Scottish Title Winners Ross County Heap Pain on Relegation-Haunted Ayr United
In the beginning, there was applause.
At the end, there were boos.
In the middle, there were just groans of despair!
Ayr's recent run of poor form has seen them drop into such a precarious position at the bottom end of the Scottish First Division that even the most fervent of their supporters fail to see how the club can climb out and away to safety.
Things weren't helped by the visitation of newly-crowned title winners Ross County to Somerset Park as the Ayrshire side fight for their lives at the wrong end of what has proved to be an extremely tough and tightly-packed league season.
Respect where respect was due though, as prior to kickoff, the Ayr players lined the edge of the tunnel to clap their opponents onto the field, with County taking the plaudits they have earned in their run to the title with five matches remaining.
The match started with an upside-down feeling to it though, as the home side were dominating their Highland counterparts for the early stages of the game. But for all their pressure and goalmouth action, they failed to break the deadlock—and perhaps that shows why they are at the wrong end of the table fighting for survival instead of at the top fighting for promotion.
Ayr's Michael McGowan was in tremendous form, sweeping in countless crosses from the left that constantly went unmet in the middle—which Ayr were to rue as the game carried on.
Ross County thought they had opened the scoring at 24 minutes when a shot from Paul Lawson nestled nicely in the corner of the goal, but the linesman on the right noticed that the ball had been deflected goalward via an offside County attacker, so it was ruled out. From our viewpoint, had the ball gone untouched it was heading towards the goal anyway, so it might have counted without the touch.
The offside non-goal seemed to spark the visitors into action and they started to push into the match with more vigour as the teams headed towards the halftime break. However, the half ended goalless—not that the large travelling support minded much, as they celebrated their promotion by dancing the conga and pogo with scant regard for the action on the field.
The second half took merely moments to spark into life, as Ross County found themselves on the end of a fortuitous gift from Ayr's defence. After Chris Smith appeared to deflect the ball from the grasp of keeper Kevin Cuthbert's normally safe hands and into the path of an unmarked Michael Gardyne, the County midfielder fired low into an open net to give his side an early second half lead.
It was a calamitous start to the half for Ayr, who know that every point counts as they try to stave off relegation.
16 minutes into the half, both sides decided it was time to bring the woodwork into play. Ayr's Malone first drifted a cross into the area only to see his effort bounce back from striking the face of the crossbar.
Secondly, County's Iain Vigurs fired through a tremendous bullet-like strike that was only kept from bursting through the net by the right hand post that must still be shaking in fear of another thunderbolt from the striker.
Next, woodwork was required for Alan Trouten of Ayr in the 64th minute, though he guided his low shot home to equalize the scoring at 1-1.
This scoreline wasn't to remain this way long, as Ross County added another only four minutes later. Paul Lawson swung in a superbly weighted cross for Colin McMenamin, who accurately headed it home for a 2-1 lead.
Five minutes prior to the end, Sammy Morrow added a third for the visiting team after receiving a square ball from Steven Craig to end Ayr's diminishing hopes, and subsequently gave the new Championship winners another three points.
With only three points separating the bottom three with four games remaining, it looks like it's going to the wire for Ayr United.
Ross County have other problems on their mind, like how quickly their celebratory party can begin.
Marc Roseblade is a Contributor for Bleacher Report & NotJustScottishFootball, he works as PR for Ayr United Football Academy & Galveston Pirate Soccer Club who play in the NPSL in Texas, USA. All quotes are obtained first-hand unless otherwise stated. You can follow Marc @myscottishfitba
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