Honours even between Ayr and Pars
Ayr United and Dunfermline gained a point apiece with a 1-1 draw playing out at Somerset Park. Jack Donnelly reports.
After suffering defeat at the hands of Dundee last weekend, Ayr were absolutely desperate for points coming into their penultimate home fixture this season. Only one of their remaining four games is due to come against a lower-placed team, so to secure survival, David Hopkin would have to engineer some huge results.
To make matters worse for Ayr, they would be without their first-choice goalkeeper for the remainder of the season. Viljami Sinisalo, who has impressed during his time in Scotland, returned to parent club Aston Villa, with an injury cutting his loan short. The Honest Men were forced into securing a replacement keeper on an emergency loan for the second time this season, with Motherwell’s PJ Morrison arriving in Ayrshire on Friday.
Hopkin made four changes to the team that suffered a 3-0 loss on Tuesday night – Morrison would make his first start in goal, while Sam Roscoe, Michael Miller and Jamie Barjonas were included in the starting XI, in place of Andy Murdoch, Josh Todd and Joe Chalmers.
As for Dunfermline, a point against league leaders Hearts was much needed in itself, after the Pars suffered a damaging 5-1 loss in the Fife derby beforehand.
Dunfermline have been out of form recently, having only won three of their 10 games since the start of February. However, they still sit just two points outside the promotion playoff places and have a game in hand over fourth-placed Inverness – as such, a win in Ayrshire would have done wonders in terms of keeping up with the pack at the top of the table.
Manager Stevie Crawford made two changes from the team that drew with Hearts – talented loanee Scott Banks and Iain Wilson both missed out of the squad entirely, with Fraser Murray and Ewan Henderson replacing them in the starting XI.
Opposed to their usual 4-2-3-1 formation, Ayr were set up in a 5-3-2, with Luke McCowan and Mark McKenzie playing furthest forward with support from Barjonas. As such, Dunfermline saw the bulk of possession in the early exchanges and were the first to test their opposition goalkeeper – Morrison was called into action as Dom Thomas whipped a free kick in from the left, punching the effort clear.
The Pars took the lead after 12 minutes played. Advancing down the left with a nice passing move, Henderson clipped a lovely ball into the box and Declan McManus’ flicked header found the far corner to give Dunfermline the opening goal of the game.
Ayr were looking for an instant response and after some good ball retention by Barjonas high up the left flank, Aaron Muirhead was fouled on the edge of the box. With usual free kick taker, Chalmers, on the bench, McCowan stepped up, with his curling effort going just over Owain Fon Williams’ goal.
The game settled down after that chance, with neither team creating much of anything for the next few minutes. However, perhaps surprisingly, Dunfermline began to sit off Ayr, allowing the home side to build momentum with the ball and limit their opponents to very little.
Ayr’s patience was awarded in the 24th minute. McKenzie turned nicely past his man and advanced into the box. Turning back to evade another challenge, the young striker fed the ball across the area and after some confusion, Miller slid in and found the bottom right corner to level the game for The Honest Men.
The match opened up from there, with both sides looking to push their way in front. The ball dropped to Lewis Mayo on the edge of the Ayr box after 28 minutes, but the midfielder’s first-time strike safely cleared the bar. Just two minutes later, Barjonas drove forward and let fly from 20 yards, but, under pressure, scuffed the effort and gave Fon Williams no trouble.
Another nice passing move carved out a half-chance for Dunfermline in the 38th minute, as Kevin O’Hara found space on the right flank. However, his dangerous cross into the box was met and well held by Morrison.
The half concluded without too much more action – Ayr were a lot more conservative in their approach once they scored the equaliser, while Dunfermline could only manage a couple of half-chances in the way of crosses into the box, all of which Morrison made himself equal to. With both teams showing a capability to create and drive forward, the second half was set up to be a highly competitive affair.
Dunfermline were the first to get a shot away in the second half – goalscorer McManus received the ball from a throw in and swivelled before firing an effort towards goal on the half volley. Despite the shot being well struck, it sailed harmlessly past the bottom left corner and out for a goal kick.
A miscommunication between Jack Baird and Corrie Ndaba opened up plenty of space for The Pars, but after Thomas and Fraser Murray did well to keep possession in the box, Ayr were able to clear before Dunfermline got a shot away.
Miller, having scored the equaliser for Ayr, looked to test Fon Williams again as he got on the end of a deep free kick into the Pars area. However, his header cleared the bar, giving the Dunfermline keeper nothing to worry about.
Andre Wright came off the bench for McCowan midway through the half and looked to provide in the 72nd minute. Bursting past his man on the left with a stepover, the striker whipped a dangerous low ball into the box – unfortunately, the cross was cleared before it could find a white shirt.
There was little to split the teams as the match entered the final stages. Both sides had bursts of creativity but through a combination of lacklustre final balls and smart defending, neither team could break through and go in front.
Dunfermline spurned a chance to grab the winner in the 88th minute – Edwards delivered a good ball into the box and O’Hara ran onto it and fired first-time. However, the striker put too much pace into the effort and blasted it well over.
Despite a late flurry of chances, neither team managed to find a winner and referee Greg Aitken blew his whistle to award each team a point.
Ayr face a crucial relegation six-pointer in their next match as they travel to Gayfield to face Arbroath, while Dunfermline return to East End Park to welcome Dundee.