By Blair McNally
Ayr United advanced to the last 16 of the League Cup after a 1-1 draw with Stranraer, progression settled from 12 yards out.
Stranraer came into the game full of confidence as they looked to build on their shock 2-1 victory over Hamilton in midweek. With a place in the knockout stages of the League Cup at stake, this was sure to be a battle for west coast bragging rights.
There was to be a bizarre start to the game as Andy Stirling was replaced by Darryl Duffy, minutes before kick-off, due to a tweak in the warm-up. The late Stranraer replacement made an instant impact as he took less than 60 seconds to break the deadlock. An excellent passage of play from the off found Duffy, who dummied in the box and latched on to the return pass, finishing calmly into the bottom left corner.
Centre-half Jack Baird came close to levelling soon after. A Joe Chalmers cross found him a level above everyone in the box as his proceeding header bounced off the upright.
A thriving Stranraer side had the chance to take a two-goal lead after 10 minutes. Left back, Michael Hewitt, was found the wrong side of an advancing Ruari Paton, leaving him no option but to bring him down in the box. Goal scorer Duffy stepped up and his penalty scraped the top left of the bar, handing The Honest Men a lifeline.
Just before half-time Ayr were nearly level. Luke McCowan was found free on the left-hand side. His cross met the head of Bruce Anderson, incredibly denied by the strong hand of Greg Fleming.
Minutes into the second half Ayr found themselves level through a controversial equaliser. The ball made its way to McCowan, yards behind the Stranraer defence, leaving him to round the keeper and pass into an empty net, much to the dismay of a furious Stranraer side.
In the 64th minute, scorer Duffy had the chance to put Stranraer back ahead, this time from a corner. A looping corner was left hanging in the air and to Duffy’s surprise his reactions were not quick enough to head into an empty net, as he glanced over from six yards.
With 10 minutes left, home player-manager Mark Kerr decided it was time to change things up as the game stayed level, subbing himself on for a more attacking approach.
After both sides failed to captialise on great chances, the winner of the group was decided by a penalty shootout at the Somerset Road End. Ayr would be the ones to advance to the last 16 with a 6-5 victory after Thomas Orr blasted high and wide for Stranraer, leaving him head in hands. As Ayr progress, here are three things we learned.
After a slow start to the season following a gut-wrenching relegation to League Two, The Blues are finally picking up the pace with big performances against top tier teams, such as Hamilton and Ayr, in the space of a week.
There was very little evidence to suggest who the part-time team was at Somerset Park as both outfits went toe-to-toe, each having their fair share of chances.
Ayr missing star men
Missing summer signings Tom Walsh and Cammy Smith, it was evident Ayr lacked any real quality in a game they were expected to win comfortably against part-time Stranraer.
Losing the likes of Daniel Harvie, Ross Docherty and Alan Forrest in the summer was also going to provide replacement challenges as Kerr looks for his best XI.
Attackers need a boost
The Honest Men boss has been open about his side’s need to take chances at crucial stages in matches recently. But that alluded him against the League Two side as he was left frustrated.
It didn’t click for Kerr in attack but with talents like Dario Zanatta, Bruce Anderson and Smith to call upon when at full tilt, there’s definitely room for attacking improvement.