May 25th 2005. The Champions League Final. The Atatürk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul. Liverpool turn round Milan's three goal advantage in the space of only six second-half minutes on the way to fifth European Cup. Nothing about Ayr United's Scottish Cup 5th Round victory over Falkirk on Wednesday night quite matched the scale of that occasion, but the comeback was certainly of similarly unlikely proportions.
Falkirk started the game like a train. The first 20 minutes or so was perhaps the finest display I've seen in the First Division. The Bairns were passing and moving at lightning speed and Ayr were chasing shadows. After six minutes, sixteen year-old Craig Sibbald ran at Tiffoney, passed the ball back to Willie Gibson who laid it off to left-back Tam Scobbie. His deep cross into the box found 19 year-old Blair Alston - given too much room by the returning Martyn Campbell sixteen yards out - and the youngster looped an unstoppable header right into Cuthbert's top right hand corner. Even at this stage I thought the game could well be over.
|1-0 after six minutes and it looked like game over|
Minutes later and an out-of-sorts Jonathan Tiffoney gave the ball away to Sibbald who's cross found the dangerous Moroccan Farid El Allagui six yards out but he was unable to steer the ball goalwards. This was ominous. It wasn't a case of Ayr sitting back, defending, standing off even - something that appears to becoming clichéd accepted opinion of Brian Reid's team following the League Cup semi-final. Ayr just simply could not get the ball from the visitors.
So, when Andy Geggan forced home an equaliser 13 minutes later there was a huge sense of relief. "OK, we might not get hammered here". Influential in the build up to the goal was Micheal Moffat. Restored to undoubtedly his best position up front, Moff took in a throw in from Eddie Malone, jinked and played the ball into Adam Dodd at an acute angle on the box. Dodd rocketed the ball against the cross bar, the ball may have crossed the line, but Geggan made sure.
That knock put Steven Pressley's team out their stride just enough. There was a penalty claim as Sibbald went down in the box but Malone hadn't done enough for referee Crawford Allan to point to the spot. I've seen the Falkirk youngster go down easily before, perhaps so has Allan. Falkirk were still on top, but quite as much as on top as previously.
At half-time it was level and Brian Reid did his best Rafa Benítez. Playing on his 27th birthday Micheal Moffat was playing like a man determined to prove Reid has been wrong to leave him stranded on the left of midfield. Not that some of his best plays didn't come out wide. Moments into the second-half, Moff received a ball up the left touchline, turned Darren Dods and accelerated away from the veteran defender and bore down towards the Somerset Road End in an exhilarating display of individual skill and pace. The stramash that ensued ended in Ayr's first penalty appeal of the night but signalled The Honest Men's intent and an intensity that wasn't to give up for the remainder of the game.
Instrumental in United's remarkable revival in the second-half was the introduction of Micheal McGowan for Alan Trouten on 51 minutes, Trouten's troublesome hamstring again playing up. The front four of Dodd, Moffat, Roberts and McGowan were pressing high up the pitch, right on top of the Falkirk defence. In the centre of the park Geggan and the impressive Tomsett were sweeping up, making it difficult for the Bairns to pass their way out their own half.
Just 5 minutes after his introduction, McGowan had created what was to prove the winning goal. Receiving his own throw back from the always available Tomsett on the left he made for the touchline. After getting the better of highly rated Falkirk right-back Keiran Duffie, McGowan crossed into a packed penalty box where the experienced Dods inexplicably handled. The same-aged Mark Roberts showed significantly more composure, making no mistake from the spot. Falkirk keeper Micheal McGovern didn't even move.
United didn't give up. They continued to press and harass. Falkirk were forced to go long and were clearly rattled by the home team's intensity. McGowan continued to run at Dark Blue shirts. Unlike for most of the season, however, the former Clyde winger was passing one, two, more men and the delivering. ''If he played like this every week, he'd be playing for Man City'' one North Terracing observer noted.
There was a third penalty shout as McGowan tricked his way into the box and struck the ball at Huddersfield-bound Murray Wallace. Another move down the right brought a shot which McGovern appeared to carry over the line. Yet another presented Andy Geggan with a guilt edged chance at the back post he could only cushion against the post. Breathtaking.
There is no doubt Ayr deserved this win. Steven Pressley threw on two giants up front at the death to supplement El Allagui but that simply isn't Falkirk game, even against a makeshift defence following Martyn Campbell's injury.
Ayr's remarkable unbeaten midweek cup run was extended to eight games in a performance that bodes well for the remainder of the league season. The final 45 minutes was perhaps the best football Ayr have played all season. The addition of Blackpool loan-duo Adam Dodd and Liam Tomsett as added a better balance to the side with a natural left sided midfielder and a real impressive operator in the centre of the park in Tomsett. The 18 year old has all the energy of Steve Bowey but vitally also a composure on the ball that could see him play an important part in Ayr's survival hopes.
Those survival hopes are unlikely to be given much of a boost later today (Saturday) as the Honest Men take on league leaders Ross County at Victoria Park, where the Staggies are yet to lose in the league this season. Injuries to John Robertson and Martyn Campbell will necessitate a reshuffle at the back meaning even bookmakers odds of 9/1 (or better) may be generous. But Ayr need to start picking up league points sometime and there would be no better place than at the home of the Champions-elect. Relegation rivals Raith Rovers and Queen of the South have both earned a point against County in recent weeks, albeit at home. A win for Ayr would send a strong message to Kirkcaldy and Dumfries. The side proved on Wednesday night they have it within them.