Three things we learned: Ayr United 0, Dunfermline Athletic 0
The Honest Men returned the Somerset Park on Saturday after being involved in a car crash the previous week in Greenock. If we continue this tenuous analogy, a top-of-the range sports car was expected to pull into the driveway in the shape of top-of-the-table Dunfermline Athletic but, as it transpired, the Pars were more akin to a luxury Volvo. A quality vehicle but just a little safe and a stalemate ensued. Still with me? Here are three things we learned:
- This was a big clean sheet for Ayr’s young back four
Mark Kerr bristled at Calum Campbell’s question; at the very assertion that his defence may have been nervous coming into this game. You know, after what happened at Cappielow. Well, maybe they were not nervous but there is no doubt this was a very important clean sheet for United’s beleaguered rearguard, a first of the league campaign (Annan Athletic are the only other team the Honest Men have shutout this season).
The back four and ‘keeper Viljami Sinisalo looked comfortable in the most part throughout. Jordan Houston, in his first start of the season, coped with a difficult assignment in the shape of Dom Thomas admirably; Paddy Reading put his grave error of judgement that lead to Morton’s equaliser — and left the Newcastle-born full-back close to tears at Cappielow — behind him; while Jack Baird and Sam Roscoe dealt with Declan McManus. Mark Kerr had a special mention for Finnish shot stopper Sinisalo: “I thought Viljami was very tidy but he always is. He dealt with a couple of strikes from distance. He was a positive and there’s a few others.”
In truth, despite the stats recording nine Dunfermline shots with four on target, the Pars created no clear cut chances and — as expected — their biggest threat came from seven corners plus three free-kicks on the edge of the area. A combination of poor delivery and organised defending shut out Dunfermline for the first time this season. Save for that crazy five minutes at Cappielow we haven’t defended badly this season and dealt with set-pieces competently, nevertheless, Saturday’s performance will be a big boost to the team and supporters.
2. But a disappointing afternoon from an attacking perspective
While defensively the Honest Men were solid, in an attacking sense United were not as fluid going forward as they had been against Morton. Stevie Crawford was reverential in the build up to this match: “it is going to be a very difficult game… we have got to try and work at being narrow, tight secure out of possession” he told the media on Thursday. Crawford’s team selection on Saturday reflected this caution, with midfielder Fraser Murray coming in for striker Kevin O’Hara in the starting XI and the Pars setting up in a conservative 4141 formation as opposed to the 4132 used in the win over Queen of the South at East End Park seven days previous.
The Pars were defensively very disciplined throughout the game and kept their shape out of possession well; veteran former Scotland internationalist Stephen Whittaker screened the back four and full-backs Lewis Mayo and Josh Edwards rarely strayed far from their defensive duties. Dunfermline’s approach was ultimately successful in nullifying United’s front four.
After the game, Kerr bemoaned his men’s inability to use the wide areas and create more opportunities; Cammy Smith had a particularly quiet second-half out on the left. With both managers choosing to change only personnel not their team’s shape as the game progressed to its denouement (Dario Zanatta’s 15 minute cameo was noteworthy), the two sets of players simply continued to cancel each other out.
3. Bruce Anderson is still frustrated
If Bruce Anderson was frustrated last week, little on Saturday would have lifted the on-loan Aberdeen strikers vexation. Anderson carried the ball forward well, on a few occasion; showed flashes of good link-up play but never really looked like scoring. Anderson’s afternoon was summed up by an incident in the 66th minute. Having angrily shouted “do your job” (a regular refrain also used by gaffer Mark Kerr, to what positive ends I am not sure) at standside linesman Stuart Stevenson after another perceived injustice, he clashed with Pars defender Euan Murray. Stevenson did his job; raising his flag for a foul which saw Anderson shown a yellow card.
Getting the best out of Anderson might just take a little longer; a greater understanding of the system on the part of the 22 year-old. But what if he just doesn’t suit the system? Mark Kerr had shown little inclination to depart from playing 4231 but if that 'one' is not working (despite the fact Anderson is clearer a talented player)? Kerr may have a decision to make.