SPFL League One: AYR UNITED 0 DUNFERMLINE 2: 12/03/16
Going into the eighth last fixture of the season Ayr United trailed Dunfermline by 11 points so this was going to be one final chance for Ian McCall's men to claw their way back into the title race.
The visitors made two changes, one former Ayr player coming in, one out. Andy Geggan returned meaning Shaun Byrne was back on the bench and Ryan Wallace was preferred to former Ayr top goalscorer, Michael Moffat.
Ayr United made one change, Brian Gilmour coming in at Andy Graham's expense and it was the hosts who kicked off attacking the goal in front of their supporters. The opening five minutes were played out cautiously with neither side getting anywhere near goal. Alan Trouten playing wide right was the first to make a pass into the Dunfermline box but his sixth minute delivery was well cut out by Ben Richards-Everton. Ryan Stevenson was given a striking role but his first attempt went well wide left.
Good control by Faissal El Bakhtaoui sent Wallace right and he laced the ball ahead for Craig Reid on the overlap but Gilmour did really well to cut out the threat. At the other end the home support in the main stand was ready to celebrate a goal when Jamie Adams rose to meet a tenth minute cross from the left but his looping header fell just wide of Murdoch's goal.
El Bakhtaoui's shot from distance three minutes later was the Pars first attempt of the afternoon but Greg Fleming dropped on one knee to gather at his right hand post. Michael Paton had to wait until Referee Don Robertson lectured both Andy Geggan and Peter Murphy before sending over a free kick from the right. Geggan and Brad McKay both attacking the delivery but the latter's header went wide left.
A 18th minute corner was then also sent wide by McKay. The match was not for the faint hearted with several Pars players cut down in the opening quarter of the game. Talbot and Falkingham felt hefty challenges and Geggan lost a boot at one point. Reid brought down Paddy Boyle out on the left but Ayr's free kick was low and hooked away by Wallace.
Paton released a nice pass for El Bakhtaoui to gain ground on the right and fire the ball across the Ayr box and Ross McCrorie deflected the ball away from the waiting Wallace. In 28th minute Murdoch made a fine save from a Gilmour free kick that found Adams ten yards out but the Pars stopper did a grand job.
On the half hour Reid went through Gilmour to give Ayr another free kick on the edge of the centre circle but this time the defence got away Gilmour's lob into the left side of the box.
Ten minutes from the interval Joe Cardle scampered away with the ball as McCrorie slipped up on the Ayr side of the centre circle. Joe tried to do it all himself when possibly El Bakhtaoui and Wallace had been in better shooting positions and his shot was all too easily blocked out.
Geggan then sent a pass to Reid who made an advance before releasing a shot that was chested away by Ritchie. As the sun came out Dunfermline made a push for a goal before half time. Ross Docherty collected the first yellow card for a foul on Geggan and when Paton lofted the ball into the Ayr box, Cardle's return was narrowly missed by McKay.
Contining the push Wallace wriggled free of markers to get in a shot that Fleming took at his second attempt and then a Cardle cross was just too much for Wallace who sent his attempt into the sidenetting. In 44 minute El Bakhtaoui was blocked out by defenders as he found himself in possession on the top of the box and as the ball bounced about the Ayr box there were appeals for a penalty as Wallace appeared to have the feet taken from him.
It was good to see the Fifers finish strongly since Ayr had enjoyed too much of the opening 35 minutes. Stats showed the home side with 54% possession in the first half but with only one shot on target each it was hardly surprising the match was goalless at the break.
Half time: Ayr United 0 Dunfermline 0
Ryan Wallace and Faissal El Bakhtaoui restarted the game and Dunfermline continued to take the match to Ayr with a Wallace shot deflected for a 48th minute corner. Paton sent that over from the right, McKay did get his head to it but Fleming held.
El Bakhtaoui fired a 50th minute effort wide and high from 16 yards out. Then in 51 minutes a poor clearance from Fleming gave the Pars possession from a throw in and Reid and Paton tried hard to make it tell but a long clearance after Paton's shot was blocked sent Craig Moore through but Richards-Everton made a really good and timely tackle.
In 56 minute Falkingham was shown yellow and the following minute Geggan saw the same card. Alan Forrest had replaced Jamie Adams and misplaced Dunfermline passes gave the Somerset Park club some respite but then in 62 minutes EL BAKHTAUOI hit the ball past Fleming for the opening goal. It came from a simple through ball from Wallace and the Pars striker finished well from 16 yards for his 17th league goal of the campaign. 0-1
The Pars supporters had hardly settled down when EL BAKHTAOUI struck again. Just six minutes between his goals but the second was an absolute peach. Paton provided the cross from the right about 30 yards out and Faiss met the ball on the volley to send it right footed into the left side of the net giving Fleming no chance. The 26th goal of the season for the French Moroccan. 0-2
There was concern when the Pars goalscorer went down in 74 minutes waving for the physio to come on. He was holding his thigh but he limped off and was able to resume. Ayr to their credit did not give up. Most of their efforts were fairly tame but Murdoch had to make a serious save when Nicky Devlin got in on the right.
David Hopkirk and Michael Moffat replaced the Dunfermline strikers Wallace and El Bakhtaoui for the final 15 minutes. Cardle was unlucky to see his cross to Moffat in front of goal, cut out by a defender in 82 minutes.
Ayr sub Robbie Crawford did remarkably well to create an opening to get through on the left and his pass to Moore in front of goal looked a killer but the Ayr no.9 sent his effort over the bar when it might have been easier to score. The home side spent most of the final five minutes in the Dunfermline half but the Pars defence was resolute for a fine shut out and three points that retains the eleven point gap between the league leaders and second placed Peterhead. Ayr United are now 14 points behind Dunfermline and their manager conceded that the play offs now look there most likely route to promotion.
Another important win for the Pars though, a third this season at Somerset Park which should have a huge bearing on the outcome of the Ladbrokes League One title.
AYR UNITED: Greg Fleming; Nicky Devlin, Peter Murphy, Ross McCrorie, Paddy Boyle; Alan Trouten, Jamie Adams (Alan Forrest 55), Ross Docherty (Jordan Preston 65), Brian Gilmour (Robbie Crawford 84); Ryan Stevenson, Craig Moore
SUBS NOT USED: Michael Donald, Gerry McLauchlan, Andy Graham, Shaun Newman (GK)
YELLOW CARD: Docherty (40)
DUNFERMLINE: Sean Murdoch; Craig Reid, Brad McKay, Ben Richards-Everton, Jason Talbot; Michael Paton (Rhys McCabe 81), Andy Geggan, Josh Falkingham (c), Joe Cardle; Ryan Wallace (Michael Moffat 77), Faissal El Bakhtaoui (David Hopkirk 77).
SUBS NOT USED: Shaun Byrne, Lewis Martin, Shaun Rooney, David Hutton (GK).
SCORERS: El Bakhtaoui (62, 68)
YELLOW CARD: Falkingham (56), Geggan (57)
REFEREE: Don Robertson
WEATHER: Dry 14C
NEXT MATCH: Ladbrokes League One: (away) v Cowdenbeath, Saturday 19th March 2016, kick off 3.00pm at Central Park
Ladbrokes Championship: v Dundee United, Saturday 30th September 2017, kick off 3.00pm