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United must have returned home from Hamilton wondering what might have been if only they had converted more of their chances against their Premiership opponent. The fact that United had not scored before Hamilton got their opener was astonishing to the onlooker.
Ayr were without the injured Tom Walsh and, at the last minute, on-loan striker Bruce Anderson was called up to the Scotland U-21 squad to join defender Patrick Reading. And so, United faced this match down three key players, but their approach to the game belied this.
Early on United created two clear-cut chances against an Accies side that had failed to settle and seemed uncomfortable in all areas of the park.
First, on 3 mins, a Mark McKenzie head flick put Dario Zanatta through but unfortunately, he dragged his shot across the goalmouth from right to left and past the post.
Next, with 6 mins on the clock, a beautifully curved pass from midfield by Michael Moffat set McKenzie in one-on-one with keeper Ryan Fulton. McKenzie’s first touch was heavy and gave Fulton the chance to adjust and block the Ayr man’s attempt.
Accies slowly made their way into the game and Ayr should have been warned when impressive frontman Marios Ogkmpoe found space in the box and headed just over on 10 mins.
4 mins later, Ayr created another guilt-edged chance with Moffat charging forward from his own half before sliding the ball to McKenzie who looked certain to score but his shot was somehow blocked.
Ayr were to rue their misses when on 19 mins a Scott Mann cross found Ogkmpoe on his own in the box and the striker volleyed home.
The Honest Men suffered another setback as Mikey Miller, covering for Reading in the left-back position, had a reaction to an injury sustained against Albion Rovers earlier in the week and had to come off. Miller was replaced by Michael Hewitt on 23 mins.
Ayr didn’t let their heads go down and were soon chasing an equaliser and were unlucky not to pull one back. After some intricate interchanges at the edge of the box, McKenzie played the ball wide to Aaron Muirhead who flashed in a cross that Moffat turned over the bar.
Less than 60 secs later Moffat was again given a chance as the ball dropped to him and he smashed a powerful drive goalward only to see defender Hakeem Odoffin determinedly throw himself in front of the ball to block.
Ayr were on the front foot, and on 28 mins McKenzie darted into the box but, with two free in the centre, decided to have a shot which was easily blocked.
A reminder that Hamilton posed a serious threat came 3 mins later when Callum Smith charged down the line before cutting back to Ogkmpoe who blasted in a shot from 6-yards only to see it deflect out for a corner. From the corner Odoffin found space to powerfully header just over.
United surged back up the park, Moffat playing the ball to Joe Chalmers but the midfielder’s shot went well wide.
Football can be a cruel mistress in the hands of capricious gods. With Ayr creating endless chances for no reward, Hamilton crept in and went two up.
David Templeton pushed the ball inside and ran straight into Joe Chalmers and referee Steven awarded a freekick despite the Ayr man’s protests. Templeton curled the freekick behind the United defence and the ball was headed back to Charlie Trafford who smashed home into the bottom left corner from the centre of the penalty box. 2 – 0 and Ayr left shaking their heads again.
The positive mentality of this United team shone through as they started the second half, still showing the grit and determination that they had in the first 45; and with continued attacking intent.
Moffat, Zanatta, and Sam Roscoe all went close before, on 61 mins, Zanatta drove through the centre before slipping the ball to his left from where Moffat drove the ball sweetly towards goal only to see keeper Fulton pull off an excellent save. 2 mins later pressure from Zanatta on the right resulted in Moffat receiving a great chance from the centre of the box but his drive went high over the bar.
Just when it seemed that nothing Ayr could do would put the ball in the net, came what was truly deserved; a Michael Moffat goal. On 67 mins, a long throw by Muirhead was nodded on by Jack Baird to Moffat near the back post. Moffat coolly controlled and then placed the ball to the keepers left and into the net. 2 – 1 and the least that United deserved.
United continued to push forward but try as they might, they could not find a way through to bring the scores even and set up a penalty shootout. Hamilton organised themselves well and professionally managed the remainder of the game leaving United frustrated.
All Images are © David Sargent, Alan Graham and Ayr United FC and may not be used without permission