Stubborn Ayr halt the Rovers
Despite no goals being scored, both Raith Rovers and Ayr United put in good performances as they shared the spoils of this encounter. Taylor Murray reports.
Raith Rovers hosted Ayr United at Stark’s Park on a cold, wet and windy night in Kirkcaldy. Both teams came into the game after winning in their last respective fixtures, with tonight’s match meaning a lot to both teams for different reasons.
Raith came into the game sitting second in the Championship, level on points with Dunfermline in third, so the Kirkcaldy side were looking to capitalise on a chance to create a cushion in second. Rovers hadn’t played a match since the last weekend in February after their match against Dunfermline was postponed. As such, John McGlynn named an unchanged team from his side’s win over Alloa.
At the other end of the table, Ayr came into this game needing a result. The eighth-placed team have struggled in recent weeks and have become involved in somewhat of a relegation scrap, but a win over Greenock Morton in their last match did some good in steadying the ship. David White was taking charge for his second game after Mark Kerr left the club and made one change from the weekend’s victorious side – Mark McKenzie was replaced by Michael Moffat, who came off the bench to set up Cammy Smith’s second goal on Saturday.
The opening five minutes of the game was very laboured and tentative, with both teams trying to find their feet. The only chance in this opening spell fell to Ayr’s Luke McCowan, as the winger was played through by a lovely chipped pass from Moffat, but he dragged his effort wide of the post from the edge of the box.
This was the kickstart to the game that was needed as from this point on, both teams gave it their all and wanted to attack. It was clear that both sides were on their haunches and looking for errors, with Ross Matthews rushing forward to pounce on a misplaced pass from Ayr’s Corrie Ndaba. Getting the ball through to Rovers’ top scorer Manny Duku, it would be safe to assume he would at least trouble the goalkeeper. However, Viljami Sinisalo could watch on safely as Duku hit his shot high and wide of the goal
The first half continued in this end-to-end fashion as in the 13th minute, while Kai Kennedy and Danny Armstrong stretched the Ayr defence wide, Matthews and Brad Spencer were allowed plenty of space in the middle, playing a quick one-two before Spencer fired towards goal. Unfortunately for the midfielder, his shot could only hit the side netting.
Just seconds later, Raith were on the attack again – this time, Kennedy was the spark. The young man picked up the ball in the middle of the park and drove at the Honest Men’s defence. When he lifted his head, he found Kieran MacDonald out on the left. MacDonald fizzed a ball into the box looking to find Duku and he did, however Sinisalo saved the striker’s effort with ease.
Although Raith looked the more dangerous, Ayr were defending resolutely and they themselves looked dangerous when attacking. This was reflected in the 35th minute as Smith almost opened the scoring after having a shot deflected wide. He received the ball on the edge of the box from Aaron Muirhead and was looking to find the far corner, but the Rovers defence proved just as stubborn as their opponents’.
After what was an entertaining stalemate in the first half, the second half looked to have started the same, as both teams came out flying, looking to get the opening goal. It would be the home side who would get the first chance of the second half as Duku headed down a long ball from Regan Tumulty at right back. His header was laid off nicely for Matthews to fire it home but, yet again, the Ayr defence removed any danger.
Despite a lack of goals, the match was not without its quality. Some of the passing play and ball movement would not have looked out of place in a Premiership match. An example of the impressive passing was when Ayr advanced down the left with Tom Walsh, who had looked dangerous throughout, skipped past his man and delivered a lovely ball into the box. His pass found Smith in acres of space, but he took an unnecessary extra touch and squandered the chance.
Performance levels did begin to dip as the half wore on, with both teams beginning to tire out. After having been so consistent throughout the match, a lapse of concentration allowed Tom Walsh to get through on goal. Jamie MacDonald came up big and made a fine save, but he needn’t have bothered – the assistant referee had raised his flag against Walsh, in what was a lucky escape for Raith.
Both teams looked as though they were going to settle for a point when Ayr almost won the match in the dying seconds. Once again, Walsh was causing problems down the left-hand side and easily took town a long ball from the right. The Raith defender tried to stand him up but lost his footing, letting Walsh have a free shot at goal. However, the experienced MacDonald, who had been troubled a few times earlier in the match, produced another fine save to keep the score level. Shortly afterward, the referee brought the game to a close, with a point going to each side.
Although the game ended 0-0, it was a very exciting and enjoyable game to watch. Both teams were playing for the win, but the two defences were on their A-game. Out of the two sides, Ayr will be the happier from this game, as a valuable point against a team currently in the playoffs moved them up to 7th in the league.
Rovers John McGlynn felt his team played at the tempo he wanted and expressed how happy he was to keep another clean sheet:
“We played really well today, especially in the first half, where our play deserved two or three goals.
“I am disappointed we didn’t get all three points, but with that being said, we could have lost it with the last kick of the game. So, in that sense, I am happy to keep a clean sheet and break the sequence of a win, lose, win, lose.”
Of course, Jamie MacDonald assured that Rovers kept a clean sheet as he saved Tom Walsh’s last-second shot and when asked, McGlynne expressed how important his keeper was:
“He is experienced, he has been great for us. I would have to say that he is probably my best signing this season, but he had very little to do second half but all of a sudden he has to pull that save off.”
Ayr’s interim manager David White gave plaudits to his team’s character, as well as how important some players are to the team ahead of an expected managerial update in the coming days:
“I am very happy for the players, we have a really good group here. It is tough when someone loses their job but the character of the players to keep going is incredible.
“When a new manager comes in, he’s got a group of players who are really good learners, and there is a balance of experience and young, enthusiastic guys. So, they will have a really good group from the offset.”
After scoring two at the weekend, Cammy Smith had one or two chances to put his team in front, but was unable to do so on this occasion. When asked on his role in the team, White expressed how vital he is:
“Cammy is quality. He is quality because he can play if a number of positions, he is also quality at reading the game and driving the game forward. He is one of my go-to guys since I’ve came in to just steer the ship.”
Raith play again this coming Friday, heading up north to play the first of two matches against Inverness in four days, while Ayr’s next two come in the form of away days to Hearts and a long-awaited trip to Dundee.