Betfred Cup Second Round

AFTER what had been an exceptional start to the season, Ayr were brought down to earth by Hibernian in the Betfred Cup in what manager Ian McCall described as a “game too far” for the Honest Men.

Goals from Anthony Stokes (19 minutes, 60 minutes), Simon Murray (31 minutes), Efe Ambrose (68 minutes) and Deivydas Matulevičius (84 minutes) showed the gap in quality as Hibernian saw off United with a comfortable display of skills, control, and deadly ability in front of goal.

For Ayr, their greatest concern the increasing injury list so early in the season with Craig McGuffie (hamstring) and Andy Geggan (calf) both being substituted.

As a precautionary measure, and with all substitutes used, Geggan was withdrawn from play leaving United with only ten men for the final 13 mins against a rampant Hibernian side who made good use of the extra man.

With Jamie Adams and Robbie Crawford both out, the loss of two additional midfielders has concerned the United gaffer.

“With the size of the squad, we just literally can’t cope. We were the victim of how well did in the Betfred Cup” said McCall.

“It was a game we could have done without.”

The return of Stokes to Hibs added an additional inspiration to the Hibs team who were aware that this match could have been a banana skin after United had beaten them on their home patch last season.

Their concerns proved unfounded and after a siege of early pressure Stokes put the Easter Road outfit ahead, heading in from six yards following a Swanson corner.

Ayr tried to respond with a Declan McDaid shot blocked at the edge of the box and in 24 minutes Craig McGuffie dribbled into the box but couldn’t find the route to goal as the Hibs backline swarmed around him to stop his effort.

In 31 minutes, it was 2-0 and this time Stokes turned provider. Receiving the ball some 25 yards out with back to goal, he found ample time to control, turn and provide an exquisite pass through the centre of the United defence in to the box and to Murray who slotted home.

Ayr could and should have done better when after a good move across the edge of the Hibs penalty area Craig Moore received the ball at the right-hand edge of the box. Moore didn’t appear to appreciate the time he had to turn and shoot and instead played the ball back out of the box and the attack fizzled out.

The visitors were struggling to match the fluid, controlled attacking play from Hibs and hadn’t really got into the game by the time the half time whistle blew.

United changed things about at the break with Alan Forrest and David Ferguson replacing McDaid and Moore, with Ferguson slotting in at right back and Craig Reid moving into central defence while Michael Rose moved into midfield. Rose’s more combative approach earned him a booking in 47 minutes, but the changes had added some spark to United who took the game to Hibs in the opening 15 minutes of the half.

Ayr started to create chances but the Hibs defence never truly seemed overly concerned.  A 25-yard shot over the bar from Geggan and a muted appeal for a penalty, when the ball struck McGregor, were the best that United could manage.

On the hour,  the game was well and truly over with Stokes again showing his predatory instincts. Murray curled a magnificent ball towards the back post, between the keeper and defence, allowing the Irishman to arrive perfectly and steer the ball home from a tight angle.

Eight minutes later, things went from bad to worse for the Honest Men as Ambrose also sneaked one in at the back post with the Ayr defence slow to static as the ball reached the big defender.

With Geggan leaving the park Ayr dug deep but failed to stop the Hibernian goal scoring machine and in 84 minutes they made it 5-0. Substitute Matulevičius latched onto the ball in the penalty area and despite the attention of Reid and Paddy Boyle, who combined to provide a deflection, his drive thumped into the net.

A tough and tiring encounter for United who now face Forfar Athletic at home on Saturday

STARMAN: Chris Higgins 3

Ross Docherty 2

Michael Moffat 1

HIBERNIAN: Marciano; Gray, McGinn, McGeouch, Swanson, S. Murray, Stevenson, McGregor, Ambrose, Stokes, Porteous: SUBSTITUTES: Laidlaw, Whittaker, Fontaine, Slivka, Matulevičius, Boyle, F. Murray.

AYR UNITED: Hart;  Higgins, Boyle, Rose, Geggan, Moffat, Moore, McDaid, McGuffie, Docherty, Reid. Subs: Avci (gk), Gilmour, Forrest, Ferguson, Faulds, Murphy, McCowan.

Referee: Kevin Clancy.

Attendance: 8,135.