Ayr United failed to take advantage of Ross County’s defeat away to Morton on Friday evening by returning to pole position in the Championship with a victory, instead suffering their first home defeat of the campaign. The result also lifted Falkirk off the foot of the table, above Partick Thistle.
There was high drama prior to the kick-off when referee John Beaton, who had received threatening messages following his display in the Rangers v Celtic derby the previous weekend, was escorted from his car to the dressing room by Peter McLaughlin, the SFA’s head of security, and two policemen.
Falkirk manager Ray McKinnon handed debuts to five new signings: Ross McLean, Paul Dixon, Ian McShane, Mark Waddington and Ciaran McKenna. Former Partick Thistle captain Abdul Osman did not receive clearance from the Greek FA in time to play.
“We took a gamble today,” admitted manager Ray McKinnon. “We had five players coming into the team who were lacking in match fitness as none of them have really played, apart from Ian McShane. You could tell in the second half the fitness levels had dropped considerably. But we’re delighted with that result as we had to do something different to what we’d been doing earlier in the season.”
The home side had to do without 28-goal talisman Lawrence Shankland and, having seen what they look like without him, it’s no surprise they would rather see him leave as a free agent in the summer than cash in on him this month.
Some 20 minutes had elapsed before either goalkeeper was called into action, with David Mitchell beating away Craig Moore’s angled drive at his near post.
Moore then had the ball in the net after 33 minutes after Mitchell had touched Michael Moffat’s low shot against his left-hand post, but the flag had been raised for offside against the striker before it had crossed the line.
Falkirk enjoyed plenty of possession but could do little with it, mainly due to a poor final ball. Indeed, the closest they came during a forgettable first half was when an Ian McShane corner bounced off the top of Ross Doohan’s crossbar.
When the deadlock was finally broken, 11 minutes after the restart, it came as a result of a horrendous error from Doohan. McLean’s shot from 25 yards had power but was straight at the keeper, who spilled the ball at the feet of the lurking Zak Rudden and the Rangers loanee was left with a tap-in for his seventh goal of the season.
United responded with a Moore shot from Declan McDaid’s cross which bounced off the turf but was comfortably gathered by Mitchell. Much to his relief, this was a controversy-free afternoon for Mr Beaton, who cautioned McDaid for simulation, a sanction which, tellingly, passed without protest.
Full-back Liam Smith’s inviting delivery flashed across the face of the goal but, where one would have anticipated Shankland stealing in to bustle the ball over the line, no-one in a white shirt was prepared to take a gamble, which neatly encapsulated Ayr’s afternoon.
They ought to have drawn level in the 89th minute when Mitchell could only parry a shot from Moffat but captain Steven Bell, from point-blank range, completely mishit his shot and shanked it away from the goal, with Ross Docherty also failing to convert from the loose ball.
“Lawrence Shankland being out wasn’t the reason we lost,” said assistant-manager Neil Scally. “We’ve been a very good team this season, with a lot of clean sheets – and they weren’t down to Lawrence.”