Ayr United 0 Queen’s Park 0

It was kind of hard to read the omens as we headed down the coast today on a truly glorious winter afternoon for our latest Scottish Cup adventure.

Look at the opposition: Ayr are a Championship side and are at home. Advantage the Honest Men.

But then again, they haven’t tasted success for a while and are at the wrong end of the table, perhaps lacking a bit of confidence. So maybe there was scope for an upset.

And what about the Spiders? Going to Somerset Park, we had only tasted defeat once in recent months, and had beaten the top two sides in our league – one of those victories coming away from HQ. Definite grounds for optimism there.

But what about the head-to-head between the teams. The less said about that the better if you were looking for reasons to put your shirt on the Spiders. We’ve only won one of our eight Scottish Cup meetings against Ayr, and Somerset Park victories for the Spiders down the decades have been as rare as an Abellio train running to time and stopping at the right stations (just ask Beardie McAllister how often that happens!).

So though the Bookies had the home side as clear favourites, there were reasons to believe that just about anything could happen. One thing that could be said with some certainty was that it would take a special performance from Gus MacPherson’s men if the name of Queen’s Park was to go in the hat for Sunday’s fifth round draw.

The Gaffer would have been hoping to have a full squad at his disposal, but faced an anxious wait to find out if Scott Gibson would be fit. Gulliver likes Gibbie … he’s a player who enjoys a tackle, and if the ball happens to get in the way then so much the better!

In the end, the defender  didn’t make it,  so Gus relied on this selection: Willie Muir, Ross Millen, Bryan Wharton, Ryan McGeever, Adam Cummins, Sean Burns, Jamie McKernon, Gregor Fotheringham, Paul Woods, Anton Brady and Ewan MacPherson. The bench comprised Owen Stott, Aiden Malone, David Galt, Conor McVey, Liam Brown and William Mortimer.

It was a familiar set-up and the players all looked eager to get a touch on the ball from the off.

There was a big scare for Queen’s after just three minutes … and it had nothing to do with an Ayr attack. Brady (not Woods as Gulliver originally reported) chased a ball down towards the byeline and managed to get in a cross. The ball never caused any danger, but the terracing wall did as Wee Anton disappeared over it and tumbled into the home support. As play continued, it took a good few seconds before he reappeared … somewhat shakily, but otherwise unhurt.

Anton might have been shaken, but it was Queen’s who were stirred into action. With five minutes on the clock, we won a corner on our left and as McKernon swung the ball in, it was met by the head of McGeever. His effort beat keeper Fleming, but was scrambled away by a defender.

The Spiders had the next entry in the notebook as well, and this time it was Woods. He found himself in a bit of space inside the box and although his shot was on target, it was well taken by Fleming.

There had been no signs so far of any inferiority complex among the visitors, but the home side do play in the Championship, and began to show attacking intent of their own.

Gary Harkins (brother of former Spider Paul) was involved in much of what they did and he won a free kick in a dangerous position after 13 minutes. Gilmour’s delivery was way too long, however, and we could all breathe easily again.

Muir had been largely untroubled in the Queen’s goal, but had to be quick off his line after 16 minutes as Devlin threatened. And the keeper then touched over a Harkins thunderbolt, before coming to claim the resultant corner.

It had been an entertaining start, but as the half wore on, both sides found it more difficult to carve out clear openings. But the final 10 minutes of the half saw the home side start to turn the screw. Fortunately, their final ball in was usually via the aerial route – and McGeever, Cummins and Wharton were more than happy to throw their heads in the way of anything that threatened.

Harkins and Crawford were at the heart of most of the Honest Men’s best moments. Five minutes from the break, a Harkins cross found McKenna’s head, but Muir was up to the task. And the keeper was then rescued by Wharton who produced a great block from a goalbound Crawford effort.

Queen’s had a chance to test Fleming right on the interval, but McKernon’s delivery wasn’t up to his usual high standard and was easily cleared.

Half Time

Ayr United 0 Queen’s Park 0

The general consensus was that Queen’s had more than held their own in the first 45, which produced enough incident to keep the 1326 spectators interested.

The second period, however, was a bit of a damp squib for most of the time. The first entry in the notebook came after 63 minutes when Ayr hooked former Spider Paul Cairney and replaced him with Jamie Adams.

Four minutes later, Burns weaved his way towards the Ayr goal and was halted illegally. McKernon’s delivery was heading for the right area – but Balatoni got to the ball first and cleared the danger.

Gus changed things at the midway point in the half, replacing young MacPherson and Woods with David Galt and Aiden Malone. The boys had run themselves into the ground, and earned the applause that greeted their departure.

Queen’s enjoyed perhaps their best moment of the second period as we entered the final 20 minutes.A McKernon free kick was sliced wildly behind by McKenna as it flew into the box. The corner was also bang on the money, but the keeper’s protection society swung into action and referee Cook awarded Ayr a foul for a “challenge” on Fleming.

The Spiders almost snatched the lead from another corner. This time it was Burns who swung the ball in, and Fleming was mighty relieved when it glanced to safety off the woodwork.

Ayr made their final changes as the clock ticked on, and just as in the first period, did produce a couple of anxious moments. Harkind and sub Forrest were both dispossessed inside the Spiders box by challenges which had to be timed to perfection.

Queen’s tried their best to find a late winner when Malone turned in the box and rolled the ball back to McKernon. The midfielder’s eyes lit up as glory beckoned, but Balatoni’s large frame denied him his moment in the sun.

Heartbreak threatened deep into injury time when McGeever and Muir got their wires crossed over a passback. The resultant corner fell to Harkins, but his shot flew across the face of the goal and out the other side. It would have been cruel in the extreme had we been punished for a silly defensive slip, but it’s happened before. This time, however, there were no more scares and Cook’s final whistle meant we will all be heading for Hampden on Tuesday night to do it all again.

By then we will know the prize awaiting the winners in the next round, but it’s nice to know that Queen’s are in that draw.

The good news for Queen’s is that we were never overawed by opponents from a higher league, on thier own patch, and when we got the ball down and played, we looked an accomplished outfit. The not so good news is that we didn’t make keeper Fleming work hard enough often enough. Here’s hoping we can put that right on Tuesday.

Keep the Faith.

Highlights from behind the goal

Our two best chances at Somerset Park