Dundee close the gap as Ayr’s troubles continue
A quickfire double and a late Paul McGowan strike saw Dundee draw level on points with Raith Rovers as they claimed victory over Ayr. Jack Donnelly reports.
Ayr welcomed Dundee to Somerset Park badly in need of a result – their 1-0 home loss to Clyde in the third round of the Scottish Cup was not well received by both manager and fanbase. David Hopkin stated that he was looking for a big reaction from his players, and with a win moving them within a point of Queen of the South in sixth, there would be no better time for a reaction.
Hopkin made four changes to the team that lost to Clyde – Jordan Houston, Corrie Ndaba and Andy Murdoch all returned to the starting XI, while Josh Todd made his first start for The Honest Men. Those four replaced Sam Roscoe, Tom Walsh, Michael Miller and Michael Moffat, all of whom were among the substitutes.
Dundee were also on the wrong end of a 1-0 loss in the third round, losing out to Premiership opposition St Johnstone, who Ayr would have faced in the fourth round had they gone through. The Dee are sat third in the table, with a win drawing them level on points with Raith Rovers in second, while also opening up a bit of a gap to the other teams chasing a playoff place.
James McPake made three changes to the team that lost on Saturday – Cammy Kerr, Shaun Byrne and Charlie Adam dropped to the bench in place of Christie Elliot, Jason Cummings and Paul McGowan.
Having kicked the match off, Ayr were able to carve out a half chance inside the opening minute – Joe Chalmers, playing out on the left, sent a teasing cross in towards the six-yard box. With Adam Legzdins stationary, Liam Fontaine flew across quickly to acrobatically remove the danger.
The game, while fairly open, lacked in chances for the opening 15 minutes. While initially pegged back by Ayr’s aggressive press, Dundee began to pass their way into promising positions. Some nice link-up play between Declan McDaid and Elliot had the home side scrambling, but the latter’s cross was well overhit, going behind.
Ayr were having success attacking Dundee on the left flank, with Patrick Reading’s marauding runs from left back a consistent feature. The Honest Men built from that side again, with Luke McCowan picking up possession and firing towards goal, with his deflected effort being headed towards Andy Murdoch by Mark McKenzie. Murdoch played the advancing Reading through on goal and Legzdins did very well to hold the first-time strike.
Ayr went close again after 21 minutes – Chalmers floated a corner towards the six-yard box, with Legzdins punching clear. The punch dropped to McCowan just inside the aera and the forward took a touch before shooting, but under pressure from an onrushing Dundee defence saw the shot clear the bar.
Again, Dundee had to sustain pressure from their opposition before getting themselves a couple of chances. In the 33rdminute, both McGowan and Cummings headed towards Viljami Sinisalo’s goal, with the latter of the two barely sending his effort over the crossbar.
Dundee were certainly getting a grasp of the match as we entered the final 10 minutes of the half. Paul McMullan broke cleanly past Reading on the right flank, but much like Elliot’s earlier cross, his went behind before it had entered the box. A minute later, McDaid picked up the ball on the right and drove into the box, but his effort was well intercepted by Ayr captain Jack Baird.
The half concluded with no further action and of the two teams, Ayr would be going in happier. The Honest Men were looking much more up for it and were playing very well down the left with Reading and Chalmers. Dundee had had their moments throughout the opening 45 minutes but were doing nowhere near enough to trouble Sinisalo and the Ayr backline, with Ndaba dealing with Cummings well on his return to action.
The second half started on a sour note for Ayr as they were forced into a change. Todd, in going for a ball with his head, was inadvertently kicked in the face by Jordan Marshall. After realising that the midfielder had broken his nose, Hopkin turned to his bench and brought on Walsh in place of the on-loan Falkirk man.
Cummings had a brilliant chance to open the scoring after an hour played, with McGowan’s free kick being headed across goal by Ashcroft. However, the striker sent the effort up and out of the stadium from close range, keeping the match goalless.
Ayr were sent into panic just two minutes later, as Chalmers sent a back-pass towards Sinisalo, with Mullen only a few yards away from the keeper. In attempting to clear, Sinisalo missed the ball and fell backwards onto it, squirming around to hook it behind before Mullen got a touch.
Ayr should have opened the scoring after 64 minutes, as Walsh was played clean through by McKenzie. Instead of shooting, Walsh tried to play the ball across to Chalmers for a tap in, but his pass was well cut out by a blue shirt.
Walsh would come to rue his decision to pass, as Dundee took the lead just four minutes later. McGowan found Cummings on the right, with the striker seeing his cross deflected to the feet of Max Anderson in space. The midfielder turned and struck the ball well into the top left to give The Dee the lead.
One goal would become two for the visitors after 74 minutes, as Paul McMullan fired towards goal from the edge of the box. His effort was blocked by a white shirt, but it fell directly to substitute Johnathan Afolabi, who finished nicely past Sinisalo to double Dundee’s tally for the evening. After failing to do much throughout the half, The Dee saw two quick goals put them firmly in control with just over 15 minutes to go.
Ayr’s night would become even worse as Dundee grabbed their third in the 87th minute. McMullan found McGowan on the edge of the box – the midfielder shifted his feet and sent a lovely strike into the top right corner from 20 yards to consign Ayr to yet another loss at home. After a few minutes of injury time, referee Steven McLean blew his whistle to bring Ayr’s misery to an end.
At a time in the season where every game is a must-win, Ayr have made their job of securing their Championship status much harder with only four games to go. Meanwhile, Dundee further solidified their position in the playoff places, setting up a battle with Raith for second place.
Ayr are back at Somerset Park on Saturday as they welcome playoff contenders Dunfermline, while Dundee return to Dens Park to host Morton.