Stranraer 0, Ayr United 1
Shaun Niven at Stair Park
THIS basement struggle provided an opportunity for one of these south-west neighbours to pull themselves away from trouble by grabbing three points.
In the end, Ayr struck once and managed to hold on despite the best efforts from the home side, who left feeling somewhat aggrieved that their efforts had earned them nothing.
Boosted by the victory in the New Year game, an unchanged Stranraer blazed out of the traps and sought to put Ayr to the sword early on.
An impressive spell of early pressure saw a succession of corners, numerous efforts on goal and some misfortune for the Blues not to grab an early lead, but desperate defending from the visitors ensured that they would eventually weather the storm.
Ryan Borris and Craig Malcolm both had efforts on target as did Frank McKeown from a header but the well-marshalled Ayr defence, featuring the return of ex-Blue John Robertson, was not for budging.
Michael Moore was denied by a fine interception from Kyle McAusland and Austin McCann cleared despairingly but the ball just wouldn’t fall kindly for the Blues strikers at all.
After some time, Ayr did cross halfway and when Michael Moffat slid the ball through to David Sinclair, he managed to get a shot away but screwed the effort wide. Michael Donald, playing his third game on trial for the visitors, looked threatening going forward and a jinking run down the left was followed by a cross into the danger area but McAusland headed tamely and David Mitchell has an easy task to mop up the loose ball.
Stranraer responded with a pacy counter-attack and, when the ball was cleared to McKeown, he flighted a ball in for Malcolm to control. He turned Darren Brownlie and flashed a left-footed shot from the edge of the box that whizzed just a whisker past the left-hand post.
Another attack ended when Sean Winter crossed but Ally Brown saved from Chris Aitken, gathering at the second attempt and immediately setting up an attack for the visitors with a huge punt up the park. McKeown misjudged the flight of the ball and David Winters took advantage to race clear and slide the ball under Mitchell to give Ayr the lead.
Winters had a great chance to double the lead within a minute but Mick Dunlop had forced him wide enough that his shot hit the side netting when he would have expected to have done a bit better.
As the second half opened, so did the heavens and the conditions became increasingly difficult as the afternoon progressed.
Nevertheless, there was always the possibility that the elements would provoke a mistake or a lapse in concentration but Ayr United defended manfully and Stranraer struggled to break them down.
Lloyd Kinnaird made a surging run and cut infield before finding Aitken but his effort was deflected wide off Brownlie for a corner. But, with little happening in an attacking sense, the Blues suffered a blow on the hour when Moore had to be withdrawn with an injury.
Sinclair tried to set Moffat free for Ayr but as he tried to run clear a vital touch from McKeown got the ball back to Mitchell to boot the ball clear. Dunlop then produced the next timely intervention to deny Moffat minutes later as Ayr enjoyed a good spell of pressure.
With most of the half a midfield battle, the Blues had to work hard to gain an initiative but eventually they did so and a spell of concerted pressure was brought to bear on the Ayr goal in the final ten minutes. Kinnaird delivered a tantalising ball into the area that eluded Brown but, although Malcolm reached it at the far post, he couldn’t turn it home from a very acute angle.
Brownlie and McCann continued to defend the aerial attacks well and under pressure seemed to be coping admirably. They were beaten when a good delivery from Kinnaird was knocked down by McKeown into the path of Robert Love, who tucked the ball into the net, only for the referee to have penalised McKeown for a foul.
The Blues were further denied in stoppage time when Aitken swung in a free kick and Dunlop was extremely unfortunate to see his header crash off the crossbar and away to safety.
Ayr manager Mark Roberts was delighted with the way his side had rolled up their sleeves and dug in to grind out an important result. They had taken their chance and defended particularly well under pressure and it was an good opportunity to kick-start the season.
A perplexed Stranraer boss Stephen Aitken was at a loss to take in how the Blues had not been able to get anything from the game. He felt that Stranraer had done well and had periods of pressure that, with a bit of luck in the danger area, could easily have been turned into goals.
As it turned out, one long ball had caught the defence out and the result was very disappointing given the performance.
Stranraer: David Mitchell, Lloyd Kinnaird, David MacGregor, Frank McKeown, Mick Dunlop, Chris Aitken, Sean Winter, Grant Gallagher, Michael Moore (Robert Love 57), Craig Malcolm, Ryan Borris (Dean Agnew 68).
Subs Not Used: Mark Staunton, Nicky Phinn, Russell Cadwell
Ayr United: Ally Brown, John Robertson, Marc Twaddle, Darren Brownlie, Austin McCann, David Sinclair, Kyle McAusland, Robbie Crawford (Ross Robertson 90), Michael Moffat, David Winters (Ryan McStay 81), Michael Donald.
Subs Not Used: Mark Shankland, Anthony Marenghi, William Muir.
Goal: Winters 38
Attendance: 803 Referee: B Madden