Rud­den rocks con­tenders

The Herald on Sunday - - FOOTBALL - BY GRAEME McGARRY

IT was billed as a golden op­por­tu­nity for Ayr United to hit the top of the Cham­pi­onship, but in­stead, it was Falkirk haul­ing them­selves off the bot­tom of the di­vi­sion that was the story of a po­ten­tially piv­otal af­ter­noon at Som­er­set Park at both ends of the ta­ble.

Un­sur­pris­ingly it was Zak Rud­den, so of­ten the ray of light in a dark sea­son for the Bairns, who got the cru­cial goal. The on-loan Rangers kid now has eight for the cam­paign, and the fact that Falkirk had their main man up front while Ayr did not, made a telling dif­fer­ence.

Ian McCall’s men went into the match buoyed by Ross County’s de­feat at Mor­ton the pre­vi­ous evening, but that was tem­pered by the fact they were with­out Lawrence Shank­land through a mi­nor calf in­jury.

Ref­eree John Beaton might have ex­pected a qui­eter af­ter­noon here than he had in the Old Firm, and he shrugged off the con­tro­ver­sies of the past week to sail through this en­counter with the min­i­mum of fuss de­spite some hope­ful howls for penal­ties from the home end late on.

Falkirk were barely recog­nis­able, with five of man­ager Ray McKin­non’s seven Jan­uary sign­ings lin­ing up in the start­ing XI.

“We took a gam­ble to­day,” said McKin­non. “We had five play­ers com­ing into the team re­ally lack­ing in match fit­ness as none of them have re­ally played, apart from Ian McShane in parts.

“You could tell in the sec­ond half the fit­ness lev­els had dropped con­sid­er­ably. But we’re de­lighted with that re­sult as we had to do something dif­fer­ent to what we’d been do­ing ear­lier in the sea­son.”

Thank­fully for their sup­port­ers, the early signs were their per­for­mance would bear lit­tle re­sem­blance to most of those they have suf­fered through to date, as they more than held their own in the open­ing ex­changes. In­deed, they al­most had the lead as new ar­rival from Mother­well, Ross Ma­cLean, got a sting­ing shot away from long range that Ross Doohan rose to save.

Ayr were strug­gling to find their rhythm, but they did fash­ion a de­cent chance as their front pair­ing com­bined for the first time, Mof­fat hook­ing the ball to the back post where Moore drew a save from David Mitchell from a tight an­gle.

Ayr thought they had the lead as Mof­fat cut inside and crashed a low shot off the post only for Moore to fol­low in and tap home the re­bound, but the as­sis­tant’s flag cut short the cel­e­bra­tions.

McShane, who had been im­press­ing in the heart of mid­field on his de­but, curled a cor­ner kick off the the bar at the other end, but Falkirk would have been happy with their work for the open­ing 45 min­utes.

Ayr tried to up the tempo at the start of the sec­ond pe­riod, but it was Falkirk who got the lead they just about de­served with a help­ing hand from home keeper Doohan.

The ball was worked across the edge of the area from left to right to Ma­cLean, who hit a dip­ping shot. Doohan re­ally should have held on to the ball. In­stead, it spilled loose, and there was Rud­den ar­riv­ing on cue to bun­dle home.

Ayr strug­gled to cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties, and Falkirk’s re­lent­less har­ry­ing and press­ing was start­ing to take its toll. Ma­cLean had to be with­drawn af­ter suf­fer­ing cramp with 20 min­utes to go, and Joe McKee was on the turf soon af­ter re­ceiv­ing treat­ment for the same prob­lem.

How Ayr did not level late on, not even they will know. Mof­fat curled a shot in on goal from the edge of the area that Mitchell made a meal of, palm­ing straight to Steven Bell. In­cred­i­bly, from three yards out, the Ayr skip­per missed his kick and the ball bounced loose inside the six­yard box. From there an in­cred­i­ble stra­mash en­sued, with Ayr pass­ing up at least two more glo­ri­ous op­por­tu­ni­ties be­fore goal­keeper Mitchell fi­nally slide-tack­led Mof­fat to clear.

Ayr man­ager McCall was left so scun­nered that he did not feel like talk­ing, so it was up to as­sis­tant Neil Scally to as­sess the de­feat that ended their un­beaten home record.

“Falkirk set up to frus­trate us and worked hard as a unit,” Scally said.

“They’ve brought in a few new faces which seemed to give them a lift but they didn’t re­ally trou­ble us in our half and we had a few op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

Ayr cap­tain Steven Bell is left dev­as­tated at full time as the Hon­est Men pass up their chance to go top

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