Selfless Malcolm a great assist for United

Striker Craig Malcolm currently finds himself out of the Ayr United first team, having lost his place to Kevin Kyle. The summer signing from Stranraer – who scored 48 goals in 112 appearances for the Stair Park club and netted 18 times in the Second Division last season – started the season in decent form, forming a promising partnership with Michael Moffat but struggled to find the net, scoring twice in 10 starts. At times, the 26 year-old’s finishing has been poor and he has squandered a number of very presentable opportunities, most notably against Airdrieonians at Brechin City home.

Malcolm celebrates his only league goal this season 
Yet, Malcolm can consider himself unlucky. His contribution to the side as a foil for Michael Moffat and his general hardworking attitude have perhaps gone unnoticed. This is reflected in the fact that Malcolm tops the assists chart at Somerset Park, with five. The first four of these assists have much in common. Malcolm has received the ball in the box with his back to goal, under close scrutiny for opposition defenders, and laid the ball off to a team mate who has scored. The best example of this is Mark Roberts’s goal at Stenhousemuir but Malcolm has also played a part in Alan Forrest’s winner at Hampden (where he played a 1-2 with the young forward); Michael McGowan’s strike at Stranraer and Michael Moffat’s opener against Brechin.

(Malcolm’s fifth assist came against East Fife, when he was able to get on the wrong side of his opposite number, collect a throw-in and square to Michael Donald to score Ayr’s forth of the match).

At times it has been difficult to imagine how Malcolm scored 18 league goals last season, in what was after all a fairly limited Stranraer side. He does not look to be a natural finisher, often snatching at chances and displaying a lack of composure; he does not have great pace or composure on the ball and he isn’t dominant in the air. Yet, the statistics speak for themselves and what is clear is that Malcolm played an important role in the side up until the arrival of Kyle, and his hold-up play and unselfishness was profitable to the side’s fortunes. United have often been criticised for a reluctance to shot, yet in Malcolm have a player who creates shooting opportunities for his team mates.

The opportunity to sign Kevin Kyle looks to be one Mark Roberts will not regret. Replacing Malcolm in the team for the visit of Rangers – after, it has to be said, two uninspiring substitute appearances as a trialist – he has gone on to play an important part in the side’s latest two victories, providing an exquisite assist for Scott McLaughlin at East Fife with the skipper returning the favour the following week, swinging in an inch perfect corner from which Kyle opened his account against Arbroath. With the former Sunderland and Hearts striker’s fitness increasing with each game (Kyle is visibly slimmer than he was a month ago), he brings a gravitas and physicality to the side that Malcolm simply doesn’t posses. Kyle is comfortable in taking the lead role in the side, however, arguably hasn’t yet fully integrated with his team-mates. His partnership with Moffat especially appears to still require some fine-tuning.

Kyle brings a new, albeit sometimes primitive, dimension to United’s play which has been effective but Malcolm’s contribution should not be overlooked. Hopefully Malcolm will continue to apply himself (he has two goals in three games for the Reserves) and does not become too downhearted by his absence from the starting XI. With Kyle’s injury record – and the fact his deal is up in mid-January – it is likely Malcolm will return to the team, a fact United fans should not be disheartened about.

Assists – 2013/14 (all competitions)

Malcolm 5
McLaughlin 4
Donald 3
McGowan 2
Campbell 1
Roberts 1
Kyle 1

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