The clocks went back an hour last weekend but last night it would have felt like they stopped altogether for the management team and players of Ayr United after this result. A spectacular collapse saw the Honest Men fall to their first defeat of the Championship campaign, throwing away a two-goal lead at Cappielow in inexplicable fashion when just eight minutes away from victory. Aaron Muirhead’s 52nd minute red card looked as if it was going to be inconsequential when Cammy Smith scored Ayr’s second of the game with 15 minutes to go but a Halloween horror show turned things very sour.
Here are five takeaways from a crazy game:
- In just five minutes, a good start to the season became a poor one
Before the match, Mark Kerr stated that seven points out of nine from United’s opening three fixtures “would be a pretty decent start” and, at approximately 4.30pm on Saturday, his team were comfortably on course to achieve that and go second in the table. Instead, after scraping past a patently dismal Queen of the South outfit; dropping two points to a hugely understrength Inverness side and, now, throwing away three points at Cappielow, four points after three games is a bitterly disappointing start.
United were largely in control for 80 minutes of this game against a limited Morton attack; for 25 minutes in the second-half it was difficult to distinguish which side had been reduced to 10 men. But after Gary Oliver’s sucker punch, Ayr’s defence stumbled about dazed and confused and before they could regain any composure, Lewis Strapp had delivered the knockout blow.
There are plenty of positives to take from United’s first three games but they have been mostly undone by the failure to see out consecutive games, raising awkward questions of this group. Settling into Kerr’s preferred 4231 formation, with good options in the forward areas, the team looks capable of scoring plenty of goals in this division but the defense looks vulnerable with the full-backs too often exposed and young goalkeeper overworked.
2. Ayr lacked experience and leaders
Character. The intangible quality that so often explains the difference between sporting success and failure. Win, particularly in adversity, and you have it. Lose, especially in the way Ayr did here, and you lack it.
Experience and leadership go hand-in-hand with what ‘character’ is but are not the same thing; the concern is that this Ayr United squad don’t have enough of either. Looking back to Ian McCall’s sides, they were marshalled by dressing room generals: the likes of Paddy Boyle, Andy Geggan, Steven Bell and Ross Docherty — Mark Kerr himself. 2020’s team is captained by 24 year-old Jack Baird, who Kerr needs to constantly communicate with from the sideline, urging the former St. Mirren man to organise and cajole his charges.
We can’t lay all of the blame on Baird being asked to do something that doesn’t appear to come naturally to him, or any other player in purple and green yesterday. Dropping points from a winning position can be put down to lots of things: physical fitness; mental fatigue; poor organisation and tactics; naivety. One suspects all of these things were at play on Saturday. It is something the team will need to address if we are to have aspirations of a top four finish.
3. Muirhead lived up to his reputation
Moments into the second-half of Saturday’s game an off-the-ball clash between Bruce Anderson and Markus Fjørtoft saw the on loan striker fall to the turf clutching his face. The big Norwegian defender loudly protested his innocence, claiming Anderson had elbowed him before throwing himself to the ground. “Embarrassing” Fjørtoft agrily announced; nobody else seemed to witness what exactly happened. Never one to back down from a confrontation, Aaron Muirhead piped up from right-back, calling Fjørtoft a “tadger”, before warning Bruce not to get involved, somewhat ironically.
It was the first notable act of the match from Muirhead, who up until that point had put in a solid and unspectacular performance, under limited Greenock Morton pressure. However, minutes later he was sent back to the dressing room after a crunching tackle on Josh McPake. You can argue whether Greg Aitken’s decision was the right one or whether a yellow card would have sufficed but in wet conditions, close to the touchline, the challenge did seem entirely unnecessary and overly forceful.
After defending Muirhead last week, he badly let us down here with the red card, playing into the hands of those that see him as a liability; a ‘bombscare’. Aaron will find himself out of the team: he would be well served to spend his time on the sidelines reflecting on what we need from one of only two over-30-year-olds in the squad.
4. Bruce Anderson is frustrated
Anderson’s clash with Markus Fjørtoft was illustrative of another difficult afternoon for the on loan Aberdeen striker. The 22 year-old enjoyed better support at Cappielow than he did against Queen of the South or Inverness — from Michael Moffat in the №10 role, Cammy Smith on the left and Luke McCowan on the right — but still found it to be hard shift against the Morton back four. On too many occasions, Anderson’s first touch or pass let him down when the ball was fired into him with his back to goal; when he was able to fashion himself a shot on goal within an ever-crowded penalty box he dragged his effort off target or straight at the keeper.
Kerr’s number one target as №9 was Aaron Drinan but the Irishman’s good form for Ipswich — and then injury — scuppered any hopes of a return to Somerset Park. Whether Anderson can perform the same role in Kerr’s system remains to be seen; certainly he looked a lot more comfortable when briefly joined by a strike partner at Inverness. You feel a first Championship goal is vital for Anderson or his frustrations may become a bigger issue for the Honest Men.
5. Limited attacking talent not an issue for Morton
Kalvin Orsi, Gary Oliver, Ross Maciver, Josh McPake, Aidan Nesbitt. It is not exactly a stellar line-up of options for Greenock Morton manager David Hopkin to work with. In terms of production, you wouldn’t expect any to trouble double figures for goals this season. However, Hopkin will be very content with a return of six points from Ton’s opening three league fixtures.
Morton’s previous two fixtures, at home to Alloa and away to Dundee may prove to be more reflective of what we can expect from a Hopkin team built from the back this season; Markus Fjørtoft, who played at right-back on Saturday (but has also played as part of a three this season) looks to be a good acquisition from Hamilton alongside the experienced Brian McLean and improving Sean McGinty. The evergreen Jim McAllister provides stability in-front of the defence allowing a cast of players full of endeavour and willing, if not obvious class or ability.
Momentum was a huge factor in this game and could be important for in this truncated season; if Morton can use this unlikely win to hang about in the top half of the table, they will be a genuine play-off contender come the latter stages of the season.