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.
Another factor in Ayr’s struggle is leadership to aid in the young players development. No one commands the defence and no one really shouts on the pitch and tell the youngsters what to do when they are in a situation in where they need an experienced head for guidance. Only three clean sheets have been kept all season. The bottom line is Ayr are far too brittle.
A major issue with the young Ayr team is confidence. As soon as something goes wrong they panic. The much craved attractive passing game that the Somerset faithful were offered by Roberts at the start of the season turns into an ugly long ball down the wing when the going gets tough. In a division like this steel, commitment and determination are attributes also required to succeed as well as talent.
2012 was definitive in being a failed push to preserve Ayr’s status as a Division 1 club. 2013 will be definitive in whether the Ayr United Football Academy was money well spent or not.