We braved the Clackmannanshire cold to watch Alloa Athletic take on Ayr United at Recreation Park and there have since been casualties with two tour members succumbing to the almost misunderstood of all global illnesses, ‘man flu!’
It’s another one of those weekends when snow is forecast and everyone’s in a panic about travel chaos but in reality it’s actually quite mild and as usual these reports have been over exaggerated. We found the ground with relative ease and got an ample spot of street parking facing the ground with about twenty minutes before kick off. After negotiating some complexities at the turnstiles there was time to have a look around and to take a few pictures.
First impressions of the venue were positive and with Alloa having another good season, currently sitting second in Division 2 they faced a tough test against an Ayr United side at the opposite end of the table.
Both teams have young Managers who’ve had vast experience of playing in all the Scottish leagues. Alloa comfortably won the 3rd Division last season under the tutelage of Paul Hartley, while his opposite number Mark Roberts has been at the Somerset Park helm since being appointed last summer.
The home side have a good blend of youth and experience with Darren Young in midfield along with Mitch Megginson on loan from Aberdeen. They also have former Celtic youngsters Jason Marr and Kevin Cawley. Similarly Ayr have the experienced Austin McCann, John Robertson, David Winters, Michael Moffat and more recently, Liam Buchanan on their books.
When the game got under way it was Ayr who dominated possession in the early stages although they never really troubled Scott Bain in goals. Alloa were struggling to get any rhythm going and any attempts to move the ball up the park were quickly closed down by a well organised opposition. Both teams tried to play the ball on the deck and rarely opted to play a high ball which was good to see.
After about quarter of an hour the ball was cleared from the Alloa defence right out the ground and into the KFC car park. Impulsively the Ayr fans started singing “Sanders Sanders geez the baw” in reference to the fast food icon Colonel Sanders whose image you can see from inside the ground and thought this was very quick witted!
They also gave Alloa’s right back, Jonathan Tiffoney a really hard time for the first half hour of the game and we never knew why. A quick google search revealed he was signed from Ayr United four weeks ago, which pretty much explained everything!
The visitors goalkeeper, Ally Brown made a decent save from a Kevin Cawley strike before Ayr took the lead ten minutes from the break with a typical opportunist finish from Liam Buchanan. A cross from David Sinclair on the left landed in the box and with Alloa’s failure to clear, Buchanan hooked home from close range.
Alloa made a change at half time with Edward Ferns replacing Callum Gallagher up front. They started the second period with a bit more urgency and carved out a couple of openings before going further behind. A pretty innocuous foul just inside the Alloa half gave Ayr a free kick which was swung into the box by Davie Sinclair. The cross was met by the unchallenged Neil McGregor at the back post who headed into the net to make it 2-0.
Moments later it could have been three when a low cross flashed across the six yard box with no takers. This was to prove crucial as merely six minutes having extended their lead Alloa were back in the match. A ball played into the Ayr box was mistimed by defender, Kyle McAusland and his intended header back to his keeper fell short leaving Megginson to nick in to score from close range for 2-1.
Ayr had a half hearted appeal for a penalty when a cross into the box was blocked by what looked like an arm but there was nothing given by the referee. With 15 minutes left Alloa missed a great chance to level things when a cross to the back post was sliced wide by substitute Graeme Holmes.
Merely a minute later Liam Buchanan was booked for a challenge near the half way line. It didn’t look like it merited a yellow card but it was to prove pivotal in the match as a couple of minutes later he received a second caution, this time for alleged simulation. He had made a good run into the box before taking a tumble and it was hard to confirm either way from our position being at the opposite end of the ground.
Alloa pushed hard for an equaliser but Ayr coped well despite being a man down. With two minutes left on the clock Stephen Simmons might have done better when he headed wide from a left wing cross. Then after that Darren Young controlled a ball into the box and despite taking out the defender and goalkeeper, he was already losing his balance and could only hook his shot wide when he should’ve scored.
As the game entered injury time we started making our way to the corner of the ground and the exit, along with many others in anticipation of the full time whistle. It’s lucky we stayed as there were two more key moments left in the game. Once again a cross from the left had Ayr’s defence exposed and a looping header from Ben Gordon dropped over Brown’s head into the net for a very late equaliser.
We expected that to be the last action of the game but despite their numerical disadvantage, Ayr almost snatched victory with pretty much the last kick of the game. Although there was a hint of offside, Ayr substitute David Winters raced through on goal and looked like he would score only for Bain to come to the rescue, blocking the shot with his foot and the ball went out for a corner to ensure it ended all square.
So overall, a very enjoyable game to watch, especially the second half with some good football, four goals, a sending off and it went right to the wire proving good value for the 521 fans in attendance.
Recreation Park is situated right on a main road so you really can’t miss it. As you come through the turnstiles there is an open area where a lot of fans seemed to congregate pre match and at half time. All the facilities are next to each other and I found this ideal. From the food bar, programme sellers, club shop to the toilets you don’t have to venture very far to get the necessities. You also have the option of standing in the corner, behind the goal and also have access to seating in the main stand.
The main stand reminded me of a similar design to that of Dundee United’s Tannadice. Opposite is a small enclosure type stand which runs the length of the pitch and is occupied by the away fans. In the home end behind the goal there is a covered terracing which is where we stood for most of the game. It is quite new looking and provided a decent view of the game though there are a couple of pillars which slightly obstruct. Behind the opposite goal there is disused terracing and a railway line which runs parallel with it.
The people and staff we encountered were quite friendly and there is a good local support ethic about the place. Special mention must go to Robert Wilson from the club for his assistance and courtesy in the days leading up to the game which was very much appreciated.
There were people of all ages at the game including a healthy number of young fans who the club must try and hold onto for the next generation. To ensure that, it may be beneficial to consider having a parent and child gate, probably more so if he club achieves promotion next season so it can hold onto, and expand it’s current fan base. I wish them the best of luck between now and May.