United make a point at Dens

Saturday 13th August - Irn-Bru First Division
Dundee 1, Ayr United 1
The Scotland on Sunday observed that should Ayr United replicate more results like this 1-1 draw at Dens Park “they should have no problems” consolidating their place in the First Division. More than the result, however, it was the performance that confirmed that, on the evidence of United’s start to the season, we should have nothing to fear.

Gareth Wardlaw, Jamie McKernan and Gareth Armstrong kept their places following Tuesday night’s Ramsdens Cup win over Raith Rovers and Alan Trouten, Micheal McGowan, Andy Geggan and Mark Roberts all returned meaning Micheal Moffat (briefly) had to make do with a place on the bench. There was no return for veteran Alex Burke as Reid gambled with an inexperienced looking central midfield duo of McKernan and Geggan but the 19 year old St. Mirren loanee was a more than capable replacement for Burke - who must now wonder what role he’ll play in future weeks - while Geggan (24) put in another assured performance full of action and energy.

The game started with a booking for John Robertson after just 67 seconds, although I have to admit I was still queuing to get into the ground at this point, £19 not sufficient apparently to allow for two turnstile operators. Or even one competent one. (Maybe if Dundee spent less money on antagonistic stewards but enough on that subject). I wasn’t long in my seat when Alan Trouten limped off with a groin injury to be replaced by Michael Moffat but it didn’t take long for Ayr's cult hero to make his mark. A determined burst forward from Geggan resulted in a corner taken by Micheal McGowan on the right. His initial effort was straight at Jake Hyde, but the Dark Blues failed to clear and the ball found its way back to McGowan who sent in an inch perfect cross on to the head of Moffat who opened his account for the season, leaving the 39 year-old Rab Douglas no chance. It was an ‘un-Moffat’ like goal and the sort you would be raging if your side conceded, as the Moff was totally unmarked, just six-yards out.

The Dundee reaction was as you might expect from a team unbeaten in nineteen months at home. Wingers Nicky Riley and Jamie McCluskey played high up the pitch and caused full backs Chris Smith and Gareth Armstrong real trouble, the latter yellow carded after just 16 minutes but the rest of the Dundee attack provided little and a combination of good defending, poor delivery into the box and weak finishing meant Cuthbert wasn’t being over-exerted in the Ayr goal. Although Dundee were on top at this stage, Ayr were battling well and Wardlaw, leading the line on his own with Roberts supplementing the midfield in the deeper role, had an effort chalked off after 25 minutes for a foul on Dundee centre-back Craig McKeown. The big Dundee No. 5 was having a torrid time at the hands of Wardlaw and would have been relieved to hear the referees' whistle but the decision appeared soft.

Dundee’s equaliser did come on the half-hour mark and it was McCluskey who was instrumental with a super out-side of the right foot strike. Given too much space by the United defence, the former St. Mirren man elected to shoot from 20 yards out on the right. Cuthbert may have got a touch on the ball it arced towards the top left corner only to clatter off the crossbar but he, and Armstrong, were powerless to prevent Jake Hyde bundling the ball home from close range. Dundee – and McCluskey – buoyed by the equaliser went in search of another goal before half-time but, as Ayr became a little careless in possession, Campbell, Robertson and Cuthbert remained resolute at the back and the sides went into the break level. 

The second-half developed into a more open, end-to-end affair as both teams enjoyed periods of pressure, interspersed unfortunately with some baffling decisions from referee Stevie O’Reilly. Wardlaw was winning and holding the ball up well, linking up with Moffat - deployed on the left - and Roberts while McGowan, switched to the right to give Armstong some protection on that side, showed some neat skills to beat the experienced Matt Lockwood at left-back a number of times. A long range effort from McKernan on 66 minutes tested Douglas before Ayr had perhaps their best chance ten minutes later. Ross Robertson, on for Wardlaw, broke down the right hand side and into the box but had his effort scrambled away, the follow up from Moffat was smothered by Douglas.

Ayr finished on the back foot as the 4000+ home crowd looked for a winner but it never became real backs-to-the-wall stuff. The Dees’ best chance came as Kevin Cuthbert tipped a Leighton McIntosh shot on to the crossbar and recovered to beat away the rebound, although Riley was offside. Martyn Campbell did have a header from a corner at the opposite end, and a goal would have rounded off another fine performance for Big Bobo but the ball flew inches over. Campbell, along with Robertson and when called upon Cuthbert marshalled those around them and ultimately Dundee lacked the firepower to break United down for a winner that despite what Barry Smith may have said, would have been undeserved on the balance of play and chances created. Ayr had travelled to perhaps the toughest venue in the division and earned their first point of the season.

Prior to the game Micheal McGowan told the Daily Record: "We'll play without pressure because as far as everybody is concerned we are already relegated – so it is up to us to prove them wrong”. There may be no pressure, but there is still a nervousness about the team. Perhaps they need to stop mentioning the 'R' word altogether and approach games with a bit more more positive mental attitude. But hopefully results like this will instil more confidence and belief in the side, and they'll treat teams with a little less respect. Falkirk, an unknown quantity packed full of youngsters, and a Raith side we know we can beat are next up at Somerset providing the perfect opportunity to build on a solid start to the league campaign and ensure we end August well clear of the foot of the table. As McGowan also said: "On our day we're a match for anyone in this league."

The Opposition
Like Hamilton the previous week, Dundee are expected to be challenging for a return to the SPL and like the Accies seemed to lack fire power up-front.  Steven Milne returned from injury but Campbell and Robertson dealt with him comfortably. There was little support from the centre of midfield and the main threat came out wide, from McCluskey and Riley - although they will certainly come up across tougher full backs that Chris Smith and 17 year old Gareth Armstrong.  At the back, too, McKeown never quite looked comfortable. Dundee's success last season came on the back of a sense of injustice and although its still early days a lack of goalscoring threat will be causing concern for Barry Smith.

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