Ayr and Clyde aim to end winless runs

Ayr United v Clyde – Match by numbers

Ayr United take on Clyde for a place in the Scottish Cup quarter-finals. The Honest Men last reached that stage in 2012, while Clyde have been waiting since 2005. Whatever happens, at least two non-Premiership teams will be in the draw for the next round making an appearance at the national stadium not outwith the realms of possibility.

5– The two sides have met five times before in the Scottish Cup and have never required a replay to decide the winner. Clyde won the first meeting, a third round tie at Shawfield, 8-3 in February 1953. The Bully Wee have been dominant against their Ayrshire rivals in the Cup, winning four of the five ties. The Honest Men’s only victory came at Shawfield in February 1972 when they won the third round tie 1-0. That tie remains the only time Clyde have failed to score against Ayr in a Scottish Cup match.

7– Clyde travel to Somerset Park having not won an away game since a 2-0 Scottish Cup second round win against Brora Rangers on October 22. They have picked up two draws on the road since, losing their other five. Coincidentally, Ayr haven’t won a home game since October 22 either. The 1-0 win against Queen of the South is their most recent league win. In the seven games since, they have drawn with Queen’s Park in the Scottish Cup and Dumbarton in the league losing the other five.

14– The teams last met in July 2014 at Broadwood in the Challenge Cup. Barry Ferguson’s first match in charge of Clyde ended with the League Two side upsetting League One Ayr after first half goals from Scott McManus and John Sweeney saw them record a 2-0 win. The Cumbernauld side have a decent recent record against the Ayrshire outfit, you have to go back to August 2012 for the Honest Men’s last win against Clyde, a 6-1 thumping at Somerset in first round of the League Cup. That was Ayr’s only win in the last 14 meetings, losing eight and drawing the other five.

17– Ayr have hosted their Lanarkshire rivals nine times since the turn of the Millennium, losing only twice. Of the other seven matches, Ayr won four with three ending in draws. The last Clyde victory came in May 2003 when Alan Kernaghan’s charges recorded a 3-0 win. That season, Clyde finished second in Division One with the Honest Men in sixth. Neither side has recorded a better finish since, however Clyde did end up second the following season but with less points.

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Who’ll make the top six?

With just 10 matches to go until the Premiership splits in two, Celtic are already guaranteed a top six place. Another four places look certain to go to Aberdeen, Rangers Hearts and St Johnstone but any one of Dundee, Hamilton, Inverness CT, Kilmarnock, Motherwell, Partick Thistle or Ross County could complete the top half.

So, who will it be? Taking into account the results from the first 22 rounds of action, here is one possible outcome.

predictions

By weighting the results of the opening matches (Rounds 1 to 11 weighted 60%, 12 to 22 40%) to take into account the venue for each team’s remaining matches and rounding to the nearest whole number, Kilmarnock would sneak into sixth place by a single point over Partick Thistle and Ross County.

Celtic would comfortably be champions with an Old Firm title decider on March 12 not out of the question and Aberdeen would be guaranteed a Europa League place.

However, there are a couple of things to consider before we can confidently predict who will take sixth.

Firstly, Aberdeen have only played Motherwell once. The table above assumes that Aberdeen will win when the sides meet for their rescheduled round 10 match at Pittodrie on February 15. This seems reasonable considering the Steelmen have picked up just one point against the top five teams so far this season.

Should Motherwell win that game however, they would be the team sneaking into sixth place because they would be expected to pick up more points from their last 10 games than they currently are. It would also see Aberdeen slip down to third and needing another two points to guarantee a place in the Europa League qualifiers.

Taking a look at the unrounded table below shows just how tight it will be for that sixth spot.

predictions2

As a result, goal difference could be huge for Kilmarnock, Patrick Thistle and Ross County and the Jags have no small advantage over their opponents in that respect. Heavy defeats at the hands of Aberdeen and Celtic see Kilmarnock currently on -18 and Ross County are on -15 meaning Partick’s -6 would make them favourite to nick sixth spot.

The final thing to consider are the five games played this midweek. This doesn’t affect Dundee or Kilmarnock after their match was rearranged for February 11 when most of the rest of the league are competing in the Scottish Cup. Four of the games went the way the table would expect.

Motherwell’s win over Ross County and Celtic beating Aberdeen were bankers if the above table is to pan out. St Johnstone’s win over Partick Thistle and Hearts thrashing of Rangers were the favoured result but draws weren’t out of the question. Inverness’s 3-0 defeat to Hamilton wasn’t.

That match was looked at as being another draw given the previous two meetings had ended that way. If Hamilton continue to draw approximately half their games the only difference would be a closer fight for 11th place but it goes to show that not all the results will pan out.

From this statistical point of view, and all the above considered, Partick Thistle would be favourites for sixth given their advantageous goal difference but Kilmarnock, Ross County and Dundee will push them all the way.

Morton show Ayr how it’s done

Ayr United 1-4 Greenock Morton

Ross Forbes and Gary Oliver each grabbed a brace as Morton outclassed the Honest Men at Somerset Park after Jamie Adams had given Ayr a bit of hope at half time. The Ayrshire side are now four points adrift of Dumbarton in ninth while Morton are now a win away from second place. Here, I take a look at how the game was won and lost.

Morton’s Midfield Magician

The away side’s standout performer, Ross Forbes, was all over the pitch and took his goals well. A lovely curled effort from wide on the right gave Morton an early lead before he showed excellent technique to get his foot over an awkward ball to drive it into the ground and bounce it over Greg Fleming’s outstretched palm. Everything good Morton did came through Forbes as he put on a man of the match performance. His delivery from a dead ball wasn’t at its best but from open play it was deadly. He was even afraid to get stuck in when needed and win the ball back to help out his defence.

Played into trouble

To both sides credit, they tried to get the ball down and play it as often as they could despite the quality of the Somerset pitch. The best opportunities were created when either team got a hold of the ball and worked it forward but Ayr sometimes chose the wrong way to do it. At 3-1 down early in the second half, they tried a bit too often to play the ball out from defence. The defenders made few mistakes but Morton applied pressure at the right times to force Ayr into a pass they didn’t want to make. This played the home side at trouble at times and their only choice was for Fleming to hit the ball long and back into Morton’s possession.

The final ball

The awareness of the away side allowed them to make quick decisions and in the final third. With the quality of their midfield, their final pass found it’s man more often than not. The home side, on the other hand, were let down on occasion with their final ball and it made getting into scoring positions all the more difficult. When Ayr made the right pass, it resulted in their best passages of play and they created chances that they should have scored but when you’re not scoring a lot of goals you need your final ball to be on point every time. With Craig Moore back fit, Ayr proved to be a more potent attacking threat but they will need to make their final ball more often in order to produce the goods if they are to beat the drop.

Ex-rivals take to the field for Ayr and Morton

Ayr United v Greenock Morton – Match by numbers

Ayr United take on the form team in the Championship as Morton continue their push to be named best of the rest behind Dundee United and Hibernian. Ton are now just five points behind the Terrors and have the chance to close the gap further as United face a tough trip to East End Park.

4– This will be the seventh time Ayr and Morton have met at Somerset Park this decade and the Honest Men are unbeaten in their last four. Morton have won just one of those previous six matches with Ayr picking three wins and two draws. The Honest Men won the previous meeting in Ayrshire this season when goals from Paul Cairney and Alan Forrest hoisted United off the bottom of the table for the first time with a 2-1 back in September.

6– Third placed Morton are currently on a six-match unbeaten run since a 2-1 loss to Dunfermline at East End Park. The Greenock side have lost just once in their last 13 games and have picked up 11 points from their last five games making them one of the form teams in the Championship. If it wasn’t for their poor start to the campaign where they picked up just three points in their opening five games, they could be challenging Hibs at the top of the league with a tally of 31 points from their last 15 games.

8– Former St Mirren striker Lawrence Shankland scored on his Morton debut as they kept up their impressive home form with a 2-0 win over Raith Rovers two weeks ago. That matched the same achievement by former Kilmarnock defender Conrad Balatoni when he scored twice, albeit once for Airdrieonians, on his Ayr United debut. Combined, the two sides have eight of their rivals former on their books. Jamie McGowan and Scott Tiffoney played for St Mirren’s youth teams while Jon Scullion made one appearance on the bench for the Buddies. Jamie Adams spent four years as a youth player at Kilmarnock whilst Paul Cairney made 16 appearances in blue and white and Gary Harkins score five goals in 52 matches for Killie.

15– Craig Moore made his first appearance in seven months in Ayr’s 0-0 draw with Queen’s Park last weekend. The on loan Motherwell striker last took to the field in the 1-0 loss to St Mirren in the Betfred Cup back in July where he picked up a concussion. A lengthy recovered period followed but he picked up where he left off last season by scoring his 15th goal for the Honest Men in the 2-2 draw at Hampden on Tuesday. The 22-year-old was Ayr’s top scorer in the league last season with 14 goals in 25 games.

 

No home advantage when Killie play Accies

Kilmarnock v Hamilton Academical – Match by numbers

With the winter break now over, the Premiership sides are back in action this weekend as they enter the Scottish Cup. The fourth round offers a welcome distraction from the league for some teams as 10th and 11th in the Premiership go head-to-head at Rugby Park.

5-This is the eighth time the teams have been drawn to face each other in the Scottish Cup and the fourth at Rugby Park. Killie have won five of the previous seven ties by an aggregate of 18-11. The only time the teams needed a replay came after a 2-2 second round draw in February 1953 at the old Douglas Park. Accies triumphed 2-0 in that match, the second and last time they managed to knock the Ayrshire team out the Cup.

8-In recent times, Hamilton and Kilmarnock have tended to pick up better results away from their artificial home pitches, even if that happens to be at a different artificial pitch. The away side in a Kilmarnock-Hamilton match is unbeaten in the last eight games between the teams, a run that stretches back to December 2014. Alexei Eremenko’s 93rd minute winner fired Allan Johnston’s side to a 1-0 win at Rugby Park. Co-incidentally, this is the only time either side has recorded a home win over the other since they installed their artificial pitches. In the 10 matches on artificial turf, the away side has came out on top six times, with the other three ending 0-0.

53-It will be almost 53 years to the day that Kilmarnock last played Hamilton in a Scottish Cup tie. The sides last met in the second round at Douglas Park in January 1964 with Killie one point clear of eventual champions Rangers at the top of Division One. A total of 9,378 fans watched on as the title chasers overcame Division Two Hamilton 3-1 on their way to the semi-finals where they would bow out to Dundee after a comprehensive 4-0 defeat.

80-This weekend’s match will be the 161st meeting between the teams, and the 80th at Rugby Park. The previous 79 meeting in Ayrshire have generally been successful for Kilmarnock as they have recorded 47 wins in that period and out-scoring their Lanarkshire opponents by 158 goals to 71. Accies have won just 15 times at Rugby Park with the other 17 ending in draws. The biggest win in that time came in the second meeting when Killie ran riot as they beat Accies 7-1 for the second time in a week way back in December 1898.

Buddies look to halt unbeaten Pars

Dunfermline Athletic v St Mirren – Match by numbers

Struggling St Mirren travel east to face Dunfermline Athletic in their latest attempt to claw back their seven point deficit at the bottom of the Championship. Jack Ross and his players will be desperate to record only their third win of the season with games fast running out.

3– St Mirren have been busy in the transfer window picking up three new players for this weekend. Craig Storie and Rory Loy join on loan from Aberdeen and Dundee respectively whilst Norwegian midfielder Pål Fjelde joins on a free after leaving OBOS-ligaen side Bryne FK. Loy joins for his second loan spell in Paisley having played for the Buddies in 2010 under Gus MacPherson. He made his debut as a second half substitute in a 2-1 defeat to Hibs at Easter Road. Current St Mirren manager Jack Ross played in and scored in that match, however his 90th minute own goal ended up being Hibs’ winner. Storie has played 14 times for Aberdeen since making his debut in April 2013. He earned two caps for Scotland U21s and been an unused sub a further three times. He started on his most recent visit to St Mirren Park as Scotland U21s beat Northern Ireland U21s 3-1. Fjelde, from Jørpeland in southwest Norway, previously played for Viking FK in the Eliteserien, the top tier of Norwegian football, before moving to second tier Bryne. His old teams are located less than 30 miles from his hometown and the former local lad is now just 450 miles away from home in Paisley.

4– Recent meetings between the teams have been goal-fests, averaging four goals a game over the last seven meetings. There hasn’t been a 0-0 since 2011 and in five of the last seven meetings both teams have scored, including a 4-4 draw in Paisley in 2012 and Dunfermline’s 4-3 win at East End Park earlier this season. St Mirren have edged out the Pars by three wins to two in that period, scoring 16 to Dunfermline’s 12 but the Fife side have won both meetings this season.

15– Dunfermline are the form team in the Championship at the moment, having picked up 15 points from their last seven games. In all competitions, Dunfermline are unbeaten in their last eight games, winning five and drawing three. The Pars have recorded convincing wins over Morton, Raith Rovers and Ayr Utd to move up to sixth place in the Championship, five points clear of the Honest Men in the relegation play-off spot. Despite an unbeaten December, Allan Johnston was somehow overlooked for Championship manager of the month in favour of Dumbarton’s Stephen Aitken.

1996– Matches between these two tend to be very close. In the last 25 meetings, just one match has been decided by more than two goals, a run that stretches back to 1996. That match, in October 2015, saw Ian Murray equal St Mirren’s biggest win at their new home as the struggling Buddies demolished the then League One side 4-0 in the Challenge Cup. Both teams have shared results fairly evenly in their last 25 meetings with St Mirren winning seven, nine ending in draws and Dunfermline winning the other nine. The teams have shared 67 goals in that time, with Dunfermline edging out St Mirren 35-32.

Lacklustre Ayr lose out to Pars

Ayr United 0-2 Dunfermline Athletic

First half goals from Nicky Clark and Andy Geggan saw Dunfermline extend their unbeaten run to seven in the league. The Pars are now five points clear of Ayr, who sit in the relegation play-off spot, in sixth place. Here, I take a look at how the game was won and lost.

Mismatch in midfield

On the face of it, Ayr’s 4-4-1-1 vs Dunfermline’s a 4-4-2 might suggest that the Honest Men would have the advantage with the extra man in the middle. However, Dunfermline’s holding midfielder, Nat Wedderburn gave them a crucial advantage. The Englishman was much stronger than the tiny Alan Forrest, and most of the Ayr squad for that matter, as he regularly won the ball in physical contests across the midfield. The midfielder was key in breaking up some of Ayr’s attacking play while Forrest wasn’t able to get the grip on the match he wanted with Wedderburn’s dominance in the centre. The midfielder may not have been man of the match but his mismatch with the Ayr midfield was certainly a big factor.

A strikers touch

The two teams were evenly matched. Dunfermline slightly edged possession 52-48, Ayr had 10 efforts on goal to Dunfermline’s nine and had more corners at nine to five. The difference was the Honest Men’s inability to take chances, mainly down to their lack of strikers. The home side’s best chance fell to Forrest after 59 minutes when the hard-working Kevin Nisbet kept the ball alive before squaring to Forrest in the six-yard box. Forrest turned his man but could only fire the ball wide. It was a chance you would expect Ayr’s top scorer to take and they were punished for it. Without an out-and-out centre forward the Honest Men’s constant good play on the wings saw 15 and 20 crosses played into the box but none were capitaliesed on. At the other end, Clark and former Ayr man Geggan possesed that strikers touch that earned them two well-taken goals and all three points.

Change it up… or not

At 0-0, Ayr were the better team. They were creating more chances and some that should really have ended up in the back of the net. However, they stalled once Dunfermline took the lead and got a grip on the game. For the last 20 minutes of the first half, the Pars were in control and deservedly established the 2-0 lead. The home side came out in the second half and started off the way they had played at the start of the first but they couldn’t get that goal that could change the game. Ian McCall made all three personnel changes available to him but he didn’t change his tactics to try and get something from the game. The first sub saw Nisbet taken off for Brian Gilmour which meant Harkins was pushed forward as the lone striker, a role which just doesn’t suit him. The other two subs were like-for-like which allowed Dunfermline to see out the match without much hassle. Had Ayr moved to a back three with the rock-solid Conrad Balatoni at the centre and put another body in the final third, the Pars may have been made to worry.