By Calum McCrindle
St Johnstone saw off a spirited Ayr United down in Ayrshire as they progressed to the last eight of the Scottish Cup with a 2-1 win.
Ayr started brightly, creating a couple of openings inside the first minute and it didn’t take long for them to break the deadlock. Alan Forrest found space on the left, and slid the ball into the middle for Grant Gillespie, who found Aaron Drinan.
With only the keeper to beat, Drinan calmly rolled a shot past Zander Clark to put the Honest Men 1-0 up inside five minutes. St Johnstone struggled for creativity in the opening minutes with the best of their attacking play coming from speedy winger, Drey Wright.
St Johnstone were back in the game shortly after through an own goal from Aaron Muirhead with his afternoon getting significantly worse a short while later.
Booked for a late tackle minutes after the Saints equaliser, Muirhead launched into another hefty challenge and left his opponent in a heap. Referee Steven Mclean was left with no option and Muirhead received his marching orders just before the half hour mark.
The Honest Men’s misery was compounded a short while after. Callum Hendry, who was causing problems in the box, poked a header past Ross Doohan in the Ayr United goal to put the Perthshire side 2-1 up.
The stormy weather arrived shortly after the break with the wind and rain lashing down onto the Somerset Park pitch. Both sides struggled with the flight of the ball resulting in constant turnovers in possession in the early moments of the second half.
Ayr ultimately couldn’t muster much in an attacking sense in the second half. A man down and with the wind wreaking havoc with any ball played two feet off the ground, they slumped to a defeat.
St Johnstone will head back to Perth knowing they’re still in with a chance of winning the cup this season. Here are three things we learned.
St Johnstone on the up
It hasn’t been plain sailing for Tommy Wright and his side this season. A miserable start in the league compounded with a leaky defence left the Saints toiling at the bottom of the table but a recent run of results has eased the pressure on Wright.
A win against Kilmarnock, a draw against Hearts and a smash-and-grab win at Pittodrie has seen St Johnstone climb up from the bottom and they now sit eighth.
Progressing to the last eight of the cup will have boosted morale in the dressing room and the Saints will be looking to kick on their season from here.
Ayr’s focus turns to the league
A disappointing defeat in the cup may have the Honest Men ruing what could’ve been but exiting the cup could be a blessing in disguise. The Ayrshire side have been guilty of dropping points against teams they shouldn’t have in the Championship this season.
The race for the play-offs is heating up in the second tier, with second placed Inverness Caledonian Thistle closer in points to ninth placed Alloa than they are to runaway leaders Dundee United.
Ayr will need to maintain their league form if they want to have any hope of reaching the Premiership next season.
Forrest still has a point to prove
Forrest will move on to Livingston in the summer. His tussle with St Johnstone may have shown the winger the standard he’ll have to reach next term.
The Ayr starlet was largely marked out of the game by the Saints defenders in the first half and he was brought off with twenty minutes to go to make way for Michael Moffat. Forrest started the game brightly picking out a nice pass inside to set up the goal for Ayr but faded quickly and fell out of the game as time ticked on.