THERE was an air of optimism around the Ayr United faithful when tickets were released for the big money spinning clash with Rangers two and a half weeks ago.
Unbeaten Ayr had recently earned two hard fought draws away to Stenhousemuir before gaining a point with nine men at home to Airdrieonians. The 2-2 draw with Brechin was seen as an opportunity missed and a slip up after allowing the visitors back into the game from 2-0 and a man down to steal a point.
It was a reminder to never let the foot off the throat of an opponent at this level but if we learn this lesson for the rest of the season then its points worth dropping. Optimism still intact for the next home clash which would be Rangers, but a trip to Dunfermline beforehand would be daunting and would ultimately end in disaster.
Ayr took the lead inside seventy seconds but Dunfermline ran riot thereafter and won 5-1 comfortably.
It was a poor display that was punished ruthlessly and the uncomfortable performance unfolding in-front of my eyes at East End Park wasn’t helped by the constant goal alerts coming from Ibrox in Rangers 8-0 thrashing of Stenhousemuir, a team who have hugely impressed this season.
TO say this has been a long hard season for Ayr United is an understatement. Early exits in all cup competitions and a seventh place finish in the third tier of Scottish football is a massive disappointment.
Crowds started the season at the average 1100-1200 per home game and then faltered to roughly 800-900 at the end of the season. A fifth of Ayr’s support walked in disapproval by the end of the season. Though even the lowest attendances at Somerset Park were enough to have the second biggest crowd behind Queen of the South this season.
Many have deemed this season as the worst ever and supporters of a certain vintage relate to this poor season to the dark days of the 1980s.
Back then the Honest Men flirted between the third and second tier and it is a predicament Ayr are trapped in now but this season Ayr have fallen further back. Despite having a high budget for the division and a fundraising effort in January to lure four high profile players to Somerset Park did not change the fortunes of the club.
Brian Reid’s first season in charge yielded a seventh place finish in Division Two. The following year Ayr gained promotion. The hope amongst the Ayr faithful is that Mark Roberts can overcome his hard birth in football management and learn from his mistakes like his predecessor did.
IF time isn’t running out for Mark Roberts as Ayr United manager then patience amongst the fans is wearing thin. Ayr continue to toil in Division Two despite heavily investing in their squad at the end of January. Players with top flight experience were brought to Somerset Park in the shape of Neil McGregor, Graeme Smith and Liam Buchanan on loan and Chris Smith, a fans favourite from last season, was also prised back in a bid to save our season.
Ayr sit seventh in the league and six points adrift of a promotion play-off and the same points margin separates the Honest Men from a relegation play-off place. If that isn’t the definition of “mid-table mediocrity” then I don’t know what is. The real concern is that with resources we have failed to improve from when we didn’t at the start of the season. Ayr have only managed three wins since late January with these new players.
On paper, Ayr are in a false position but watching them all season on the playing field it is difficult to argue that Ayr’s play merits a higher league position. We have players at our disposal who have played in the SPL as recently as last season and they simply have not delivered. Our current defence has 1000 SPL appearances between them but can’t mark at corners and are too brittle when things go wrong. Ayr have thrown away a staggering 28 points from winning positions this season. The majority of this is down to receding into a shell as soon as something goes wrong.
When Ayr concede regardless of the circumstance their confidence evaporates and instead of playing football they retreat to a defensive shell, sit too deep and invite opponents on to them. Fans must accept that the club are undergoing a transition period but the standard of football and results this season have not been good enough. The winter splurge on tightening our defence has failed to work and if results continue to be negative more questions of Mark Roberts will arise with his selection and tactics.
As the Scottish FA and the PFA launch their “biggest-ever” survey of professional footballers into the use of artificial surfaces, is it time more clubs opted to have a 3G pitch rather than a grass pitch?
Ayr United have mulled over the possibility of changing the surface of Somerset Park from grass to 3G and although there are many people who have reservations of 3G it’s becoming a very logical solution to many problems that SFL clubs face. Firstly, it would restrict fixture backlog. Ayr’s last home game was back in January 2 and have played four away matches in a row. No gate money has been generated for 6 weeks and match-days create the vast majority of money for part-time teams. 3G surfaces would reduce the number of call-offs in the winter and allow the club to operate more comfortably in the winter months.
With the Scottish Football League voting whether or not to accept league reconstruction on Thursday, Ayr United finally made their position clear. Chairman, Lachlan Cameron announced his intention to reject a new 12-12-18 format because it is designed to be implemented next season.
On the Facebook page he set up last week solely for Ayr United fans to address their concerns he revealed that he isn’t a fan of the new proposals and ideally he’d prefer a larger top tier.
However, he admitted that if 12-12-18 ended up being the only way to get the SFL and SPL rolled into a single governing body then it would have to be considered. This makes me wonder about the outcome of Thursday’s vote. Will other clubs push it through providing it is set up for 2014/15 season?
Cameron insisted he would reject any proposal designed for next season as it isn’t fair and clubs would not have time to adjust. Obviously Cameron’s view needs to be echoed by the directors for Thursday’s vote but it looks like the Honest Men are set to vote no.
By Calum McClurkin:
Last week I highlighted why Ayr United are toiling in Division 2 and generally struggled for results in 2012, but 2013 already looks a bit brighter for the Honest Men. 2012 was a year to forget but a year which provided a few glimmers of optimism that the squad can take into this year. The dressing room remains a positive place which may surprise a few given how young the squad are and how many times their confidence may have been bashed. They believe in their own ability but don’t show it often enough.
Despite having a completely new squad, Ayr have underachieved but things are looking up. Ayr’s match was postponed this week at home to Stenhousemuir and every Ayr player was bitterly disappointed that the match was off. The manager requested the inspection to be delayed and encouraged the referee to give the game every chance but Somerset Park failed the 30 minute inspection. It’s encouraging to see the players are keen to play despite being in bad form. It would have been easy to shy away and breathe a sigh of relief that their bad form couldn’t continue for another week.
It’s clear that Ayr United can play some wonderful passing football. Many fans who witnessed the 3-0 dismantling of Brechin City with 10 men and the first half display at home to East Fife know that when it clicks it’s devastating. The clear talent and ability in the team has only compounded fans frustration in our league position. Mark Roberts knows how good his side can be. Talking them up every week but failing to deliver.
Different individuals have taken centre stage at Somerset Park at different times of the season. First of all, midfielder David Sinclair scored 4 goals in the first 3 games of the season, then striker Michael Moffat stepped up and bagged 9 goals in 7 games and now 18 year old midfielder Robbie Crawford has put in some excellent performances. His improvement has been staggering since stepping up from amateur level with Glenburn Amateurs only 6 months ago.
By Calum McClurkin:
This time last year Ayr United fans were relishing a semi final clash against bitter rivals Kilmarnock in the Scottish League Cup, after knocking out three SPL sides en-route to their first semi final in ten years. In addition, they had a Scottish Cup quarter final clash with Hibs to look forward to.
Fast forward twelve months and the Honest Men languish in 8th place in a division they were relegated into last season. Mix in the two afore mentioned cup defeats and a 2012 which started with so much promise ended with the club licking its wounds.
So why have Ayr struggled so much this season? Well, it’s wholly due to being in transition. In the past four seasons under Brian Reid, Ayr floated in between Division 1 and 2 trying to establish themselves in Division 1 but fell short. This season Ayr United had changed direction and are playing catch up to many sides that have already turned to their respective youth systems.
Reid’s policy was to dip into the loan market and obtain an experienced team. Under Mark Roberts the money simply isn’t there to buy in the same amount of experienced players and the club rightly tasked him to bring in some youth players from a heavily invested youth academy. The average age of Ayr’s side last season was 31, now its 23. Only Michael Moffat remains as a regular starter from last season.
Ayr were in action at Hampden just over a year ago. Photo by Gary McLaughlin
However, despite a monumental squad overhaul and a complete change of direction Ayr have found it tougher than anticipated in getting results during this huge transition period. Roberts has been outspoken in the team’s ability but most of the team are very young and inexperienced. Ayr have thrown away 16 points from winning positions (the most notable when throwing away a 2-0 lead at home to East Fife and losing 3-2) and have only won away from home twice all season. Failing to close matches out from winning positions shows also shows that young players need time to develop as well as showing maturity and nous to see out games like the East Fife but there lies a responsibility on experienced members of the team like Austin McCann, Marc Twaddle and John Robertson to help them with that.