It was a change of scenery again as we headed to Ayrshire and Somerset Park for Ayr United hosting East Fife. We’ve seen both teams a couple of times this season and given our experience to date there would likely be goals in this game.
I haven’t been here since the mid 1980’s but it is what I’d describe as a likeable, traditional Scottish stadium with a main stand and the other three ends of the ground terraced.
Some of the road junctions near the ground proved tricky, and i’ll admit to cursing the satvav woman more than once, but we got a parking space down a street at the side of the railway line a few minutes walk from the ground. We went for a quick look in the club shop which was quite busy, mainly due to a couple of special offers on merchandise the club were doing. We collected tickets from the main stand and went for a walk round the outside of the ground.
When I came here many years ago we were in the main stand so I was keen to check out the terracing on this occasion. For the first half we stood on the open terrace across from the main stand and then went behind the home goal as Ayr United were shooting into this end for the second period.
Ayr had January transfer signing Graeme Smith in goal, with the ageing defenders John Robertson and Austin McCann in the full back positions. With Michael Donald grafting on the wing they had the deadly duo of Liam Buchanan and Michael Moffat up front. According to the kids the latter looks like Dimitar Berbatov from a distance, but I think that’s were the similarity ends!
While Ayr’s form and performances have improved since the turn of the year, East Fife’s seem to have gone in the opposite direction and are currently sitting second bottom of Division 2. They have changed their goalkeeper in recent weeks replacing Calum Antell with Michael Brown and also have the experience of Collin Samuel and Paul McManus in attack. They also have the benefit of having the speed and trickery of Bobby Barr who I’ve liked the look of in the games I’ve seen him this season.
The game got under way and the ball spent a lot of time in the air during the opening few minutes. Paul McManus had a shot blocked for East Fife on five minutes before his team mate, Robert Sloan was short with a pass back on the left flank which let Michael Moffat in on goal but he was penalised for hand ball.
Ayr couldn’t get any rhythm to their play at all and the best they could muster in the first quarter of an hour was a run and shot from Mark Shankland which didn’t trouble the keeper. Moments later, Ayr fell behind and it was from a lovely move and finish. Bobby Barr made a great run down the left, just keeping the ball in play and put a cross to the back post. Lurking in the area was full back Scott Durie who steadied himself before superbly volleying high into the net to give East Fife the lead.
Both teams distribution and delivery from set pieces were somewhat disappointing and Ayr’s only response to going behind were two half chances from Buchanan who linked well with Moffat. The Fifers in turn had a chance with a run and shot from Samuel at the edge of the eighteen yard box which was deflected for a corner.
Just before the half hour mark Ayr missed a great opportunity to equalise when Mark Shankland put a cross over from the right. It cleared the heads of the defenders and landed at the feet of Liam Buchanan six yards out, but he didn’t anticipate the ball coming to him, his shot was hurried and went high over the bar when he should have buried it.
Ayr were beginning to dominate and pin East Fife back in their own half but some poor crossing and maybe over passing the ball at times meant the opposition back line were comfortable with anything that came their way. From an Ayr corner ten minutes before the break, Michael Moffat flicked the ball on for Chris Smith whose shot was blocked and cleared.
Right on the stroke of half time East Fife won themselves a free kick near the left hand corner flag following a foul on Paul McManus. The delivery was poor though and the ball travelled out for a goal kick and it proved to be the last action of the first half as Ayr went into the break a goal down.
The home side were out the traps the quickest at the start of the second half with the main threat being Michael Moffat. In the first five minutes of the restart he was put through on goal but was flagged for offside, before seeing a header drop just over the bar from a free kick.
East Fife then had a spell of possession and got a foothold in the game. From a Bobby Barr cross the Ayr defence had to come to the rescue as Graeme Smith spilled the ball, though he did redeem himself minutes later saving from a Samuel header from a dangerous McManus cross.
The Fifers had another good break with twenty minutes to go when Paul Willis got himself into a decent goal scoring position but his shot from just outside the eighteen yard box went well wide. Ayr responded with a break up the park and Liam Buchanan showed some nice control down the right side but his intended cross failed to trouble the visitors goal.
From an Ayr corner three minutes later East Fife broke quickly up the park and McManus’ cross found Barr breaking into the box but he was tackled cleanly by John Robertson as the Fifers appealed in vain for a penalty.
Ayr had just replaced Mark Shankland with David Winters and it proved to be an inspired substitution by Manager, Mark Roberts. With twelve minutes left the scores were level when a Winters cross was controlled in the box by Liam Buchanan. It wasn’t the tidiest of finishes, but he managed to turn and power a shot into the net at the second attempt to make it 1-1.
Two minutes later, Michael Moffat had a great chance to give the home side the lead when he was put through on goal but he couldn’t get any real power in his shot and it was saved by the feet of ‘keeper, Michael Brown.
East Fife then made a like for like change when they replaced McManus with Liam Gormley as they chased a winning goal. They then had another penalty claim turned down when Bobby Barr went down from a challenge in the box but referee, Don Robertson waved away the claims and booked the winger for simulation.
Ayr then had an opportunity to score themselves when a well flighted cross from Robertson on the right was met by the head of Michael Donald six yards out, but it was expertly turned away by ‘keeper, Brown for a corner.
With four minutes left, it was Ayr who grabbed the winner and surprisingly Michael Moffat wasn’t involved! Buchanan again found space to get a shot in on goal, it looked relatively comfortable for the goalkeeper but he couldn’t hold onto the ball and as it spun in the air, David Winters followed up to score.
A minute later Ayr nearly scored again when Michael Donald played in Moffat but this time Brown managed to block the shot and the ball was cleared.
In the fourth minute of stoppage time East Fife had a great chance to equalise when Liam Gormley attempted a lob his shot over Smith in goals but he managed to save and that proved to be pretty much the last action of the game. A vital three points in the end for Ayr as they chase the last Play Off spot in Division 2, but East Fife acquitted themselves well and can feel justifiably aggrieved that they left with nothing.
This was an enjoyable, competitive game of football for the 956 fans present. The fans on the open terrace were quite critical of the team in the first half and let their feelings known about what they thought of some of the performances on the park! As we went behind the goal in the second half, the fans in this area were slightly more supportive.
I would say that in the two games we have seen Ayr United this season, at Alloa and Arbroath, their fans have been the noisiest and the wittiest yet with their songs and chants. However, on their own patch they were quite subdued with not much in the way of singing going on which was a bit of a surprise.
As mentioned about Somerset Park already, it has a main stand with an open terrace opposite and two covered terraces behind both goals so there isn’t much more detail to add. It is next to a railway station and about half a mile from the town centre meaning that it is not far to walk and you are near all local bus routes in and out the area. The main motorway junctions in and out of Ayr are also only a couple of miles away making it quite an accessible venue.
I can only assume that the down turn in Scottish football is affecting Ayr United the same way every other club is. The attendances have dropped to under 1,000 some weeks depending on the opposition which is surprising as this is a large catchment area.
The team’s current league position may have some kind of input to that with some fans maybe finding this level unappealing, and would suggest that the admission prices may also be a contributing factor to this also. With no parent and child or family gate on offer, the basic adult and concession gates priced at £15 and £8 respectively is over priced in my opinion especially for the third tier of Scottish football.
Maybe the locals here can afford this outlay but on top of transport, food, programme, a venture into the club shop and admission money it is not something I could do personally with any regularity.
This was a good day out all round but would like to think the club are open to suggestion about enhancing people’s match day experience and give the latter comments some consideration.