Bested but not bowed

Last updated : 12 April 2009 By Fargone

Sunday Mail

AYR boss Brian Reid's half-time dressing down inspired Ayr to edge a step closer to the title thanks to a superb Ryan Stevenson double.

After a stale opening 45 minutes United took the lead through Chris Aitken's penalty early in the second half only for Jamie Bishop to head Arbroath level.

However the quality of the visitors - and Stevenson in particular - shone through in the end with two classy strikes from the midfielder ensuring the Honest Men remain a point clear of rivals Raith Rovers.

Reid, who has slapped a ban on his players talking to the press during the run-in, said: "In the first half we didn't play like we can and I told the players that at half-time. In the second half we were far more like ourselves.

"With the quality and finishing ability we have it will always give us a good chance if we keep it tight at the back.

"Other teams might let their heads drop when they lose a goal but there's never been a doubt about our spirit.

"That's another game ticked off. We know what we've got to do - we only need to worry about ourselves."

There was little flow to the play in the first half - mostly because both teams had to reorganise after losing defenders to injury early on.

Ayr centre half Martin Campbell limped off to be replaced by Alistair Woodburn on the half hour.

Dean Keenan took Campbell's place in the heart of the defence and coasted through the game.

Four minutes later the Red Lichties lost Alan Rattray with Bishop introduced in a straight swap.

The home side probably shaded it before the break with Barry Sellars striking the base of the post five minutes from the interval with the best chance of the half.

Ayr looked much more likely after the restart and were gifted a penalty in 51 minutes when Steven Rennie's shove on Kenny Connolly was spotted by ref Steven Nicholls.

Chris Aitken sent Darren Hill the wrong way before Nicholls booked Hill and Keith Gibson for their protests.

That should have been it but Arbroath shocked the leaders with a leveller midway through the half.

Bishop timed his run perfectly to power a header into the back of the net from Sellars' corner.

However parity was to last just five minutes. Woodburn laid the ball off to Williams whose wayward shot landed at the feet of Stevenson.

The talented midfielder took out two Arbroath defenders with a swift turn and slotted the ball inside the near post.

And Ayr killed the game three minutes later when Stevenson lashed home Aitken's deep cross to keep Reid's men in pole position for the championship.

Arbroath manager John McGlashan conceded: "We gave a good account of ourselves but were beaten by a better side. We gifted a needless penalty that gave them a lift."