Ladbrokes Championship



By Calum Campbell and Hugh Maxwell

Pictures: Iain Robb

ROSS County leapfrogged United to the top of the Championship after this exciting and hard-fought encounter in Dingwall.

A lacklustre first half performance had seen United struggle to compete with County and fall two behind to counters from McKay and Mullin. The second half saw a complete turnaround, and after an early goal from Lawrence Shankland, United dominated, but somehow failed to grab the equaliser.

County dominated the early stage, their determined approach, pace, and crisp incisive passing cutting through United’s midfield and piling on pressure in the final third. Cowie, Keillor-Dunn, Mullin, Lindsay, and McKay all created chances in the opening 15 minutes.

Ayr’s first chance fell to Shankland in 21 minutes. A Robbie Crawford shot was blocked but fell to Michael Moffat, who lifted the ball towards Shankland in the centre of the box. The ball hung in the air and just wouldn’t drop far enough for Shankland who, under pressure from Keillor-Dunn, could only hit the ball high over the Jail End Stand’s roof.

Ayr were made to rue this when the hosts took the lead a minute later. After a series of attacks by County had been repulsed, Mullin stroked the ball to the over-lapping Kelly and his cross was flicked to the rear of the box by Keillor-Dunn where Billy McKay slashed home from 12 yards in 22 minutes.

In 32 minutes Keillor-Dunn beat Kerr 25 yards out before smashing a drive off the base of the post.

Just one minute later, County were two-up. Picking the ball up some 25 yards out on the touchline on the right, Josh Mullin first shimmied past Crawford, cut into the box between Andy Geggan and Danny Harvie before unleashing a powerful, curling drive into the back of the net.

Whatever Ayr manager Ian McCall said at half-time it must have been powerful. United came out bursting with passion, intent, and belief. The match was turned on its head with County reduced to bit players in terms of possession and attempts. McCall had restructured his United team, Declan McDaid replacing Harvie and Craig Moore for Moffat, although the manager had considerede keeping Moffat up front as well.

It didn’t take United long to drag themselves back into the game. In 47 minutes, Adams played a long ball forward and Shankland, apparently being held back by Watson, used his strength to pull away and into the box before firing a low shot beyond Fox.

From the re-start, Ayr broke forward again, Declan McDaid crossing to defender Morris, who poked the ball wide.

United began to turn the screw with McDaid’s pace and creativity torturing the County defence, and Moore and Shankland more than just a handful for the ‘Staggies’ to cope with.

In 56 minutes, Mark Kerr slipped Crawford into the box and, under pressure from Demetriou, attempted to curl the ball around keeper Fox but his effort drifted wide.

Then came an incident that was as distasteful as it was out of context with the manner in which the match was played. Having fouled Lawrence Shankland, Ross County midfielder Ian Vigurs appeared to deliberately stand on the striker’s leg. Despite his proximity to the incident, referee McLean saw nothing amiss.

From the resultant free-kick with players jockeying for position inside the box, McDaid saw an opportunity and aimed the ball directly at goal but, with keeper Fox totally beaten, his drive scraped the right hand post and went wide in 64 minutes.

Ayr turned it up again, with Martin again blocking, but this time from a McDaid drive after being put through by Shankland.

Next, a cute backheel from Shankland allowed McDaid to drive into the penalty area, turn past Grivosti, only to see his shot blocked by a last-second slide in from Demetrious.

In 88 minutes, visiting substitute Alan Forrest made space in the box on the left, his blocked shot fell to Shankland who struck the ball well from 15 yards out only to see Fox pull off a great reaction save.


Jamie Adams 3

Lawrence Shankland 2

Julie Fleeting 1.