Very superstitious... but writing not yet on the wall

If you were to list Brian Reid's top managerial attributes its unlikely that 'tactical nous' would be top of the list. That's not to say he is a bad manager but like Mike Bassett, England Manager its a strict "four, four, f**king two" as far as Reid is concerned.

In an age where live football from across the globe is available 24/7, managers line up their 10 outfield players in all manner of formations and where a whole new generation of experts (no, not your Hansens, Lawrensons and Shearers on the Match of the Day sofa) are blogging about false No. 9s and dissecting the finest detail of the game, supporters now more than ever are armed with the knowledge (or think they are) to question the tactical status quo. Added to the minor idiosyncrasies of Ayr United under Reid; the endless goals conceded from crosses, an inability to retain possession at throw ins and the incessant quick free-kick routines that squander possession and territory endlessly and it suggests a manager unwilling - or unable - to adapt and, perhaps, tactically naive?

So, it was something of a departure, although not entirely alien, that Brian Reid lined his side up with just one up front for the League Cup visit of SPL side Hearts last Wednesday. That one, Gareth Wardlaw, led the line masterfully, harrying the Jambo's defence, winning the ball in the air, holding it up. Supported by Alan Trouten, as the forwardmost midfielder in a central three and, when they could, widemen Michael Moffat and Michael McGowan, it was an approach that succeeded ultimately. Ayr saw the best of Wardlaw, and perhaps also Trouten, with the former's perseverance leading to the Honest Men's equaliser, as he pounced on a mistake by Zaliukis.

The formation of 451 (or 4411) suited Ayr's game plan in a match where they were generally expected to lose. Hearts passing game in the middle of the park was disrupted, and their back four were often left without an easy short ball, leading to them increasingly having to look long and losing possession as Ayr's back line, in particular Chris Smith, dealt with the largely impotent John Sutton (Cuthburt's fingertip save down to his left in the first half apart).

Initially, things did look ominous. In the 30 minutes or so Ayr couldn't get out of their half. Pinned back by Hearts and the conditions, with their wide men Novikovas and Templeton threatening, there was no out ball and Wardlaw cut a distant figure. However, as United grew in confidence, spurred by a fine defensive performance from Jonathan Tiffoney in the right full back slot, the plan started to work. Wardlaw was holding the long(er) ball up to him, hassling and harrying - Moffat, McGowan and Trouten were providing support while McKernan and Geggan ensured Ayr remained solid in front of the back four.  That provided the platform for a performance full of effort and endeavour which more than matched their SPL opponents, a few of whom (Rudi Skacel) looked like they'd rather be anywhere than a rain lashed Somerset Park.  Add to that some good fortune in Hearts' disallowed goal and Zaliukis' slip and the Honest Men deserved their spot kick win, not least for the composure in which the penalties were dispatched.  When Marko stepped up for number four there was little doubt the old ground would be witnessing another famous 'shock'.

Fast forward to Saturday and the visit of Queen of the South. Two points adrift of four teams - including Queens - on seven points at the foot of the table there was a sense this was a 'must win' game. Or at least a 'must not lose'. Getting cut adrift at the foot of the table this early season would be ominous not to mention harsh given the player's endeavour and performances so far.  Gus McPherson's side came into the game having beaten the First Division league leaders in consecutive weeks at Palmerston, including a 4-1 thumping of Greenock Morton just seven days on from Morton inflicting the same result on United. However, Ayrshire rivals Kilmarnock had done Ayr a favour as they demolished Queens 5-0 at Rugby Park a day prior to Ayr's cup heroics. For 60 minutes the Dumfries side - down to 10 men following the sending-off of striker Kevin Smith for an elbow on Leon Panikvar - had been given the run-a-round on a moral sapping evening. Despite conceding 8 goals in two games and slumping to the bottom of the league it was Ayr that went into the game on a high.

Ayr United were without Wednesday's one man up front Gareth Wardlaw with a knee injury but despite lacking an obvious like-for-like replacement Brian Reid decided again to line up 451. Reid is known to be a superstitious manager.  From the combination of black or white shirts, shorts and socks, to his place in the Stand for the Ramsdens Cup run this season, if it worked in the previous game Reid will seek to keep everything the same the following week. But tactically? With a key component of the game plan unavailable?   Ultimately, Ayr earned three important points - but only after a struggle - and Roddy Paterson joining Wardlaw's replacement Mark Roberts up front and United reverting to 442.

This isn't a traditionalist 'you must play two up front at home' concern. Or based on a misunderstanding that one up front is necessarily defensive, but an observation that without Wardlaw, we simply don't have the personnel to go one up front. Sure, Mark Roberts has the clever feet and experience - but he doesn't have the physicality to plough the lone furrow on his own. Against a centre-half partnership of Mark Campbell and Ryan McGuffie it was always going to be a tough ask.

I've no doubt that a departure from 442 to more defensive formation - like we did against Hearts - can serve United well this season, especially on the road.  Indeed, at Dundee, it was notable that Mark Roberts was playing a deeper role, although again a lack of mobility saw him almost stranded between the midfield and Wardlaw up-front at times. But it has to be applied on the basis of the opposition and the players at Brian Reid's disposal - not what worked well last time out.  Another end of season collapse, with Brian Reid floundering for a formula that works, will see the writing on the wall for his managerial career.  Reid's tactics need to start convincing.

Meanwhile, here's Stevie Wonder...

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