Despite progressing to the last 16 of the Betfred Cup a week ago, Ayr United’s performance against League 2 Stranraer was demoralising. Only edging past the spirited Stair Parkers was not good enough and hinted at serious problems within Mark Kerr’s new-look squad.
Saturday called for a reaction against Dundee: and Kerr got exactly that. The Dees still carry lustre and have obvious aspirations of a return to top flight football, making them an opponent to be wary of. Adding to the post-match reticence, star quality in the shape of Charlie Adam and the fact that the Honest Men managed only one goal and one point in four games against Dundee last season.
Thankfully, the Dundee of real life not mythology— and the Charlie Adam of today, not yesteryear— rolled into Somerset and Ayr were able to roll them over for a very important win the in context of the first third of the Championship season. From a landmark day for a fans favourite, here are five things we learned:
- Michael Moffat is Ayr’s best No.9
Nine years, 8 months and 16 days after Michael Moffat’s first goal for Ayr United at the Excelsior Stadium, Airdrie, the 35-year-old scored his 100th, becoming only the ninth player in the club’s history to hit a century of goals. This was a vintage performance from Moff and the obvious place to start this round up.
The highest profile casualty of Kerr’s ire at the Stranraer performance was Bruce Anderson with the on-loan Aberdonian dropped to the bench in favour of a more advanced role for Moffat, who up to this point of the season has principally been deployed as a second-striker or №10. On the evidence of Moffat’s performance, Anderson can have no complaints.
While United did play more direct than in recent weeks, Moff was night-and-day compared to Anderson. Tidy, disciplined and, most notably, composed. It is not unreasonable to question Moffat’s skillset to play as a lone striker at this level, at this stage of his career, but he was excellent. His aerial prowess is understated, strength underestimated but it is his intelligence that stood out on Saturday; with one man fewer than most games this season, Ayr’s attacking corps nevertheless looked more coherent with Moffat at the fulcrum.
It remains to be seen where this leaves Anderson. He hasn’t looked comfortable in the role he has been asked to play in Mark Kerr’s system. But Saturday was all about Michael Moffat. A magnificent player who has developed into the complete striker and deserves all the plaudits aimed in his direction this week.
2. Michael Miller nullified Charlie Adam
In the same season that Michael Moffat made his senior debut, Charlie Adam was Blackpool’s most influential player and a Scotland internationalist. Twelve goals in the English Premier League that season were not enough to save the Tangerines from relegation but earned Adam a £6.75m move to Liverpool.
Ten months Moffat’s junior, Adam is still a class player playing below his level. The problem is his teammates are way below his level. Stop Adam and you stop Dundee? Well that certainly seemed to be Mark Kerr’s game plan, with Michael Miller the man entrusted to keep the 26-times-capped midfielder in check.
This wasn’t a hatchet job from the former Raith Rovers, Livingston and Morton utility man but Miller was close enough, often enough to prevent Adam from having an influence on the game, in open play at least. Only once was he able to get a trademark long distance shot away, after a Miller slip, but Sinisalo did well to parry the effort away. Arguably this was a second MVP performance of the season from Miller (after his double against Queen of the South in the opening fixture); someone Kerr can rely on.
3. Paddy Reading needs a run of games
It has been a stop-start beginning to Patrick Reading’s Ayr United career. The 22-year old Geordie missed our first three games in the Betfred Cup while on international duty and, on Saturday, returned to the fold after an ill-fated stint with Scotland U21s which saw him miss that Stranraer game (and qualification to the U21 European Championships).
Taking over from Daniel Harvie at left-back was always going to be a tough challenge for Reading; even more so when you appreciate that the young defender has more U21 caps than senior league appearances. Harvie, remember, had a full season on loan at Dumbarton before arriving at Somerset Park.
At times over his five appearances, Reading has looked nervous. In addition to his grievous misplaced header at Cappielow, there was untidy swipe at the ball in this game while in space that nearly handed Alex Jakubiak a sight of goal. But it would be unfair to focus on the negatives. The watchword here is patience. Reading needs time to grow into first-team football. His tough tackling, willingness to get forward and delivery into the box all point towards someone with the tools to succeed.
4. The Big Finn is unflappable.
Also returning from international duty on Saturday was goalie Viljami Sinisalo after the 19 year-old made his Finland U21 bow in Malta last Tuesday. ‘Vil’ put in another largely assured performance between the posts for Ayr against Dundee, earning a second clean sheet.
Sinisalo and the Ayr defence were required to face an improbable 14 corners and a number of deep free kicks throughout the game, mostly fired in and around the six-yard box with quality by Adam. After an admittedly shaky start from the on loan Aston Villa man, which saw him a little off with his decision-making early in the encounter, it was another composed performance which saw him pull off a number of fine saves. The ‘keeper also helped to relieve the pressure (and any residual hangover from the events of the Morton game) by sucking time out of the game. Pretty much from the point Ayr went two-goals in front, he was taking his time over goal kicks and releasing the ball. While this would eventually earn him yellow card, this was a mature performance that contributed to United seeing the win out comfortably.
5. James McPake is a man under pressure
The highlight of the second-half was a touchline spat involving the two coaching teams. “You concentrate on your own players” repeated a vexed James McPake after Mark Kerr and Mick McArdle took exception to Paul McGowan’s role in breaking up a period of home side keep-ball at the corner flag involving Paddy Reading. Ayr’s assistant manager loudly called McGowan an “arsehole”; the midfielder proclaimed his innocence — McPake looked ready to break social distancing protocols.
Other than this incident and an explosion of expletives following Ayr’s second goal (alluding to a lack of desire and application amongst his charges), the Dundee manager was a frustrated but mostly subdued presence in the technical area. His only real attempt to steer the Dark Blues away from a second defeat of the Championship campaign (and third match without a win) was a double substitution in the 56th minute that saw Declan McDaid and Alex Jakubiak replace Cammy Kerr and Osman Sow.
It didn’t work. Jakubiak was an instant upgrade on Sow but McDaid’s introduction sent Christie to right-back whereas up to that point he looked like Dundee’s best hope of a goal. McPake has recently upgraded (he will hope) the goalkeeping position at Dens Park and added another experienced defender in Liam Fontaine but that only serves to close off another excuse for the 36-year old. Five points from five games and seventh spot in the table is well short of expectations for Dundee; the questions over McPake’s suitability for the job will only intensify.