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.

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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.

Somerset brings out the best in Pars

Ayr United v Dunfermline Athletic – Match by numbers

Somerset Park is the venue as the Championships two recently promoted sides go head-to-head for the third time this season. The two previous meetings ended in draws and with both teams battling near the bottom, a win today could prove vital.

5- The Ayrshire ground tends to be a good venue for Dunfermline. The Pars have won on five of their last six visits and are unbeaten in their last 10. In fact, facing Ayr in general seems to bring out the best in the Fife side with the Honest Men taking the spoils just once in the last six years. Since Febuary 2010, the teams have played 18 times with Dunfermline winning 13 (D3 L1). Ayr, the Championships joint lowest scorers, only managed 15 goals to the Pars 35 in those 18 games with Dunfermline keeping seven clean sheets. The Ayrshire side last came out on top on September 12 2015 after goals from Alan Forrest and Jordan Preston at East End Park saw the Honest Men leapfrog Dunfermline into second place in League One.

6- Both sides will be desperate to avoid one unwanted record. Since 2012, no team promoted to the Championship has been relegated in their first season. Cowdenbeath, Dumbarton, Queen of the South, Alloa Athletic, Rangers and Greenock Morton have all been promoted from League One in the last four seasons and all six spent at least two seasons in the second tier. Ayr themselves were the last team promoted from the third tier to be relegated straight back down in 2011-12.

11- This season’s meetings have seen one player in particular thrust into the spotlight. Ayr keeper Greg Fleming. Possibly the standout performer at Somerset Park this season, the 30 year old has routinely been the difference between three points and none with his excellent shot-stopping and reactions topped off by two penalty saves in two minutes from Kallum Higginbotham in the 1-1 draw at East End Park. Since joining the Honest Men in July 2015, his penalty saving record has been simply phenomenal. The keeper has faced 13 penalties in Black and White (including four in the 3-1 shootout win over Stranrear) with just two hitting the back of the net.

35- After a goalless draw at Somerset Park in October, the sides played out an entertaining 1-1 draw at East End Park where Nicky Clark put Dunfermline ahead before Alan Forrest equalised from the spot. That means the Honest Men have the chance to go a full season unbeaten against Dunfermline and, when the sides have been in the same league, that hasn’t happened since 1981/82, 35 years ago. Ayr played Dunfermline three times that season, twice at East End Park and once in Ayrshire, all in the league. All three meetings ended in draws, 1-1 at Somerset in October 1981 before a 0-0 draw in February and a 2-2 draw in April 1982 in Fife.