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Match Preview - Ayr United vs Morton (9th April)


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Ayr United v Morton - Match Preview

by Russell Gordon

There’s no hiding from it, after Saturday’s terribly disappointing result from a miserable afternoon in Airdrie, Morton are playing for snookers if they are to have any ambitions of claiming a play-off place, with the Diamonds now five points clear of them and looking like clear favourites to book a quarter final meeting with Partick in early May. 

The visit to Ayr United- another side on the periphery of the play-off race, will now take on an extra significance after the weekend’s result, as Morton find themselves in a similar position to last term, when they were in the position that there was no margin of error if they were to have any chance of making the top four. 

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Photo - GBR Photographs.

Squad News 

After Saturday’s debacle, there must be a few who are concerned for their starting berths. I’d expect to see Darragh O’Connor return to the starting XI, whether for Tyler French or Kirk Broadfoot, neither of whom enjoyed distinguished afternoons, is up for debate. 

Lewis Strapp has been a terrible miss- the loss of the attacking outlet from his long throws has been an obvious miss, but the downgrade in Calum Waters is also telling. While it’s difficult to feel anything but sympathy for the former Kilmarnock left back, the return of Strapp can’t come soon enough. 

Though Alan Power has enjoyed great plaudits as Morton have suffered a difficult time in recent weeks, the time may well have come for the Irishman to sit out after a disappointing afternoon in which he lost possession in the lead up to Airdrie’s first two goals. Grant Gillespie would be the most likely replacement, but like Strapp, we’re counting down the minutes until the return of Iain Wilson. 

I’d expect to see Jai Quitongo get a start after the wide man added a bit of energy to Morton’s attack, providing a fine run and cross for Michael Garrity’s fortuitous consolation goal. Jack Bearne would probably be the most likely to return to the bench. 

Current Connections 

There are often a number of former players at each club, given their similar statures and proximity, with of course the legacy of both clubs’ times managed by David Hopkin. Apologies to fans of either who may get PTSD from the reminder of his reigns of terror at each. 

However, only Sean McGinty remains at Ayr from Hopkin’s band of brothers- the Ayr captain arrived from Cappielow in the summer of 2021 after an unhappy time at Morton (not only for McGinty, some of us had to watch him in blue and white hoops). 

Since then, McGinty has enjoyed his ups and downs against Morton, missing the decisive penalty in a SPFL Trust Trophy shoot out win for Morton last term and taking great pleasure in scoring Ayr’s second in a 3-1 win in Greenock later that season. 

Before Hopkin’s time at Morton, Raymond McKinnon foolishly allowed Andy Murdoch to leave without tying him up on a new deal on his arrival in 2019. Not the most foolish decision he made that summer admittedly, but since then Murdoch has been a mainstay at Ayr until the injury inflicted on himself on the season’s opening day after a shocking challenge on Jai Quitongo, that has seen him sit out the full campaign. 

Jack Baird made the move in the opposite direction in 2022, after having previously spent a season on loan at Morton from St. Mirren and a couple of years at Somerset Park. 

Grant Gillespie joined up at Somerset in the January transfer window of 2020, but with the season curtailed by the COVID pandemic, managed to make only five appearances for the Honest Men before moving onto Queen’s Park. 

Robbie Crawford started his career with Ayr, staying seven years before moving onto Livingston and subsequently Motherwell and Partick, before joining Morton early last season under freedom of contract. 

Morton assistant Andy Millen can of course, count Ayr amongst his litany of former employers. 

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Photo - GBR Photographs.

Tale of the Tape 

Now for the good bit. 

Morton have picked up nine points from nine against Ayr, a side that generally have the better of the head-to-heads even when Morton are enjoying a better season. 

The opening day of the season saw Morton record an excellent 3-1 victory having fallen behind to a 51st minute strike from Murdoch’s replacement Oliver Pendlebury, following the ex-Morton man’s withdrawal after his aforementioned howler of a tackle on Quitongo. 

Robbie Crawford curled in a fine equaliser on 62 minutes before a Robbie Muirhead penalty fifteen minutes from time gave Morton the lead. Steven Boyd’s late goal from close range, following terrific work from Jack Bearne on the right, sealed a fine three points as Morton started the season in fine style. 

It’s fair to say that was to prove a false dawn however, as it wasn’t until late October that Morton recorded their next league win of the season- again against the Honest Men. In a tousy affair that looked to be fizzling out to a goalless draw, George Oakley nodded home an Alan Power free kick three minutes from time to give Morton the points, and create bedlam amongst the Morton players and fans. 

As we entered the new year, with Morton’s fortunes taking a turn for the better, they were first footed by an Ayr United side who would have been as well not turning up for the Robbie Muirhead show. Muirhead was to enjoy perhaps his finest day in a Morton jersey, nodding in a 35th minute opener from a cross beautifully put up by Cammy Blues, before adding two more in the second half- the pick being his second from a fine run and right foot shot beyond Robbie Mutch on 57 minutes. His third a couple of minutes later saw him collect a Kirk Broadfoot pass at the edge of the box before reversing the ball across the goalkeeper with his left and complete a perfect hat-trick to pick up a well-deserved man of the match award and match ball for a fine afternoon’s work. 

Though Morton collected maximum points from their meetings with Cove Rangers last season, a win this evening would see them return the maximum from another side in this division for only the second time since completing a clean sweep against Airdrie in 2012-13. 

Opposition Analysis  

While Morton have had the better of Ayr over the course of the season, only league leaders Dundee United have enjoyed such a fine run of results against the Honest Men, who have been a model of inconsistency. In fact, their last ten league games have seen a run of a victory followed by a defeat, then followed by a victory. That of course included fine wins over Partick and Airdrie that really should have done Morton a favour, though we’ve failed to take advantage. Joy of joys, defeat by big-spending Raith Rovers on Saturday means that if they’re to continue that run, we can expect defeat this evening. 

Of course, since that last meeting at Cappielow, Ayr boss Lee Bullen has been relieved of his duties and replaced by former Hibernian, Aberdeen and Scotland midfielder Scott Brown. Despite their inconsistencies, Brown has steered Ayr clear of any major relegation concerns and will look to put a stamp on the side over the summer. 

I asked our regular font of knowledge for all things Ayr United, Marc Dunlop (@Marco_Ayr) for his thoughts going into the match: 

“The Honest Men host Greenock Morton on Tuesday evening in what the majority of Ayr supporters are calling a must win game. 

In what has been a hugely inconsistent campaign for Scott Brown’s men, nobody connected to Ayr can relax just yet, with the relegation play-off place still within touching distance, while Ayr’s poor record against Morton this season can’t be ignored. 

Ayr will be without Paddy Reading and ex-Morton man Andy Murdoch, and will give late fitness tests to Nathan McGinley and Frankie Musonda, who both missed the weekend defeat in Kirkcaldy. 

Kurt Willoughby should come into the manager’s thoughts for a starting place, as should academy graduate Scott Tomlinson, who has impressed since his debut earlier this year. 

All in all a pivotal game for Ayr as we continue to look over our shoulders, stuttering towards the finishing line. C’mon Ayr!” 

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Photo - GBR Photographs.

What’s Happening Elsewhere? 

After the weekend’s disappointment, there may be some with their eyes on events at Kirkcaldy and looking for a favour from big-spending Raith Rovers as the moneybags Fifers host Airdrie in a match re-arranged from the weekend of the Diamond’s SPFL Trust Trophy Final success. 

With Airdrie now sitting five points clear of Morton, the ideal scenario is of course victories for Morton and Murray’s Moneymen. Fans of Ayr, Airdrie, Dundee United and Dunfermline of course, may disagree! 

Elsewhere in Scotland- in the Premiership, Rangers can go top with a win over Dundee on the Dens Park bog with a win, while the Dark Blues will be looking for the points to confirm their top six berth on their return to the Premiership. 

In the fifth tier, East Kilbride can secure the Lowland League title if they avoid defeat at Civil Service Strollers, and the Highland League title race is really hotting up between four clubs, but the two most likely to contest the crown are Brechin and Buckie Thistle. Brechin, who are six points clear of Thistle go to Keith, but Buckie with two games in hand face a somewhat stiffer test at home to Brora Rangers. 

Betting Guide  

All odds are supplied by McBookie. All odds correct as of 7pm on 8th April 2024 and are subject to change. Please only bet within your means and visit BeGambleAware if you are struggling. 

Morton again go in as favourites at 13/10, with Ayr priced a 9/5 and the draw at 23/10. 

Morton to score in both halves is 12/5 and Robbie Muirhead to repeat his feat of Ayr’s visit to Cappielow by bagging another treble is 50-1, for the more optimistic among us. 

Match Officials  

Referee- Iain Snedden takes charge of his third Morton game of the season, having officiated the 0-3 early season defeat by Arbroath and the memorable 3-2 win over Dundee United at Tannadice in January. 

AR 1- Dougie Potter 

AR 2- Scott Bunting 

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