By Andy Conway at Somerset Park
Saints last visited Somerset five months ago, yet only five of the players who started in our February Scottish Cup tie started today’s game. Manager Danny Lennon, however, was in no rush to throw all of his latest signings into the team. Nigel Hasselbaink started up front with Paul McQuade, while Gary Teale and Graham Carey started on the bench.
Hosts Ayr United, newly returned to the First Division, included ex-Saints Eddie Malone, Mark Roberts and Gareth Wardlaw in their squad.
The starting line up featured Samson in goal, with Mair, McAusland, van Zanten and a trialist in defence. Goodwin, Thomson, McLean and McGowan started in midfield while McQuade partnered Hasselbaink up front.
Expectancy was high among the Saints fans in the Railway End as the west coast’s tropical heat wave greeted the teams. Unfortunately, the game didn’t turn out as expected.
If we were looking for an early sign that things wouldn’t go to plan, it came within the first few minutes. David van Zanten went down under a heavy challenge and was replaced by Darren McGregor, with Marc McAusland moving to right back.
Saints then set the pace and shape of the game, playing short passes and maintaining possession to frustrate a hard-working Ayr side. But although Saints made several half chances in the first half, they lacked a cutting edge and the United keeper mopped up easily.
Ironically, the player who looked most likely to score early in the game was ex-Saint Gareth Wardlaw, who had several chances from distance. He did put the ball in the net after sixteen minutes, but he had already been flagged offside.
For Saints, McLean, Hasselbaink and Thomson might have done better with chances, but it was no surprise when the players escaped the blazing heat for their half time team talk that the game was goal-less.
Half-Time: Ayr United 0-0 St Mirren
Saints upped the pace at the start of the second half, with McAusland getting forward effectively on the right. Six minutes into the second half he cut the ball back for McGowan, who beat the keeper, but was denied by the woodwork. A couple of minutes later McAusland sent a cross deep into the box, but the Ayr keeper just beat Hasselbaink to the ball and punched it clear.
With half an hour left, Saints brought on Teale, Carey and Smith for McQuade, Thomson and Samson. Carey looked eager to get involved and saw a lot of the ball in the closing third of the game. In the sixty-seventh minute, Teale was bundled to the ground and Carey sent the resulting free kick low to the left of the keeper, who did well to turn the ball round the post for a corner.
With fifteen minutes left, Gareth Wardlaw left the field to applause from both ends of the ground, before Saints made three further changes. Goodwin, Hasselbaink and McLean were replaced by McShane, McKernon and Kennedy.
Saints continued to push for the opener but a rare Ayr attack in the 80th minute produced the only goal of the game. While Wardlaw had stood out for United, it was his young replacement Paterson who made the breakthrough. After a scramble in the box, Paterson looked composed as he struck to put the honest men ahead.
With a minute left, a Carey free kick was turned narrowly wide, before a speculative lob from Ayr’s Robertson hit the bar.
Full-Time: Ayr United 1-0 St Mirren
St Mirren: Samson, van Zanten, trialist, Goodwin, Mair, McAusland, Thomson, McLean, Hasselbaink, McGowan, McQuade.
Subs: Teale, McKerron, Carey, McGregor, McShane, Kennedy, trialist, Smith (GK).
Referee: Steven McLean.
Assistant Referee: Lawrence Kerrigan.
Assistant Referee: David Munro.
Star Saint: While sharper finishing may have seen his name on the score sheet, Nigel Hasselbaink’s hard work caused problems for the Ayr defence throughout the game.