Ayr United 2, Stranraer 1
Shaun Niven at Somerset Park
Injury-time agony struck for the Blues as Ayr United clinched the points in controversial fashion after a pulsating encounter in the battle of the south-west.
Ayr were seeking revenge for the previous meeting and Stranraer still had the unbeaten run under their new manager to defend so there was plenty to play for, not just the three points on offer.
Ayr opened brightly and forced a couple of early corners but a good block by Frank McKeown prevented a Ryan McStay effort reaching the target.
The Blues responded and Sean Winter picked out Michael Moore who turned and shot on target but straight at Ally Brown. Grant Gallagher created some momentum from midfield and found Winter in the Ayr box but his cross was well dealt with by Austin McCann, who intercepted before Craig Malcolm could pounce.
Adam Hunter was fortunate not to be booked for a crude challenge on Robert Love that broke up a Blues attack and the same player then created a move with Mark Roberts that resulted in the player-manager shooting wide from a tight angle. The same pair linked up shortly after for Hunter to provide another good cross that required good defending by McKeown to clear the danger.
Stranraer were to soak up pressure and hit Ayr on the break and David MacGregor was next to have a go when he started and finished a move down the left but shot wide. Ayr responded with a fine move down their right that initiated from a fine pass from Robbie Crawford to Roberts who crossed and McStay struck from outside the box but David Mitchell was well positioned.
Hunter caused more trouble down the right and forced Mitchell to concede a corner that was headed clear by Moore. It paved the way for the visitors to take the lead and, from a disputed free-kick, Mark Staunton thundered an effort that Brown did well to save but he could do nothing about the rebound and Michael Moore reacted fastest to sweep the ball home to open the scoring against his former club.
Darian McKinnon linked up with Michael Moffat at the edge of the Stranraer box and eventually David Sinclair had a shot but Mick Dunlop was on hand to block. Moore came close to doubling his and Stranraer’s tally with a fine effort. Gathering a free kick from Staunton on his chest, he turned and volleyed a curler that missed the far post by no more than a couple of feet as Stranraer continued to grow in confidence.
Ayr, though, were always a threat and McKinnon squared to Crawford to shoot from 20 yards but his effort flashed wide. The home side threatened again and Hunter forced a good save from Mitchell who ensured the visitors had a lead at the break.
The second half ebbed and flowed until 10 minutes into the half when Roberts went down under a challenge from Gallagher and the referee pointed to the penalty spot. The Honest Men were level when top scorer Michael Moffat blasted the spot kick past Mitchell.
The game remained an open contest and Stranraer threatened when the ex-Ayr pair of Dunlop and Moore got on either end of a long ball but the striker was unfortunate his well struck effort fizzed just over. A Stranraer free-kick from MacGregor into the six-yard box was left by everyone and required Brown to be alert to pick the ball off the head of Max Wright.
Moore was again causing problems for the centre halves and, winning another knockdown, this time to find Malcolm, the Blues top scorer fired a shot that deflected wide off Kyle McAusland. Ayr created problems of their own and as McKinnon skipped past McKeown to get into a good position, Staunton provided the cover to make the clearance.
The home team then had a great double chance through Moffat and then Marc Twaddle but both were guilty of looking for a pass when a crack at goal was an option. Minutes later they squandered another opportunity with a breakaway and with men spare McAusland lost the ball as the Blues defence desperately but effectively held on.
Nine minutes from the end came the game’s flashpojnt and Moore was at the heart of it. Battling with McStay, he angered the Ayr player sufficiently to provoke a lunging challenge that was rewarded with the red card it deserved and Ayr were reduced to 10 men while Moore received a caution for his involvement, much to the dismay of the home support. Moore was eventually replaced by Armand Oné and the substitute immediately announced his presence by getting on the end of a MacGregor cross but headed over from 12 yards. Brown saved from Malcolm at the expense of a corner as Stranraer sought a winner but an even more controversial finish was around the corner.
As the game went into stoppage time, Malcolm drifted into the Ayr box only to be felled by Twaddle but incredibly, with both sets of fans convinced it was a penalty, the referee waved play on. Ayr took full advantage and punted the ball up to the other end where McKeown and Mitchell failed to deal with it and allowed Michael Moffat to beat them, assisted with the use of an arm and rolled the ball into the empty net for the winner.
Stephen Aitken could hardly express his dismay at the injustice of the two critical decisions that had gone against Stranraer so late in the game. Extremely frustrated and disappointed at leaving with nothing, he took many positives from the game and was proud of the performance his team had delivered as they continue to improve.
Ayr boss Mark Roberts was delighted to have won and conceded that a couple of breaks had gone their way but took the view that his team deserved the result after a performance where they had played well and created chances.
Ayr United: Ally Brown, Adam Hunter, Marc Twaddle, Kyle McAusland, Austin McCann, David Sinclair, Robbie Crawford, Ryan McStay, Michael Moffat, Mark Roberts (David Winters 90), Darian McKinnon (Mark Shankland 80). Subs not used: Ross Robertson, Aaron Wylie, William Muir.
Booked: Hunter, Moffat, Twaddle, Roberts. Sent off: McStay
Goals: Moffat 57 pen, 90
Stranraer: David Mitchell, Mark Staunton, David MacGregor, Frank McKeown, Mick Dunlop, Grant Gallagher, Sean Winter, Max Wright, Michael Moore (Armand Oné 85), Craig Malcolm, Robert Love. Subs not used: Lloyd Kinnaird, Dean Agnew, Kyle Rafferty, Russell Cadwell.
Booked: Moore, Malcolm
Goal: Moore 31
Referee: G Hilland