An intense affair leaves Ayr and Raith with a point each
In a frantic and tightly contested match, neither Ayr nor Raith Rovers could find a winner, with the match ending 1-1. Jack Donnelly reports.
Ayr came into this match hoping to build on their solid start under their new manager, with a win putting them into fifth if Inverness and Queen of the South failed to win. On the other hand, Raith Rovers will have been hoping to break a winless run of three games with victory.
Ayr manager David Hopkin stepped out at Somerset Park for the first time, with his first two games in charge coming away against Hearts and Dundee. He made one change to the team that won away at Dens Park on Tuesday, with Andy Murdoch returning to the team ahead of Michael Miller. New loan signing, Jamie Barjonas, made the bench.
As for Raith, they were perhaps unlucky not to get at least a point at home to Inverness in their last match, but a red card to Iain Davidson early on made things much harder for John McGlynn’s side. McGlynn made four changes to his starting XI, with Frankie Musonda replacing the suspended Davidson – Manny Duku, Lewis Vaughn and Jamie Gullan were all drafted in, in place of Brad Spencer, Kai Kennedy and Gozie Ugwu.
It was a scrappy opening spell to the match, with neither team keeping possession particularly well. That said, Ayr were pressuring Raith high and forged a chance in the opening minute, as Joe Chalmers played Luke McCowan down the left. The winger dinked a ball over Reghan Tumulty for Cammy Smith, but he headed well over the Raith goal.
Ayr looked the much more proactive of the two sides but seemed to be trying to force a goal from nothing. Both McCowan and Chalmers had shots from outside the area, but the former went safely wide of the mark while the latter was deflected into the gloves of Jamie MacDonald.
Mark McKenzie, who scored twice at Dens Park on Tuesday, had a great chance to open the scoring after 10 minutes, with Smith sending a cross to the back post. The striker arrived to head the ball goalwards, but he headed it down into the turf and it bounced safely into MacDonald’s hands.
Ayr took the foot off the gas and the match settled, with neither team doing much of anything for a good 10 minutes, but both teams came alive across a couple of minutes midway through the half. First, Chalmers chipped a nice ball through the gap to McKenzie, with the striker bearing down on goal, but some good covering from Kyle Benedictus stopped him in his tracks.
A minute later, Ayr had the ball in the back of the net – a ball over the top was fired past MacDonald by McCowan, but the goal was ruled out, as McKenzie had been judged offside by the linesman. Ayr will have felt slightly aggrieved however, as McKenzie didn’t seem to make any contact with the ball in the build up.
Raith almost grabbed a goal themselves just a minute later, as Lewis Vaughn found himself free in Ayr’s box. The midfielder fired towards Viljami Sinisalo’s goal, but Jack Baird threw himself across to make a fantastic block and nip the chance in the bud.
After another 10 minutes with little to speak about, Ayr rallied and got a couple of decent chances. But, like the rest, they failed to capitalise. Chalmers blasted a free kick well over the bar, Aaron Muirhead dragged a lay-off from Patrick Reading just wide of the bottom left and Reading himself was fed down the left, before massively overhitting his cross into the box.
Referee David Dickinson brought the half to a close five minutes after Reading’s attempted cross, with both sides goalless. Ayr created the better of the chances but were losing out in the midfield to Raith. However, Raith’s forward line was doing very little to trouble their opposing defence, with Corrie Ndaba dealing with Duku handily. Both sides would be looking to emerge from the changing rooms and hit the ground running in the second half, with the match there for the taking.
Raith came out the hungrier of the two sides and forced successive corners after just one minute – neither resulted in anything, but as Musonda’s header from a corner in the 53rdminute barely cleared the crossbar, it looked evident that Raith could find success from their set pieces.
They found that success after 57 minutes. As Raith whipped another corner into the Ayr box, captain Benedictus dove across, nodding the ball into the bottom left corner of Sinisalo’s goal to give the visitors the lead. It was a deserved lead for Raith, who had been the much better side in the second half – Ayr would have plenty to do to get something from this match.
Despite needing to push for an equaliser, Ayr were unable to. The goal seemed to rattle The Honest Men, as Raith kept the ball and continued to go at their opponents, with momentum firmly with the away side. Regan Hendry went closest when he received the ball on the left of the box, but his shot towards the far corner was always bending away from goal.
Ayr began to dig deep and get back at Raith – McCowan was unlucky to have his shot blocked after he skilfully skipped into the area. Just a minute later, in the 71st minute, Ayr grabbed an equaliser. Smith knocked a free kick into the box and after bouncing off a couple of white shirts, the ball fell at the feet of Muirhead, who blasted it into the goal from eight yards out. Against the run of play, Ayr had gotten themselves back into the game, setting up an intense final 20 minutes.
The home side should have gotten themselves the lead after 75 minutes, as Michael Moffat was played clean through. The veteran sized up MacDonald and fired, but his shot was straight along the ground at the keeper.
Both sides would force great saves from both keepers in the minutes that followed – Sinisalo dove to his right to catch a well-struck free kick from Vaughn, before MacDonald leaped to his left to deny a curling effort from substitute Tom Walsh.
Both teams were frantically trying to find a winner, with changes going a begging for the remaining 10 minutes. In the heat of the match, Hopkin received a yellow card from Dickinson after a heated discussion over an offside call.
Despite both teams fighting hard, a winner evaded them both and Dickinson brought the match to an end after four minutes of stoppage time. With a series of stalemates across the league playing out at the same time, this did little in terms of the league table, so both teams could be satisfied with a point.
Ayr manager David Hopkin was fairly satisfied with a point, as he knew it would be a hard match against second-placed Raith:
“I thought it was always going to be a tough game. I told the boys we had to switch on and we had to try and change stuff, and I thought we forced Raith into playing in a style that they don’t like playing.
“I’m delighted. I was delighted with the character we showed when we went 1-0 down and I felt that the players started believing in themselves – we got a goal, and we could have maybe got another one.”
Goalscorer Aaron Muirhead has enjoyed a role in midfield in recent matches having played much of his time under Mark Kerr in defence, and feels as though his new manager’s changes have been effective:
“The new manager’s came in and made a few little tweaks that have changed our style of play a wee bit.
“It’s maybe been down to the way the pitches are, but it’s been effective the past couple of games, so hopefully it can continue.”
Raith Rovers manager John McGlynn thought that a draw seemed to be the fair result, especially away from home, but felt that they might have deserved the victory:
“When you’re in front, you’re hoping you’re going to win!There wasn’t a great deal in it but I thought we had a better second half – Frankie (Musonda) had another header before he scored that we could’ve scored with. It was a scrappy game.
“Away from home to Ayr, a point… A point away from home is okay, but we probably feel because we were in front, we probably deserved all three points.”
Raith captain Kyle Benedictus scored the goal to put his team in the lead and believes that with the league so tight, it was important to show a fighting performance:
“It’s just getting even tighter! We’re confident – the performances are there. It was a different type of performance today, we were battling. The results will come with these types of performances.
“Today we showed that we can do the ugly side – it’s not the prettiest game to watch, but sometimes you can’t help it. Both goals came from set plays, that sums it up.”
Both Ayr and Raith face away trips in Tuesday’s resumption of the Scottish Cup, with The Honest Men travelling north to face Elgin, while The Rovers travel east to play Stirling Albion.