Pars fans have had to travel a fair few miles already in this cup campaign, with another away tie, this time down to Ayr. Opinion is divided on the best way to go from Edinburgh, but I decided to give the Glasgow options of the M74 extension and the Kingston Bridge a wide berth, and went via East Kilbride and Eaglesham Moor. Fortunately traffic was free-flowing, either despite or because of the weird average-speed camera set-up in that neck of the woods, and with there being convenient car-parking just off the main road after you drive past the racecourse, I arrived in good time. Somerset Park has changed little over the years, and is slowly becoming a reminder of a bygone era, with a mixture of open and covered terracing and its aging main stand. Even the catering seems a little old-fashioned, with obscure varieties of sweets and crisps as well as the more traditional pies and sausage rolls, but at least it isn’t over-priced like the fare at more modern venues.
There was one change to the Pars starting eleven, with Ross Millen, viewed as more defensively dependable than Ryan Williamson, regaining his place in the back four alongside Young, Morris and Whittle. Falkingham, Byrne and Geggan were in the midfield, with Wallace wide on the left, and Smith on the right, although both were tasked with helping out Ryan Thomson through the middle. Ryan Scully was in goals having fully recovered from his recent injury.
There were a couple of changes on the bench which consisted of keeper Goodfellow, full-back Williamson, centre-back Martin, defensive midfielder Kane, attacking midfielder Ferguson, forward Moore and utilty man, the vastly experienced Craig Dargo. Thus there were no places for the likes of Husband, El Bakhtaoui , Robert Thomson or Johnston, with the inference being that Jim Jefferies was expecting a tough match.
As for the home team, whilst they had the usual mix of new and old faces, it was their front line that would need watching – the experienced and tall Scotland Internationalist (albeit from the Bertie Vogts era) Kevin Kyle, and the prolific Michael Moffat.
The Pars kicked off in their turquoise change kits, but the match was slow to get going. A poor Kyle touch early on allowed Wallace to switch play to the right but Millen’s first time shot was out of the ground. Other than that there was little to get excited about early on, although Scully, in collecting a through ball, slid half out of his area but swivelled to keep the ball inside the box before he could be penalised.
However the game did settle, with the Pars trying to pass the ball, and Ayr, understandably, given their personnel, opting for a more direct approach more often than not, although with both full-backs keen to get forward, they were providing threats from several quarters.
Indeed, Ayr were twice close to taking the lead in 12 minutes. An awkward cross from Hunter was half-cleared to Marenghi and his net-bound shot was cleared off the line by Morris. This double escape proved even more significant when the Pars took the lead almost immediately. The ball was moved to Millen on the right, and although his cross looked to no-one, it actually picked out the inrushing Geggan and he opened his foot to divert the ball past Hutton for the game’s opening goal.
Ayr United 0 Dunfermline Athletic 1
One or two players were finding the underfoot conditions a bit slippery, and this nearly proved disastrous soon after when Hutton slipped as he took McLaughlin’s back-pass, but the Ayr skipper had followed the text-book advice in ensuring his kick was off-target, and although Thomson retrieved the ball, Hutton had regained his feet in time to take Wallace’s shot.
Midway through the half Wallace had a chance to double the lead, collecting Thomson’s head-flick from a long throw, but he took one touch too many and the chance was gone. Instead, the next goal very nearly went Ayr’s way, as Kyle’s flick set up Moffat, and although his shot went through Scully, the Pars keeper had got enough on the ball to divert it past the far post.
The Pars nearly took advantage of that let-off with a couple of near things. Smith beat his full back, but slipped as he tried to beat the next defender, and Byrne shaved the cross-bar with a left-foot shot after deftly making himself some space.
Referee Finnie seemed keen to keep the match flowing – indeed he had waited until the 18th minute before awarding his first free-kick, but after he failed to penalise Byrne for a high challenge on Kyle, the big number 10 lost his rag and carried on moaning until he was carded. Soon after Wallace was similarly carded for a bad challenge and with the Pars finishing the half on the back-foot, Scully was forced into making a couple of decent saves to deny Donald and Marenghi.
Half time: Honest Men 0 Pars 1
After a half-time presentation from the Chief Executive of the Scottish Federation of Meat Traders Associations (who had to hot-foot it down from the Press-box) the second half started with the Pars on top, but they missed a couple of early chances to extend their lead with Ryan Wallace being the main culprit. First Byrne did well on the right to set up his team-mate at the edge of the box, but after making space for a shot, he drilled his effort wide of the right-hand post. Next Falkingham managed to work his way along the bye-line, but his cut-back caught Wallace off-balance and his shot was way too high.
The Pars soon had cause to rue those misses as the home team equalised in simple fashion. A cross-field ball from the left saw Kyle knock the ball down to Donald who turned and shot into the corner from 12 yards.
Ayr United 1 Dunfermline Athletic 1
Dargo came on for Smith to take up a deeper, more central role, and looked to make an immediate impact. With his first touch he set up Byrne, who ghosted past two defenders, but again his shot was narrowly off-target; his next touch was a little chipped one-two with Wallace but Hutton was alert enough to stop Wallace’s lob.
Soon after Dargo was back defending, his interception in his own box finding Falkingham and as the Pars broke, the ball was worked to Wallace and although he stepped inside to make space, again he couldn’t force a save from the home keeper.
By now we had something resembling a classic cup-tie. Play, if not raging, was certainly moving quickly from end to end, and although the Pars had the better chances, Kyle was proving a real handful for Morris, and you were mindful that one slip-up could see cup hopes ended. Scully saved again, this time from Moffat, before the Pars spurned two late chances.
Whittle had managed to get outside Hunter a couple of times without finding anyone from his crosses; in 84 minutes he got on the end of a Byrne pass, but rather than shoot, he seemed to try a cross, but only succeeded in putting the ball out of the ground. Then finally, with time nearly up, Byrne had a chance from a narrow angle, but again took one touch too many, moving onto his right foot, and the chance was gone.
Final Score: Ayr United 1 Dunfermline Athletic 1
It would have been harsh for either side to lose this, so a draw is about right. Chances were fairly evenly split – the big difference was Ayr made the keeper work (although to be fair, you would expect a decent keeper to make all the saves Scully made) whereas the majority of the Pars’ efforts were (narrowly) off-target. The other big difference was that in Kevin Kyle, Ayr had an obvious target man, whereas I lost count of the number of times the Pars put fruitless balls into the box, particularly from corners. The midfield trio of Falkingham, Geggan and Byrne did well, Morris on the whole handled a difficult task, but I’ll give the MotM nod to Scully for quantity of saves. This tie could still go either way, but with home advantage, the Pars should be slight favourites now.
Ayr United: David Hutton, Adam Hunter, Gordon Pope, Scott McLaughlin, Alan Lithgow, Brian Gilmour, Anthony Marenghi, Robbie Crawford (Alan Forrest, 63), Michael Moffat, Kevin Kyle, Michael Donald
Substitutes (not used): Craig Malcolm, , Michael McGowan, Craig McCracken, Willie Muir
Dunfermline Athletic Ryan Scully, Ross Millen, Alex Whittle, Kerr Young, Callum Morris, Andy Geggan, Shaun Byrne, Allan Smith (Craig Dargo,71) Ryan Wallace, Josh Falkingham, Ryan Thomson
Substitutes (not used): Jordan Moore, Lewis Martin, Chris Kane, Ryan Ferguson, Ryan Williamson, Ryan Goodfellow
Shots On Target
Shots Off Target
Man of the Match: Ryan Scully