A dramatic 90 minutes at Somerset Park peppered with tetchy incidents saw Ayr United relegated to the Second Division and Airdrie presented with the opportunity to finally prevail in the league play-offs at the fifth time of asking when they take on Dumbarton next week.
After a goal-less first leg, this was always going to be a highly-strung affair and the die was effectively cast when the hosts’ Jackson Longridge was sent off after only 17 minutes for a reckless challenge. All the goals came after the break as Ayr tired and struggled to contain the visitors’ lively breakaways, with a double from veteran striker Derek Holmes proving decisive.
Somerset Park wasn’t quite bursting at the seems, with traffic tailbacks for the nearby County Show comfortably exceeding those into Ayr’s couthy old stadium, but both sets of supporters generated a fair old din as the game served up numerous tension-induced incidents. They weren’t slow in materialising, with the visitors’ goal witnessing an extraordinary escape in the opening moments as a shot from Alan Trouten was only cleared after Sean Lynch walloped the ball off his own goalkeeper, the somewhat dazed Grant Adam. Both sides went at it full pelt and the hosts were unlucky again as a belter from James McKernon rattled the crossbar.
Unfortunately, the adrenaline was just a little too intoxicating for Ayr youngster Longbridge, who flew into a tackle on Airdrie fullback Riki Lamie and was shown a straight red by referee Steven McLean. The home support indignantly vented their spleen but at best it was an ill-judged tackle.
Airdrie went on to dominate possession and take a few pot shots at Kevin Cuthbert’s goal. The closest they came in the remainder of the first half was partly of Cuthbert’s own making however as he made a poor connection with a cross and up popped Lynch to swing in a dipping volley. The Ayr keeper redeemed himself with a fine recovery block.
In a sheer battle of attrition such as this, it was a huge ask for the ten men to hold out for another 45 minutes and their doughty defending was finally undone after the break when Cuthbert could only parry a fierce volley from Jamie Bain and the experienced Holmes swooped to lash in the loose ball.
Somehow, Ayr summoned up the reserves to put up another act of defiance and drew level when Andrew Greggan took advantage of a lapse of concentration by the Airdrie rearguard to prod home an equaliser from close range. With the home fans bouncing in near delirium one of the game’s most durable adages – a side is never more vulnerable than immediately after scoring – was duly enacted in crushing fashion. Ryan Donnelly raced up the right flank and squared for Holmes to net his and Airdrie’s second a minute later.
The hosts were devastated and their fate was sealed as they desperately tried to mount another comeback. A lofted through-ball put Willie McLaren in the clear and he swept a composed finish past Cuthbert.
A bad day for the Honest Men was complete when Jonathon Tiffony picked up a second yellow card in the closing minutes to reduce them to nine men.