Andy Murdoch and Michael Moffat all dropped to the bench after last weekend’s 2-0 loss to Inverness – Patrick Reading, Jordan Houston and Dario Zanatta were drafted in.
As for Arbroath, it was a return to action for top scorer Jack Hamilton, who missed the Red Lichtie’s win over Raith after taking a knock, with former Ayr man Kris Doolan dropping to the bench. Also returning to the matchday squad after serving a suspension was James Craigen, who scored both goals in Arbroath’s 2-1 victory over the Honest Men in December. The midfielder made the bench, alongside new recruit Carlo Pignatiello, who signed on loan from Livingston after injuries to both Gavin Swankie and Luke Donnelly.
The first chance of the match fell in the opening minute to the visitors, as right back Jason Thomson found himself in possession high up on the left flank. He fired towards goal from outside the area, but his effort did nothing to trouble Urminsky, as it flew well over the bar.
Arbroath maintained most of the ball for the first ten minutes, but few chances fell to either team, with Ayr struggling to get much of a foot on the ball. After ten minutes, Michael McKenna fired two crosses into the Ayr box – the first evaded absolutely everybody and went out for a goal kick, while the second was emphatically cleared by Aaron Muirhead.
After a comfortable opening spell for Arbroath, Ayr began to make a game of it. The 13th minute saw a lovely counterattack from Ayr, as Cammy Smith took it forward, before back-heeling it into the path of the advancing Luke McCowan, who found Dario Zanatta on the left with a first-time pass. The striker for the day advanced into the Arbroath box, but his shot was put behind for a corner, which Derek Gaston could punch clear.
United came again however, as Tom Walsh found some space in the box after receiving a headed pass – the winger fired at Gaston, who did well to make the save, before also clawing Zanatta’s follow-up effort away, allowing his defenders to clear. Both Reading and McCowan attempted to break the deadlock in the minutes to follow, but the scoreline remained the same.
Urminsky had had a quiet opening 25 minutes but was called into action for the first time when Bobby Linn cut in from the left and fired towards goal. The big Slovakian did very well to tip the effort over the bar.
Ayr’s best chance of the game fell in the 32nd minute – Joe Chalmers floated a free kick in from the left-hand side, and Zanatta got on the end of the pass, heading towards goal, but his effort went directly into Gaston’s gloves.
Zanatta went on to miss another two chances in quick succession in the 41st minute. After receiving the ball from Walsh on the right, the Canadian tried to cheekily flick the ball through Gaston’s legs, but the keeper made the save regardless. Ayr recycled possession and a cross was floated towards Zanatta but, again, his headed effort went straight into the ‘keeper’s gloves.
The last action of the half came a minute from time, when Linn stood over a free kick on the edge of Ayr’s box. He powered the effort through a mass of bodies, forcing Urminsky to leap to his right and palm the ball away from goal. Shortky afterwards, Grant Irvine blew his whistle and brought the half to a close.
Arbroath will have been the happier of the two teams at half time – they had looked more up for it than their opponents and were battling well in the midfield and attacking thirds. Ayr, however, will have been kicking themselves for going into the changing rooms without having scored – Zanatta the most frustrated of all, having spurned three or four good chances to notch the opener.
It was Zanatta who drew the first save of the second half as well, with the Canadian cutting in from the left and firing a powerful drive towards goal from range, but Gaston was equal to the shot.
After the first fifteen minutes of the half, the momentum had seemed to swing back to Arbroath, with striker Dale Hilson having a couple of chances by flicking some whipped crosses from Linn towards goal. The goals didn’t come for Hilson today, but one would arrive shortly after these chances.
On-loan Rangers midfielder Ben Williamson received the ball on the left-hand side and fired a cross into Ayr’s box. A couple of heads saw the ball fly past before it landed at the feet of Michael McKenna on the edge of the box, who lashed it into the top left corner of the net, leaving the diving Urminsky with no chance, and giving Arbroath the lead after 63 minutes played.
Ayr began to commit more bodies forward in an effort to grab an equaliser, with Michael Moffat, Mark McKenzie and Andy Murdoch all coming off the bench. However, the Arbroath back line held firm throughout the 90 minutes, while Gaston looked very impressive in goal.
There were no real significant moments in the match following the goal. McKenzie headed a Chalmers cross wide and Arbroath substitute Lewis Moore sent a wild shot flying wide of Urminsky’s goal, and after four minutes of injury time, Gavin Irvine blew his whistle for the final time and confirmed what was a hard-fought and well-earned victory for the Red Lichties.
This result sees Arbroath climb to fifth in the table and extends their unbeaten run to eight games, while a third consecutive defeat for Ayr sees them stuck in ninth for the time being.
Ayr manager Mark Kerr understands how important it was for his side to have won that game today and was expectedly unhappy at the way it played out:
“We should’ve won that game today. It’s as simple as that, we should’ve been ahead comfortably, in our shape and going for more.
“It’s disappointing. Again, Arbroath beating us at home, for me, is unacceptable and I take responsibility because I’m at the front of it, so I do take responsibility for not beating Arbroath at home. But we should be, and we did enough to do that for the biggest majority of the game.”
Of all the Ayr players to have tested Derek Gaston, Dario Zanatta drew saves most frequently and was frustrated that his side didn’t come away with the victory:
“I think in the first half, we had a good spell of about 25, 30 minutes where we were on top and we needed to capitalise on that. Myself, I probably should have had one or two, so that’s a bit frustrating in that sense.
“As everyone knows, we probably have one of the better defensive records in the league, so if we’re in the position that we’re in, we’re probably not scoring enough goals. Hopefully, if I can stay in the team, I can build my game and start scoring more for the club.”
Arbroath assistant manager Ian Campbell was very pleased with the result and was complimentary of his side’s opponents, claiming that there wasn’t much between the two teams in this match:
“I think that we probably deserved it today, but there wasn’t much in it. I thought Ayr played well, to be honest. That’s coming from me, and Dick’s the same.
“They stretched us in the first half, but there wasn’t much in it then. We sorted things out at half time. In the second half, they started well again, but once we got our shape and our organisation, I thought for a 20, 25-minute spell that we were on top. Then we scored, so things are going well for us, but the commitment from the players has been fantastic.”
Goal scorer Michael McKenna knows just how tight the Scottish Championship is this season and was happy to get the win, but says that his teammates aren’t taking the impressive run that Arbroath are on into too much consideration:
“We’ve not even thought of it as a big, long unbeaten run! It’s such a tight league – every week we win a game and check the other results, so we needed to win that today, or we would’ve been down there.
“We’ve not actually looked at it but when you sit down and reflect on it, it’s a great achievement in this league. So, we’re proud of the run we’re on, but we’re not getting carried away.”
Ayr play their first away match in over a month next weekend, as they travel to Cappielow to take on Greenock Morton, while Arbroath welcome high-flying Queen of the South to Gayfield, with the aim of leapfrogging Queens and entering the playoff positions.