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Match Preview - Morton v Ayr United (2nd January)


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Morton v Ayr United – Match Preview

by Russell Gordon

With an unexpectedly successful 2022 having come to a close, Ayr United will first foot Morton at Cappielow Park supported by Dalrada Technology for a mouth-watering clash between two of the Championship’s promotion chasers. 

Having remained unbeaten in the league for a full three months to this point, confidence will be high amongst Dougie Imrie’s squad for the visit of an Ayr team that will be licking their wounds after being knocked off the top of the tree just before Christmas by a Dundee side who appear to be making ominous strides in the title race. 

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Photo - GBR Photographs.

Squad News 

Whilst there are no injury concerns to report, we have the elephant in the room of the recently opened transfer window. Any concerns about Liam Grimshaw’s future were allayed by the Hogmanay announcement that he’s extended his stay at Cappielow until at least the season’s end, but rumours about Georgian cracks Dynamo Tbilisi’s interest in Lewis Strapp have resurfaced in recent days, although I’d expect Strapp to take his usual place in the side. The news of club captain Grant Gillespie and midfield compatriot Robbie Crawford signing new deals have also provided welcome cheer for the 'Ton faithful.

Current Connections  

There’s rarely a shortage of players to have represented both clubs, such is the locality, nature of the Scottish Championship and lack of imagination in the signing policy of both clubs’ former manager, David Hopkin. 

However, only goalkeeper Aidan McAdams and Ayr skipper Sean McGinty remain from Hopkin’s band of brothers, along with the popular Andy Murdoch, whose spell at the Morton preceded Hopkin’s calamitous tenure at Cappielow. 

In the Morton squad, Robbie Crawford, Alan Lithgow and Jack Baird can all count The Honest Men amongst their former employers. Assistant Manager Andy Millen can of course also list Ayr as one of the many clubs he represented in his nomadic playing career. 

Tale of the Tape  

Ayr have the slight edge over the three fixtures so far this season, taking the spoils from the first league meeting at Cappielow in September. Mark McKenzie’s second half goal doubled Ayr’s advantage after Dipo Akinyemi had given them a first half lead, and a late Robbie Muirhead counter only proved scant consolation as they left with all three points. 

Morton however were to come out on top later that month in an SPFL Trust Trophy tie at Cappielow. Lewis McGregor’s early strike, through a ruck of bodies was to give the ‘Ton an early lead before Josh Mullin restored parity before half time. The second half saw no more goals but a glut of red cards as Ayr’s Paul Smith became the first victim of the erratic Craig Napier, before Morton’s Jai Quitongo and Jack Baird followed him down the tunnel for early baths later in the half. 

It was very much a match ruined by poor officiating but with the game tied at 1-1 after 90 minutes, we went straight to a penalty shoot-out, with former Morton “favourite” McGinty proving the fall guy, missing the only kick of the contest to send Morton through. 

It was Ayr’s turn to host Morton in November for a game that had all the ingredients to be a cracker. A Morton side that had sneaked into the title race on the back of an unbeaten run, thanks in no small part to a miserly defence that hadn’t conceded in four games appeared a much different proposition for an Ayr team who had easily picked their pockets a couple of months previous. But that long run without conceding came to an abrupt end after only three minutes when Alex Kirk nodded Ayr into the lead. That lead wasn’t to last long however, as a back post Jai Quitongo header from a corner levelled things up and sent the Morton fans behind the Railway End goal in to raptures. 

Try as they might, neither side could find a winner and they had to settle for a share of the spoils from a game that could easily have gone either way. Whether it was a point gained or two dropped by Morton, time will tell. 

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Photo - GBR Photographs.

Opposition Analysis  

Consecutive defeats to Partick Thistle and Dundee have undoubtedly been setbacks for Lee Bullen’s side’s challenge for the title, and they’ll be looking to get back on track at Cappielow against Morton. 

They will however have to do that without their goalscorer from the previous meeting, Alex Kirk, who was injured in November’s 2-2 draw against Inverness in the Highlands, and the suspended David Bangala, after the Frenchman saw red in last Friday’s Somerset reverse against Dundee. Jordan Houston, Frankie Musonda and Brad Young have also missed out in recent weeks and could again be doubts for the Cappielow trip. 

I spoke to Ayr fan Marc Dunlop (@Marco_Ayr), who wasn’t terribly optimistic about his favourites’ chances of picking up three points. 

“The Honest Men head to Cappielow on Monday hoping to rediscover a winning formula, which has eluded them of late. Poor performances and injuries to key players have caught up with Lee Bullen’s men, and the last two results reflect this. 

Most supporters will agree that the defeat to Dundee was coming, but the manner of the defeat will be what hurt most. Ayr were well off the pace and didn’t come close to scoring, whilst an ex-youth product in Luke McCowan twisted the dagger in further with his two fine goals. 

Is this a mid-season blip? Or have we been over-achieving in the first half of the season and now will start to slip out if the promotion race? What is certain is that recent performances have been well below the standard set by the manager. Everyone connected with the club will be hoping we can bounce back relatively quickly. 

Defensive pairing Musonda and Kirk are likely to remain side-lined for this fixture. The game looks to have come too early for the Zambian internationals Musonda, who has been out for a month with a hamstring problem, whilst Arsenal loanee Kirk is back training with his parent club and expected to return to Ayrshire in later in January. With Bangala also suspended following last weekend’s red card, it’ll be interesting to see how Bullen patches up an already light defence. 

Squad depth was always going to pose a problem for a club of our size, so hopefully the team can come together in this challenging period and give the expected large travelling support a performance to be proud of. An intriguing fixture awaits, and I’m really looking forward to my visit to Greenock. I’d snap your hand off just now for a point though! See you all at Cappielow, and come on you Honest Men!” 

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Photo - GBR Photographs.

Betting Guide  

All odds are supplied by McBookie. All odds correct as of 5pm on 31st December 2022 and are subject to change. Please only bet within your means and visit BeGambleAware if you are struggling.  

Home advantage probably sees Morton head into the match as favourites at 23/20 with Ayr at 2/1 and the draw 12/5. 

Captain Grant Gillespie is 12/1 to celebrate his new deal with the first goal, and Morton half time/full time comes in at 13/5. 

Match Officials  

Referee- Peter Stuart 

AR 1- Graham Chambers 

AR 2- George King. 

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