Saturday 6th August - Irn-Bru First Division
Ayr United 1, Hamilton Accies 2
During the summer I almost, almost, took the time to look through AUTV to note down the number of goals we conceded from corners and set pieces last season. Balls into the box that our defence didn't deal with. I didn't but it wasn't a surprise that our Achilles heal should cost us again as First Division football returned to Somerset Park.
It was a game dominated by corners, with sixteen in total, as both sides enjoyed sustained periods of pressure in the other's 18 yard box. Hamilton's Dougie Imrie and United's Michael McGowan provided some quality deliveries but ultimately Hamilton - and 35 year-old 6ft 2in Accies centre-back Mark McLoughlin - were able to capitalise.
Ayr had started well, with Michael McGowan scoring after 8 minutes following a great move involving Roberts and Moffat. But that was undone 20 minutes later when Robertson, otherwise his classy self in the right-back slot, was out jumped by McLaughlin, Cuthbert nowhere having pulled off a full stretch to turn a Hopkirk shot out for the corner. As the half progressed, United were sitting far too deep and allowing Accies to dictate without causing Cuthbert too much concern. Roberts was the front man, with Moffat in a withdrawn role behind meaning Ayr lacked that out ball that could have relieved some pressure.
Into the second-half and it took just 10 minutes for Hamilton to grab what would prove to be the winner. Again McLaughlin got the better of Robertson following what appeared to be a wrestling match in the six yard box. It seemed incomprehensible that a foul hadn't been committed, either on Cuthbert - with the experienced Simon Mensing causing a nuisance on the goal line - or Robertson but referee George Salmond was uninterested. Ayr really lack a physical presence across the whole team to deal with such dangerous set-pieces. Smith, Malone and Geggan may be brave but ultimately we weren't big enough or strong enough to hold out against such a bombardment.
Ayr did have chances to grab an equaliser that on the balance of play would have been deserved. Billy Reid withdrew the influential Crawford and brought on the defensive minded Canning and seemed to settle for what he had, despite United appearing to tire. Brian Reid's men continued to press and Wardlaw, on as a sub should have done better with a ball knocked down to him seven or eight yards out by Campbell; Cerny made a great save from Robertson and perhaps the best chance fell to Trouten. Running on to a great through ball from Geggan, the winger, with space still ahead of him to run into, tamely shot at Cerny.
In the end, it was disappointment at the manner of defeat but some positive signs in the way we competed with a Hamilton side that will be up their challenging at the end of season. The defence, with two competitive clean sheets already under their belts, dealt with Hamilton in open play and the interplay between Moffat, Roberts and the midfield at times showed up well and earned us a great goal.
However a postscript to the game is the injury to Eddie Malone - thankfully not as serious as first feared - which really brings into focus how threadbare Brian Reid's squad is. Further loan deals could be in the offing but it isn't lightweight novices from the SPL U19s we need, notwithstanding Brian Reid's commendable commitment to playing football 'the right way'.
For all Billy Reid's guarantee that Hamilton will play some sublime football this season - with an emphasis on youth - it was two set pieces and an experienced, no-nonsense defence that won them the game. In terms of their playing-style, I was expecting more. Despite being tidy on the ball, young Ali Crawford in particular catching the eye, they certainly didn't outclass United and were not shy to launch it out of defence when required. Its obvious that Accies are missing a striker or two to put away the chances Imrie and co. will create but, with Mensing and McLaughlin in defence - not to mention Cerny between the posts - they will be serious title contenders. Cerny was a £180,000 signing when he joined Accies in 2009 and that tells its own story in the difference between the two sides.
Davie Sargent's Photos
Pie & Bovril