Magical McKenzie secures Hopkin’s first win
Mark McKenzie’s two goals either side of a Cammy Smith strike were enough to secure David Hopkin’s first win as Ayr United manager, as The Honest Men left Dens Park with a precious three points. Jamie McIntosh reports.
Dundee had the opportunity to cement their place in the top four of the Scottish Championship with a victory over Ayr United at Dens Park.
The home side were comfortable winners at the weekend against Arbroath and were now looking to use their two games in hand to create a gap between themselves in fourth spot and Queen of the South in fifth.
Manager James McPake made two changes from the Arbroath game, with the welcome return of Charlie Adam taking the place of Declan McDaid and the injured Malachi Walcott replaced by 19-year-old Sam Fisher.
David Hopkin’s first game in charge of Ayr United ended in defeat at Tynecastle, however the new boss will still be getting to know his players and they should improve given time.
Hopkin made three changes to the side that started at Tynecastle with Michael Moffat, Tom Walsh and Andy Murdoch being replaced by Mark McKenzie, Joe Chalmers and Michael Miller.
It was a slow start with final third action lacking in the opening 15 minutes. Michael Miller had a penalty shout waved away by referee Allan Newlands, before Viljami Sinisalo was called into action for the first time, Jason Cummings’ cut back was met by Max Anderson, his strike was well saved by the Ayr stopper.
Ayr then took the lead with their first opportunity of the match, Luke McCowan robbed Paul McGowan of possession deep in the Dundee half, he squared the ball for McKenzie, whose effort squirmed under the body of Adam Legzdins to give the visitors a surprise lead after 18 minutes.
The goal seemed to rattle Dundee and for the 15 minutes that followed they struggled to get the ball down and create chances. Ayr were compact, much like they were at Tynecastle on Saturday. Aaron Muirhead was sitting in deep protecting the back four, meanwhile goal-scorer McKenzie was holding the ball up and linking well with Smith and McCowan.
Chances were few and far between and Newlands’ half time whistle brought an end to 45 minutes of low-quality action. Ayr dropped deeper towards the end of the first half, but Sinisalo wasn’t troubled following that early save from Anderson.
James McPake will have wanted a response from his players after a dismal first half display, it would be fair to say the half time team talk didn’t have the desire effect, as United doubled their lead just four minutes into the second half. McCowan showed great trickery on the left and his cross went through a crowd and found Smith at the back post, his low effort seemed to take a slight deflection, but still found it’ way into the back of the net.
In a game of very few chances, Ayr found themselves 2-0 to the good.
Dundee finally created a chance of note. A cross from the left was headed clear, but only as far as Danny Mullen, the number nine’s looping header glanced the far post and was cleared to safety.
That was Mullen’s last involvement as McPake rolled the dice bringing on Osman Sow and Declan McDaid for the aforementioned Mullen and McGowan, who had struggled to pull the strings in midfield alongside Adam.
Dundee were huffing and puffing, but as the game entered the final 20 minutes, they had struggled to create chances and ultimately Sinisalo, despite being booked for timewasting, hadn’t had much of an involvement.
Since his introduction on the hour mark, McDaid hadn’t been able to make an impact, however his long-range effort almost pulled a goal back for the hosts. Sinisalo was once again on hand to beat his effort away.
The points were sealed seven minutes from time, Ayr worked the ball from right to left, before McKenzie unleashed a fantastic effort from 25 yards into the roof of the net, leaving Legzdins with no chance.
Dundee grabbed a consolation goal with four minutes to go, the ball was slipped through the middle for Sow, who managed to poke the ball past the onrushing Sinisalo and into the bottom corner.
No more dramatics followed in the final five minutes plus stoppages and Ayr picked up a valuable three points, which saw them leapfrog Morton into seventh spot, three clear of Arbroath and seven clear of bottom side Alloa.
A frustrated James McPake accepts that his team now have eight massive fixtures before the end of the shortened Championship season and the performances must be better than the Tuesday night’s offering.
“I’m really disappointed, I thought we started the game well, but their goal spooked us for some reason tonight we just didn’t recover from that. It’s eight cup finals now, starting at Alloa on Friday night. Our aim is to finish second and we need to perform better to achieve that.”
“I think I was a bit naïve with the tactics tonight. We probably tried to play too much football on a pitch that wasn’t great for playing football on. Credit to Ayr United, they did the other side of the game better than us tonight.”
David Hopkin was delighted with his side’s performance, praising Mark McKenzie’s individual display, as well as his team’s ability to execute their game plan.
“I’m disappointed we lost the late goal, I thought we deserved a clean sheet. Credit to the players, we came with a plan, we got the early goal, and the players showed the grit and determination, that I have always had in my teams.”
Ayr are now back to Somerset on Saturday for Hopkin’s first home game as manager as they welcome Raith Rovers, meanwhile Dundee are in Friday night action as they travel to the Indodrill to take on Alloa.