The Scottish Mail on Sunday
Saints weather the storm as Muirhead blows his top
AS Storm Ciara ripped through Somerset Park, Ayr United’s hopes of a Scottish Cup upset were blown off course by misfortune and ill-discipline from Aaron Muirhead.
The defender endured a nightmare eight minutes in the first half as this tie turned in St Johnstone’s favour.
With Ayr leading through Aaron Drinan’s fourth-minute opener, Muirhead scored an own goal to bring their Premiership opponents level in the 18th minute.
He was then booked for a challenge on Callum Hendry and, just three minutes after that, received a straight red card for a lunge on Liam Craig. To compound matters, Saints edged ahead through Hendry.
Ayr United player-manager Mark Kerr said: ‘The sending-off set the game up in St Johnstone’s favour as they could then counter-attack — and they are really good at that.
‘Losing the second goal so quickly after the sending off, we didn’t even get a chance to grind it out with 10 men.
‘I thought Aaron’s first challenge was all right, I didn’t think it was a yellow. But the second tackle was so close to the first that it was just stupid.
‘For their equaliser, I think it was probably going in anyway but it came off Aaron.’
Ayr beat Ross County in the fourth round last season and the Championship outfit were in the mood for taking another Premiership scalp when they opened the scoring in the fourth minute.
Drinan kept a cool head when sent through on goal and he slotted his shot beyond County keeper Zander Clark.
Ayr pushed forward in search of a second but Tommy Wright’s men settled themselves down and drew level in the 18th minute.
David Wotherspoon’s cross held up in the wind and Ayr No 1 Ross Doohan should have come for it but remained rooted to the spot.
As Muirhead and Hendry challenged, the final touch came off the home defender, wrong-footing his goalkeeper.
Muirhead’s day — and Ayr’s — went downhill from there as he was booked in the 23rd minute then sent off three minutes later by referee Steven McLean.
To compound matters, St Johnstone then went ahead as, from the free-kick he had conceded, the ball was played out to Drey Wright and the winger whipped in a cross which Hendry headed home at the far post.
Saints then thought they had a third when Stevie May dinked a finish beyond Doohan but the striker was offside.
Wotherspoon was denied at the start of the second half by a wonderful save by Doohan from a free-kick before Craig and then Wotherspoon again went close with long-range efforts.
Saints boss Wright said: ‘We emphasised to them that you want to come off that pitch, preferably with a win and in the hat for the next round. They did that in horrendous conditions.’