Ladbrokes Championship: Ayr United 0 Dunfermline 1: 23/02/19
Dunfermline Athletic travelled west to face an Ayr United team sitting second in the Championship some fifteen points ahead of them after 24 games.
Stevie Crawford named the same starting eleven that had brought him his first win as Pars boss the previous week against Inverness Caley Thistle. Following their draw at Cappielow, his counterpart Ian McCall made two changes in his Ayr United starting eleven. Out went Ross Docherty and Declan McDaid to make way for Nicky Cadden and their captain, former Par, Steven Bell.
Ian McCall warned in his programme notes that there was too much at stake for Ayr to play the free flowing football for which they had become renowned. The 130-years-old Somerset Park might only have 1500 seats but the SPFL have given the ground the green light for Premiership football. The 10000 seated capacity rule that deprived Falkirk of promotion in 2003 and saw Inverness and Gretna have to ground share with rival clubs when their stadiums fell short of the required seats was relaxed to 6000 in 2004 and removed altogether in 2013.
An accident on M8 in Glasgow delayed the arrival of the team bus, fans and several opposition players but it was the visitors in red shirts and black shorts who kicked off on a disappointingly dreich and cool day in Ayrshire. Ryan Williamson was listed as a sub but started in place of Jackson Longridge.
Ayr were presented with the first chance of the match in fourth minute. A Moffat switch across field for Liam Smith saw the ball taken up the right and when the cross was only half cleared the chance fell to Lawrence Shankland who blasted his effort narrowly over the bar from 14 yards out.
The Pars made their first chance four minutes later when Aidan Connolly trapped the ball on the left side of the Ayr box to cut back for James Vincent but since he was back to goal, he in turn laid it off to Ryan Blair on the 18 yard line but his shot was wayward.
Two minutes later Connolly slipped the ball to Blair on the left and he pinged it through the six yard box with both Bruce Anderson and Vincent getting close to getting the necessary touch. A corner ensued and before Ayr could clear Anderson almost slipped the ball in at the left post but keeper Ross Doohan smothered it.
Moffat forced a 17th minute corner and when Cadden delivered from the left it was Craigen who dispossessed Aaron Muirhead to end the threat. Five minutes later a Smith cross was deflected behind by Lee Ashcroft and at the resultant corner Moffat headed the ball over the crossbar.
Ayr were enjoying this period of possession and the Fifers were being kept well away from Doohanâ€™s goal. A 27th minute free kick in the centre circle let Blair pump the ball in the direction of Danny Devine on the right side of the Ayr box. He was not able to get a clean touch on it but Joe Thomson latched on to the second ball to send a screamer over Doohanâ€™s crossbar from 15 yards out.
Back came Ayr, Cadden crossed from the right and with the ball bouncing uncomfortably around the Fifers box Scully denied Murdoch from close in. Next it was Ashcroft to head away a Daniel Harvey delivery and then Devine blocking another Harvey cross.
At the other end Blairâ€™s pass to Thomson was teed up for Anderson to try an overhead kick in 35 minutes but his direction was wrong. Scully came out clutch the second of Caddenâ€™s 37th minute corners from the right but play was quickly back towards him with Smith drilling an effort narrowly wide.
Connolly took some of the pressure off, testing Doohan with a low 41st minute shot. It was the sixth one of the half for the visitors to Ayrâ€™s five but the first half stats would read 58% to the home side who had forced five corners to the Pars one.
Half time: Ayr United 0 Dunfermline 0
With Partick two up at half time to league leaders, Ayr would have registered the opportunity to regain the top spot. Dunfermline with Alloa and Thistle winning would have noted the difference a win would make.
Moffat got the second half underway but within 14 seconds Anderson had Doohan diving at his feet. Cadden forced a 50th minute corner as again the visiting defence was put under pressure. From Caddenâ€™s corner on the right, Moffat flicked the ball on but Rose drove his attempt into the ruck of defenders.
In 54 minutes Andy Murdochâ€™s tenacity fed the ball on to Shankland who in turn picked out Cadden on the right for a shot on the angle that Scully held. Thomson, Vincent and then a Beadling tried to create danger with crosses into the box but Ayrâ€™s defence did its job.
Back at the other end Cadden popped up on the left to fire across a ball that Scully bravely took out ahead of Shankland. For all Ayrâ€™s pressure Dunfermline could have taken a 61st minute lead when Connolly connected with a low Thomson ball in from the right. The Pars man met the ball at the near post but somehow Doohan kept it out.
That and a potential breakaway by Anderson raised the stakes with the home fans becoming increasingly anxious for a win. Louis Longridge replaced Aidan Connolly and the pressure continued to be exerted on the Honest Men. When Williamson cut back was handled by Michael Rose, referee David Munro awarded a 71st minute spot kick. LONGRIDGE stepped up and scored netting on the right side with the keeper going the other way. 0-1
Tom Beadling shot narrowly wide as Dunfermline continued to look the better side. The Ayr fans encouraged their team to fight back but the Pars continued to look the more likely. Anderson was blocked by Muirhead on the edge of the Ayr box but was yellow carded for the incident. That was his final involvement as Myles Hippolyte replaced him with nine minutes remaining.
When Craigen was penalised in 85 minute Ayr sub Calvin Miller launched in the free kick and from the posse of Ayr men attacking the ball it was headed narrowly wide right. Two minutes later Craigen again impeded Miller on the right, the Pars man was shown a yellow card and Miller sent another dangerous ball into the visitors box with Shankland this time crashing his connection over Scullyâ€™s crossbar.
It had been a superb second half performance from Stevie Crawfordâ€™s men to record back to back wins against top four teams. The win coupled with results elsewhere lifted Dunfermline to fifth place.
AYR UNITED: Ross Doohan: Liam Smith, Michael Rose, Aaron Muirhead, Daniel Harvie: Nicky Cadden (Declan McDaid 69), Steven Bell (c) (Jamie Adams 79), Andy Murdoch, Robbie Crawford (Calvin Miller 69): Michael Moffat, Lawrence Shankland.
SUBS NOT USED: Ross Docherty, Chris Higgins, Mark Kerr, Ellis Hare-Reid (GK).
DUNFERMLINE: Ryan Scully: Ryan Williamson, Lee Ashcroft (c), Danny Devine, James Craigen: Tom Beadling: James Vincent, Joe Thomson, Ryan Blair: Aidan Connolly (Louis Longridge 66), Bruce Anderson (Myles Hippolyte 82).
SUBS NOT USED: Kallum Higginbotham, Mark Durnan, Matthew Todd, Cammy Gill (GK)
SCORERS: Longridge (71 pen.)
YELLOW CARD: Anderson (81), Craigen (87)
REFEREE: David Munro
WEATHER: Cloudy 12C
NEXT MATCH: Ladbrokes Championship (home) v Partick Thistle Tuesday 26th February 2019, 7.45pm kick off at East End Park