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(FM'09) A 'United' Front - A Chance To Rewrite History Part II

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Tuesday 6th September 2011
It's back into Cup action for us tomorrow night, and a chance to reach the last four of the Scottish League Challenge Cup. We're odds on favourites with the bookies at 1/2 to put East Stirlingshire away, though we have received a warning from the increasingly vocal, and no less annoying, former player Gary Teale. He has singled out their Free Transfer summer signing from Alloa Athletic, striker Brian Graham, as a player we need to be very wary of tomorrow night. I'm inclined to disagree with him, as he has failed to find the net in his nine matches for his new club to date, and with no assists and a fairly poor average rating to go with it, we are not likely to worry about him too much.

Paul Dummett came on as a 32nd minute substitute for Wales Under-21's this evening after an injury, but it wouldn't be a happy outcome for the full back, as they lost 3-0 to France in Swansea. There was better news of centre back Laurence Gaughan. He came off the bench in the 50th minute for the Republic of Ireland Under-21's in Bray, and was on the park when the Irish scored three goals to secure a 4-1 victory over Latvia.

Wednesday 7th September
It's a rare midweek double header, as our Cup match is given a curtain opener as the Reserve side entertain Queen's Park in a 3pm kick off at Somerset Park. In a fairly one sided encounter, Northern Irishman and left sided player Adam Campbell opened the scoring for us in the second minute. He was joined on the scoresheet by Bryan Gilfillan, a fellow Ulsterman, just ten minutes later after he netted from the penalty spot. And the Northern Irish hatrick was completed in the 74th minute, when Shea Campbell rounded off a 3-0 win.

Scottish League Challenge Cup, Quarter-Finals
Somerset Park, Ayr
Ayr United v East Stirlingshire
Attendance :-
880. Weather :- Wet, 17c.

Changes are made to the starting lineup and matchday squad today, starting in the back four. Aidan O'Kane and Andrew Hageman are both left out for this one, replaced by Marcus Hall and David Partridge. There is also a change up front, with Lee Matthews dropped down to the Reserves, and on loan striker Craig Fisher selected to make his club debut and partner Alex Owen up front. New signings Mark Wilson and Neale Fenn are both named on the bench for this match, but there is no place for Liam McMenamin today.

We were a little fortunate that East Stirlingshire didn't have their shooting boots on in the early part of the match. Rossi Jarvis curled an 8th minute free kick around the wall, but couldn't quite bend it in enough to find the net, while a cross from full back Cameron Mawer in the 16th minute left us with a mismatch at the far post. Brian Graham easily climbed above Ciaran Foy, but his header back across goal was directed just over the top of the bar. Jarvis would try his luck from long distance again moments later, but Stephen Grindlay wasn't troubled as the midfielder missed the target. Foy wasn't enjoying the best of evenings at right back, and midway through the half, an attempted clearance was blocked by Anthony Mason. The winger managed to reach the ball before it crossed the byline, but his centre attempt ran right through the six yard box and to safety.

It was only after this point did we finally start to show some signs of life. Ryan McStay pinged a pass into the box for Alex Owen, but without a route to goal, the striker instead squared the ball across the box to James McLean, who struck a first time shot that stung the hands of Tom Woodhead. When the ball wasn't cleared properly, McLean sent in a cross that just evaded the slide of Craig Fisher. Suddenly our visitors were all at sea, and Ronan Ivory was lucky to escape a booking for a crude challenge on Peggy Lokando near the corner flag. Owen was establishing himself as the focal point of our attacks up front, but in the 37th minute a pass towards him failed to find it's target. The ball was hoisted up the park, and Graham raced onto it as our defence hesitated, expecting Grindlay to come off his line. But the keeper didn't advance further than the penalty spot, and Graham rounded him and had an empty net to shoot at. He failed to get a shot away though, as Olafur Örn Bjarnason slid into a desperate tackle and knocked the ball away from the out of form striker. Superb stuff from our Icelandic skipper. A minute before the break we launched a counter attack of our own. McLean made huge ground down the left before sending the ball to Owen about 20 yards out. He touched it back into the path of Aaron McElwee, who rather than shooting himself, split the defence with a pass that picked out Lokando, and the winger flicked the ball past Woodhead and into the net, only to see the flag raised against him for offside. It was a correct decision, the slow motion replay showing Ivory stepped up just before the ball was played.

Goalless at the break, I urged my players to keep the work rate high in the second half as East Stirlingshire were struggling to cope with us going forward. I was proved correct too, as we started well in the second half. Twice in the space of as many minutes McLean found room down the left. Firstly he just about kept the ball in play and cut it back to Fisher, who attempted to slam his shot inside the near post, Woodhead making a superb reaction stop. Then McLean got into a similar position, and picked out Fisher absolutely unmarked on the edge of the six yard box. This time the striker tried to guide his shot away from the keeper and inside the far post, but Woodhead flung himself to his left and got enough on it to push it away from Fisher, who couldn't believe that he hadn't scored at least once so far today.

We continued to press though, with McLean giving Kaid Mohammed a torrid time on our left side. The winger found himself in acres of space to collect a long pass from McElwee, and made his way towards goal, beating the beleagured left back on the way, before being tackled near the byline and winning a corner. McStay sent over that corner in the 58th minute, Woodhead made a poor decision to come off his line to collect it, and when he missed the ball, Marcus Hall was there to connect with a diving header and find the net, just as he had in the last round against Clyde! Now our tails were firmly up, and ten minutes later we attacked down the right, Foy playing a one-two with Lokando, before curling a cross into the box. Fisher took the ball on his chest, but then went down over the leg of sub Ian Wallace. The ref had no hesitation in awarding the penalty, to the fury of the East Stirlingshire players. McStay had quite the wait as the ref tried to restore order, but when the whistle finally went for the kick to be taken, Woodhead guessed the right way. He couldn't reach the ball though, which McStay had placed close enough to the post that it struck the inside of the upright before finding it's way in.

Confident that we had just kicked the stuffing right out of our oppenents, I turned to my bench. McElwee, Lokando and Owen were all replaced in the 75th minute, with Mark Wilson, Ryan Stevenson and Neale Fenn all coming on in their place, with Wilson and Fenn making their club debuts. But disaster struck just two minutes later, as Fisher took a knock, and with all my subs now used, we would have to see out this one with ten men.

We actually did a very good job of doing that too, until deep into injury time. McLean was causing problems again down the left, producing a mazy run that saw him beat three men, but his cross was behind our players in the box, and Ivory launched it up the park. Mohammed had pushed forward from his right back role, and was now on the left wing. He brought the ball down and effortlessly skipped past David Partridge. He had a free run until he entered the corner of the box, where he was challenged by Foy. The initial effort from our defender was fine, but after he knocked the ball loose and the pair tussled for the spinning ball, Foy grabbed an armful of Mohammed's jersey and sent him to the floor. Judging the incident to be still just inside the box, the ref pointed to the spot for the second time this evening. Jarvis took the spot kick as quick as he could, driving the ball just off centre as Grindlay went in the opposite direction. Too little, too late for East Stirlingshire though, as we take the spot in the last four.

Ayr United (0) 2 - Marcus Hall (58), Ryan McStay (71 pen)
East Stirlingshire (0) 1 - Rossi Jarvis (90+2 pen)
Stephen Grindlay; Ciaran Foy, David Partridge, Olafur Örn Bjarnason (capt), Marcus Hall; Aaron McElwee (Mark Wilson 75), Ryan McStay; Peggy Lokando (Ryan Stevenson 75), James McLean; Alex Owen (Neale Fenn 75), Craig Fisher (inj - 77).

Unused Substitutes :- Andrew Hageman, Aidan O'Kane.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 42% - 58%. Man of the Match :- Marcus Hall (Ayr United).

It wasn't perfect, or even close to, but it was a big improvement on last time out here against Arbroath. The press didn't necessarily agree, as they declared that we were fortunate to win this one. A little harsh I think, we struggled for the opening 25 minutes or so, but after that, I'd say we were in charge on the whole. James McLean would be within his rights to be aggrieved at missing out on the man of the match award I would say. A very good outing from the Northern Irish winger.

It says a lot about how prestigious, or not, that the League Challenge Cup is that they don't even bother finding neutral venues for the Semi-Finals, and so as we were out of the hat first, we will enjoy home advantage over Morton in a months time. The Board say the fans don't regard the competition as important. Well I do. If our League form doesn't get back on track this Saturday at Cowdenbeath and while the wage budget is well north of breaking point, it might be the thing that saves my skin!

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Thursday 8th September 2011
On the weekend, Scotland did the Republic of Ireland no favours at all. Last night though, they did them a huge turn. A pair of second half goals from Blackburn Rovers new signing, striker Steven Fletcher, earned Scotland a 2-0 victory over Denmark at Hampden Park. That meant a win in Budapest against an out of contention Hungary side would see the Irish leapfrog Denmark into second spot. It wasn't to be for David O'Leary's team though. Paris Saint-Germain's gifted left footed midfielder Szabolcs Huszti put the hosts in front five minutes before the break, and Ireland could only muster an equaliser from Sunderland forward Anthony Stokes.

Friday 9th September
There is no time to take stock of our win from a couple of nights ago, as we are straight back into League action tomorrow afternoon. We'll travel to face the bottom of the table 'Blue Brazil', or Cowdenbeath to give them their official title. We're Even money favourites to get the job done at Central Park, but it would take a brave gambler to bet on us right now.

Saturday 10th September

Scottish League Second Division
Central Park, Cowdenbeath
Cowdenbeath v Ayr United
Attendance :-
210. Weather :- Dry, 14c.

Team news for today's trip to the bottom of the table club see's a debut for Liam McMenamin at right back in place of the out of form Ciaran Foy. On the other side of the back four, Marcus Hall keeps his place ahead of Aidan O'Kane. In the midfield, Mark Wilson starts today in place of Aaron McElwee, while Neale Fenn takes the place of Alex Owen, with Craig Fisher fit to start after his knock in midweek. David Meyler returns to the matchday squad today, sitting on the bench.

A positive start almost saw us in front within 90 seconds. Marcus Hall chipped a free kick into the right channel of the box, and Peggy Lokando won the ball in the air, cushioning it down for Mark Wilson. The midfielder declined to shoot, instead sliding a diagonal pass in for his midfield partner Ryan McStay, his low drive at goal was pushed aside by Martin Rice.

It would take 18 minutes for Cowdenbeath to create a chance of note, Kyle Lambert backheeling the ball from almost on the byline into the path of Chris Arthur, he curled his shot just wide of the far post. Midway through the half, Arthur found himself as the first name in the refs naughty list for a foul on Liam McMenamin down near our own corner flag. He would pay a bigger price within seconds though, as the free kick was taken quickly, and David Partridge sent a diagonal ball from centre back down to the left wing for James McLean. Keeper Rice sprinted off his line to try and nulify the threat, but not too many people win a foot race with our Northern Irish winger after giving him a headstart. McLean got there first, and lifted the ball out of the keepers reach and in towards the penalty spot. Craig Fisher had an open net to shoot at, or would have, if Anthony Ashman hadn't put in a desperate lunge to try and prevent a tap in, and managed only to knock the ball into the net himself to put us in front.

We might have got a second shortly after, a Wilson corner was curled into the box, and the ball pinged around before finding Marcus Hall. The veteran left back's eyes lit up, but a pair of Cowdenbeath defenders threw their bodies in front of Hall's effort to block his path. But we were starting to struggle for some reason, and it would be Stephen Grindlay's turn to charge off his line ten minutes before the break, Arthur's long ball over the top sent Johhny Flynn-O'Connor into a chase, but Grindlay got there quickest and hacked the ball clear. He would be able to do nothing three minutes into injury time however. David Partridge had taken a knock from a challenge by Graeme Brown, and he was still in some discomfort when the corner came across, which was unfortunate, as he was due to be marking Flynn-O'Connor, who glanced his header across goal and inside the far post to level the match up.

That was frustrating and infuriating in equal measures, with the only good news being Partridge deemed fit to continue during the half time break. But the momentum we had built up early in the game was now gone, and we were being beaten at our own game when Arthur sent over another corner, Kasali Yinka Casal bringing the ball down, McLean missing his tackle, and the Nigerian defender poked the ball home from close range, netting his first goal for Cowdenbeath.

It could have gotten even worse, as 20 minutes later Arthur brought down a cross in the box and spun away from McMenamin, but Grindlay was able to get in front of his shot. It was going to take drastic action to salvage anything here, and I took off both McMenamin and Hall to leave us with just two at the back as we would go hunting. Ryan Stevenson and Alex Owen came on to replace them, Owen making it a three up front, Stevenson playing right behind them, giving us no shortage of options up the park. McLean was doing his best to get us back into this one, making a lung bursting run down the left, finding Alex Owen, who in turn squared it to Ryan Stevenson, but his shot was scuffed wide of the target.

Instead of having no shortage of options, it quickly became apparent that we were having no shortage of problems. Lambert held the ball up near the middle of the park, and then split our under staffed defence wide open with a through ball that Arthur walked onto, took into the box, and slotted past Grindlay, but just missed the target. Nothing went our way until the clock struck 90, when McLean was sent to the turf by Mark Baxter, who earned a yellow card. Stevenson sent the ball in towards the near post, and Lokando threw himself at the ball, but Rice plucked it from in front of him, and that would be as good as it would get for us today.

Cowdenbeath (1) 2 - Johnny Flynn-O'Connor (45+3), Kasali Yinka Casal (52)
Ayr United (1) 1 - Anthony Ashman (23 og)
Stephen Grindlay; Liam McMenamin (Ryan Stevenson 77), David Partridge, Olafur Örn Bjarnason (capt), Marcus Hall (Alex Owen 77); Ryan McStay, Mark Wilson; Peggy Lokando, James McLean; Neale Fenn, Craig Fisher.

Unused Substitutes :- Andrew Hageman, Aidan O'Kane, David Meyler.
Bookings :- David Partridge 59, Craig Fisher 87.
Possession :- 56% - 44%. Man of the Match :- Kasali Yinka Casal (Cowdenbeath).

That was Cowdenbeath's first win of the season, and we had pretty much gift wrapped it and paid the postage costs for them. After our very promising start to the season, the wheels had started to fall off with just one win in four in all competitions, and just two in six in the League. Life wasn't about to get any easier much quicker either, with Stirling Albion the next opponent on the fixture list.

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Monday 12th September 2011
Rangers are desperate to get rid of Nacho Novo, which is a shock, as they completely dismissed our loan offer for him last month. Now they are offering him to us, on a permanent deal for £180,000. It may as well be £18,000,000 though for us. And that's before we even discuss his £10,000 a week salary. Maybe one day. It looks like he'll be heading either to Southampton, Plymouth or Almería.

Friday 16th September
Novo isn't the only player looking to escape from Ibrox to play some First Team football. Cypriot winger Giorgos Efrem tells Ally McCoist that his International manager has warned him his place in their squad is under threat if he can't get a regular game. McCoist makes the player available for loan, so I send in an approach.

Stirling Albion are currently sat in second place, and tomorrow we will be very much the underdogs when we travel to face them. We are still sat in 4th place despite successive League defeats. Another one tomorrow would likely send us hurtling down the table though.

Our Under-19's are beaten 3-1 at Victoria Park against Ross County this afternoon. But the score became a bit of a side issue in this match. We were already two goals down when on the half hour mark 6'3 teenage centre back Jamie Johnston crashed to the grass after a late tackle. Barry McCluskey escaped any punishment, but Johnston didn't get off so lightly. He suffered a broken leg that will leave him out for anything up to seven months, which could result in a premature end to the 16 year old's first season on a Youth contract with the club. The 3-1 defeat seemed insignificant after that, Simon McAllister's goal in the second half nothing more than a consolation.

Saturday 17th September

Scottish League, Second Division
Forthbank Stadium, Stirling
Stirling Albion v Ayr United
Attendance :-
914. Weather :- Drizzle, 18c.3

I shuffled the deck a little more as we attempt to get a result and get ourselves back on track,3 Andrew Hageman and Aidan O'Kane both come back into the defence, with David Partridge rested and Laurence Gaughan sitting on the bench and Marcus Hall joining him. Mark Wilson is also left back in Ayr, as David Meyler comes into the starting lineup with Aaron McElwee on the bench, and Alex Owen starts in place of Craig Fisher.

It became clear pretty quickly that we were going to be under a lot of pressure today, Pat McWalter making good ground down the right before sending a pass into the box for Darryl Knights. The striker was under close observation from Andrew Hageman, but with his back to goal he managed to spin away from the Irishman and send a pass into the path of Darren Young. He went for power, which was unfortunate for him, as Stephen Grindlay had got off his line, narrowed the angle, and prevented him from opening the scoring.

We had a good effort ourselves in the 7th minute, Ryan McStay received the ball near the corner of the Albion box, and flashed a shot in that only just missed the far top corner. But that was a brief moment of respite, as it was mostly one way traffic, Stephen Armstrong's well delivered 21st minute cross was headed onto the target by Knights, but Grindlay made a superb low stop to keep that one out. Armstrong and Young would have further efforts before the break, each just clearing the bar as we held on for dear life.

I praised my keeper and back four at the break, and asked my midfield to keep giving them the help they needed today. We were frustrating Albion and their supporters, and if we could manage to pinch a goal after the break, it would likely be a fatal wound for them. That wouldn't be our priority though, keeping them out was our goal today.

We would have the first chance of the second half though, or maybe that should have been we would have had the first chance. Ten minutes after the break Peggy Lokando escaped the attention of Armstrong and stood up a cross towards the back post. McStay jumped for the header, but he was given a shove Craig Gupwell. The stand behind the goal housed our travelling fans, who all screamed for a penalty, but the ref waved play on.

The good news was that Albion were starting to run out of ideas, and our job was getting easier. That didn't stop me being a little cautious though, given our poor record in the League so far. In the 73rd minute I took off David Meyler and Neale Fenn, replacing them with Aaron McElwee and Craig Fisher. That would leave McStay playing in a holding role between the back four and midfield, Lokando moving into a midfield three, and Alex Owen playing on the right with Fisher as the lone striker, James McLean sitting behind him.

It was a bit of a risk as it would invite Albion onto us, but with the extra support for the back four, the home side were reduced to shooting from range. With injury time only left on the clock, I made a final change to run down some more time, Ryan Stevenson coming on for James McLean. But that change allowed the ref to continue the game a little longer, and Albion won a free kick that Liam Corr hoisted into the penalty box, but Olafur Örn Bjarnason headed it clear, and we escaped with a point.

Stirling Albion (0) 0
Ayr United (0) 0

Stephen Grindlay; Liam McMenamin, Andrew Hageman, Olafur Örn Bjarnason (capt), Aidan O'Kane; Ryan McStay, David Meyler (Aaron McElwee 73); Peggy Lokando, James McLean (Ryan Stevenson 90+1); Neale Fenn (Craig Fisher 73), Alex Owen.
Unused Substitutes :- Laurence Gaughan, Marcus Hall.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 51% - 49%. Man of the Match :- Olafur Örn Bjarnason (Ayr United).

It might be difficult to overstate what a huge result and performance that was for us at this stage of the season. It didn't do our League position too much good, as we dropped down to 7th place, but it's still early days as far as that was concerned, and snapping that brief run of defeats was more important. The next step is to try and get back to winning ways. Veteran Captain of the side Olafur Örn Bjarnason was awarded man of the match today, but frankly, you could have given it to Stephen Grindlay or any other member of the back four.

Rangers have accepted our loan offer for their winger Giorgos Efrem. It's now down to the Cypriot winger to decide if he fancies a season in the West of Scotland.

Sunday 18th September
The Reserves rack up another win with a 3-0 result in Coatbridge against the second string of Albion Rovers. An early own goal from Glenn Hand got us up and running, with striker Adam Vickers adding a second before the break. It was down to midfield man of the match Shaun Smith to put the finishing touch to the performance, as he netted the third with ten minutes remaining.

Monday 19th September
It's a little surprising that only one member of our defence makes it into the Team of the Week selection. It's not surprising in the slightest that it's Aidan O'Kane who gets that honour.

Tuesday 20th September
Giorgos Efrem has rejected our offer to take him on loan for the rest of the season. It's not surprising, but it is frustrating.

Thursday 22nd September
We have been pretty lucky with injuries so far, but we have suffered one today in a training session. Right back Ciaran Foy has started ten matches in all competitions this season, but he will be sitting out up to a month after suffering a thigh strain. With the 23 year old on the shelf for a while, Liam McMenamin is going to get a real opportunity to try and cement himself as the first choice right back now.

Friday 23rd September
Fifth placed Brechin City are our visitors tomorrow afternoon, and we are 2/5 favourites to turn them over at Somerset Park. It's very much a match between a pair of inconsistent sides, although at least we have the ability to salvage the occasional draw, whereas City have three wins and four defeats from their seven matches to date.

It's another win on the board for our Under-19's in their Group 3 match with Berwick Rangers at Somerset Park. A pair of first half goals from Robbie Bradley and Patrick Barron rendered a late consolation goal from Shaun Cort pretty meaningless.

Our right back options have also taken a further hit today, as 19 year old age group USA International defender Patrick Otte has suffered a back strain while lifting weights that will leave him on the sidelines with Ciaran Foy for up to a month.

Saturday 24th September

Scottish League Second Division
Somerset Park, Ayr
Ayr United v Brechin City
Attendance :-
875. Weather :- Dry, 13c.

Despite the great defensive performance last time out in Stirling, I make a change to the back four, with David Partridge stepping into the team in place of Andrew Hageman, who in turn replaces Laurence Gaughan on the bench. In midfield it's Aaron McElwee back in place of David Meyler, who rotates out of the squad with Mark Wilson back on the bench today. In the final change, Craig Fisher starts in place of Neale Fenn.

The message to the players was to get the fans behind us from the get go. That message sank in too, Craig Fisher beat a man to get into the box via the right channel, and sent a short cross into the middle. Ryan McStay had the ball taken off his boot, but the ball ran loose towards the edge of the box, where Aaron McElwee took a touch to set himself, and then placed it right into the far top corner and set us on our way.

Or not. We had already had a warning when Ryan Charles fired over ten minutes after we took the lead, but in the 18th minute Dwayne McManus crossed towards Seán Friars. We managed to knock it away from him, but only as far as Charles, who knocked it into the net with a low driven shot that Stephen Grindlay didn't even see through the crowd.

That was a setback, but we looked to put it right, Aidan O'Kane sending over a corner on the half hour, Olafur Örn Bjarnason connected with a header that thumped off the far post, David Partridge volleyed the loose ball towards goal, but that was blocked. It ran loose for Craig Fisher, but when he looked a dead cert to score, James Spencer reached out and grabbed the ball to deny our on loan striker. When the ref failed to play a clear advantage approaching half time as Fisher and Alex Owen had a two on one, but he blew the whistle for a foul on McStay, it was starting to look like it might not be our day after all despite the promising start.

I told the players that the win was there for them today, but they had to go out and grab it, take their chances when they came along, and get the job done. It would take us some time to fashion a chance in the second half, Fisher went short to collect the ball from a throw in, and pinged a pass to Alex Owen on the edge of the box. He held the ball up and laid a pass off to McStay, who drove a shot from 20 yards out, which took a huge deflection leaving Spencer helpless, but it just missed the target and we would earn only a corner from it.

Still, for us, corners are not such a bad thing. And while nothing came from that particular corner, ten minutes from time after James McLean's shot was pushed wide, McStay curled a corner in towards the near post. Bjarnason jumped with Spencer, and both missed the ball, but it curled right in off the underside of the cross bar. Did he mean it? Who cares! We were back in front, and now we just had to hold out.

I pulled both my wingers back into a deeper role to put us into a more conventional 4-4-2 formation. Friars tried to bring it back all square with a free kick from range that Grindlay watched over the bar, while Peggy Lokando made an important tackle near the edge of his own box. Mark Wilson and Ryan Stevenson came on as late subs designed to run down the clock, and allow us to set ourselves up even more compactly. City concentrated on trying to exploit the wings late on, but even Stevenson was putting in a defensive shift, and we finally had three points on the board for the first time in four League matches.

Ayr United (1) 2 - Aaron McElwee (6), Ryan McStay (81)
Brechin City (1) 1 - Ryan Charles (18)
Stephen Grindlay; Liam McMenamin, David Partridge, Olafur Örn Bjarnason (capt), Aidan O'Kane; Ryan McStay, Aaron McElwee; Peggy Lokando (Ryan Stevenson 89), James McLean; Alex Owen, Craig Fisher (Mark Wilson 90).

Unused Substitutes :- Andrew Hageman, Marcus Hall, Neale Fenn.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 52% - 48%. Man of the Match :- Ryan McStay (Ayr United).

Match winner McStay took the plaudits from the press, but in the dressing room I congratulated every player on their performance. We weren't pulling up any trees here, but it was important to get the confidence back into the players. Now we need to get in a run of form and put some wins up, and get the forwards scoring sooner rather than later. It was good that the midfielders were able to show them how it's done today, moving us back into the top half of the table.

The press even go as far as suggesting that this win might have saved our season. They believe that dropping down the table at such an alarming rate was the kind of season breaker that blights the records of clubs that typically end up in the relegation picture.

Sunday 25th September
Somerset Park hosts it's third match in as many days as the Reserves take centre stage. They rack up another win to move into second place in Group 3 of the Reserve League, second half goals from Abdi Ibrahim and Adam Vickers earning a 2-0 win over Stranraer.

Monday 26th September
We have one player in the Second Division Team of the Week, and for a change it's not Aidan O'Kane. In form midfielder Ryan McStay cracks the lineup this weeks after Saturday's game winning goal and man of the match performance.

Tuesday 27th September
Not a good news kind of day. Veteran left back Marcus Hall has done a good job when called upon this season, but we won't be able to call upon his help until the New Year at least. He has suffered a slipped disc in the weight room, and after being sent to a specialist, we are told three to four months on the sideline for Hall.

Another full back isn't very happy, and has chosen today to hand in a transfer request. Dutch 19 year old Arsenio Halfhuid has made only three appearances from the bench so far this season, and the former SBV Excelsior and Aston Villa youngster claims he didn't bargain for this much competition for a spot in the First Team. His request is granted, but as I'm in no particular rush to get rid of him, I'd kind of like to get a fee for him.

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Posted (edited)

2011/12 Scottish League Second Division, Up To & Including Friday 30th September 2011

| Pos   | Inf   | Team               |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   |

| 1st   |       | Arbroath           |       | 8     | 6     | 2     | 0     | 14    | 5     | +9    | 20    |
| 2nd   |       | Stirling           |       | 8     | 5     | 1     | 2     | 12    | 9     | +3    | 16    |
| 3rd   |       | Airdrie Utd        |       | 8     | 4     | 1     | 3     | 8     | 5     | +3    | 13    |
| 4th   |       | Partick Thistle    |       | 8     | 3     | 3     | 2     | 13    | 9     | +4    | 12    |
| 5th   |       | Ayr                |       | 8     | 3     | 3     | 2     | 8     | 8     | 0     | 12    |
| 6th   |       | Peterhead          |       | 8     | 3     | 1     | 4     | 8     | 9     | -1    | 10    |
| 7th   |       | Brechin            |       | 8     | 3     | 0     | 5     | 14    | 12    | +2    | 9     |
| 8th   |       | East Fife          |       | 8     | 2     | 2     | 4     | 9     | 16    | -7    | 8     |
| 9th   |       | East Stirlingshire |       | 8     | 2     | 1     | 5     | 4     | 12    | -8    | 7     |
| 10th  |       | Cowdenbeath        |       | 8     | 1     | 2     | 5     | 7     | 12    | -5    | 5     |


Edited by neilhoskins77

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Saturday 1st October 2011
October will be a fairly good month from a schedule point of view for us. Four matches, three in the League plus a Cup Semi-Final, the first three all at home, and no midweek matches. We get started today with a home match against a Peterhead side sat right behind us in 6th spot. They'll come to Somerset Park knowing that win against us will send them back above us in the table as the season reaches it's quarter point today. We're slim favourites to win today.

Scottish League Second Division
Somerset Park, Ayr
Ayr United v Peterhead
Attendance :-
894. Weather :- Gusty, 10c.

The rotation is halted for the time being, after showing some tenacity to grind out the result last time out against Brechin City, I keep faith with the same eleven that started that match. I do have one change forced upon me, as with Marcus Hall now out with an injury, I need to replace him on the bench. 27 year old utility player Bryan Gilfillan is brought into the matchday squad in his spot.

With home advantage, we were quick out of the blocks and looking to get ourselves in front. Peggy Lokando stepped infield off the right wing and continued to run square across the edge of the box, before shooting with his weaker left foot, Michal Kula tipping the ball over the bar. Ninety seconds later, Lokando poked another shot at goal from much closer in. Kula got a piece of the ball but only managed to slow it down, the visitors were only saved by Leroy Byrne hacking it off the line. Our impressive start continued when an Aidan O'Kane long throw was flicked on by James McLean, but Craig Fisher got under his shot and cleared the bar by quite some distance.

Lokando was causing Peterhead all manner of problems on the right, and a long run from him was dealt with very agriculturally by Seán Evans. The ref didn't even blow for a foul, but karma dished out it's own punishment, as Evans left the park on a stretcher and would take no further part in the game. Better yet, the next time one of our players was brought down on that wing, O'Kane curled in a free kick, and skipper Olafur Örn Bjarnason escaped his marker and volleyed home a 27th minute opener to put us in front.

Both sides swapped chances in the remainder of the first half, Byrne's shot from range was just wide of the target, while at the other end Aaron McElwee got plenty of dip on his shot, but it just cleared the cross bar and landed on the roof of the net. We would lose Alex Owen to injury in the 37th minute, and he was replaced by Neale Fenn. But three minutes before the break, Anthony Pulis made ground down the right, beating O'Kane and slinging a cross into the centre, Jamie Tolley getting a touch on the edge of the six yard box and diverting the ball beyond Stephen Grindlay and inside the far post. At first look, it appeared as if Tolley was offside, but closer inspection revealed that Liam McMenamin had been just a fraction too late stepping up, and played the Peterhead striker onside.

I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed that we didn't have a half time lead to show for our efforts, but I kept the team talk on the positive side. Corners have been an incredible source of goals for myself and my teams since I started back in Lurgan, and O'Kane's delivery nearly produced another quickly after the restart, Bjarnason connecting with a header that hit the top of the cross bar on it's way over. In fact, that combo would be very prolific during this second half. Bjarnason headed just over in the 53rd minute, and then glanced an effort just wide in the 62nd minute after a corner had eventually been won following dangerous low crosses from first Lokando, and then McLean.

The one man crusade to put Peterhead to the sword continued in the 66th minute, Bjarnason going even closer this time, getting in front of his marker and connecting with O'Kane's corner with a powerful downward header that just missed the target. A minute later, the big break arrived. After a swift counter attack involving Ryan McStay, Neale Fenn and Fisher, it was Lokando who broke into the penalty box, but was felled by Stuart Smith. It would be the skipper who would take the ball too, and insist on taking the spot kick himself. But Kula had done his homework, and when Bjarnason tried to blast his spot kick right down the middle, the keeper stood strong and pushed the effort away, with Smith showing his gratitude by making sure he was first to the rebound to clear the ball away from Fisher.

I decided it would be prudent to make some changes. With corners being the main supply line today, and a quarter of the match still to play, I brought Andrew Hageman on for David Partridge, the Irish centre back being a good man to have around in these situations. I burned my final change at the same time, Mark Wilson sends in a decent corner delivery himself, and he replaced Aaron McElwee. There were claims for another penalty in the 75th minute, McLean getting inside the box and managing to send over a cross despite having his shirt pulled by David Donald, the ref said no spot kick, and the cross was behind Fisher and too far in front of Fenn.

The chances would continue as we entered the closing minutes of the match, McLean used Wilson as the midfielder overlapped him and Wilson picked out Fisher near the penalty spot, the striker just unable to wrap his weaker left foot around the ball enough to curl his shot back into the corner of the net. From the same left side, Wilson floated in a free kick, Bjarnason dragging several players along with him, O'Kane meeting the cross with a header that flew wide.

With seconds left to play, we won yet another corner. O'Kane sent it over once more, and Bjarnason manouvered himself into half a yard of space. The Icelandic centre back rose highest, and strained his neck muscles to get as much power on the ball as he could, which is ineffective when the ball misses the target.

Ayr United (1) 1 - Olafur Örn Bjarnason (27)
Peterhead (1) 1 - Jamie Tolley (42)
Stephen Grindlay; Liam McMenamin, David Partridge (Andrew Hageman 73), Olafur Örn Bjarnason (capt), Aidan O'Kane; Ryan McStay, Aaron McElwee (Mark Wilson 73); Peggy Lokando, James McLean; Alex Owen (inj - Neale Fenn 37), Craig Fisher.

Unused Substitutes :- Bryan Gilfillan, Ryan Stevenson.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 53% - 47%. Man of the Match :- Aidan O'Kane (Ayr United).

We had more of the ball, and almost all of the chances. Eleven corners, fours shots on target, and another eight off target. We had created enough chances to win three or four games, especially when you take into account our usual profficiency from corners. It was one of those frustrating days as a football manager. One day, I might write a story about it......

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Sunday 2nd October 2011
As there was a game yesterday, the monthly appraisal was pushed back a day. The Board members remain satisfied with with our performance right now, and they remain excited by the prospect of watching Ryan McStay continue to run our midfield. They are much less enchanted by the performances of Alex Owen so far, and they regard his signing as a poor piece of business. I still believe the young forward can change their opinions. The club lost nearly £35,000 in September.

Three of our players have been selected by their nations for the upcoming round of Internationals in the October window. Laurence Gaughan is one again called up by the Republic of Ireland for their UEFA European Under-21 Championship Qualifier against Holland in Rotterdam. There is also another call up for Paul Dummett as Wales face Montenegro in Podgorica followed by Moldova in Swansea in the same competition. Zannetos Mytides is also called up for Cyprus, though he is a long shot to see any game time as their Senior side travel to face the Czech Republic in Teplice before returning home to play Wales in Larnaka in the UEFA 2012 European Championship Qualifiers.

Monday 3rd October
Aidan O'Kane has some company in the rearguard of the Second Division Team of the Week, as Olafur Örn Bjarnason is also selected.

Tuesday 4th October
Our League Challenge Cup Semi-Final tie with Greenock Morton on Saturday has been selected for live TV coverage. The money we receive for that, in addition to the gate receipts we are expecting to get from a bumper crowd at Somerset Park, should mean that this month is much better than last month as far as finance goes at least.

Our Under-19's have crashed out of the Scottish Youth Cup in the Second Round, beaten 5-2 away to Airdie United.

Wednesday 5th October
Our search for a quality striker to turn us into bonafide contenders has led us to Iceland, and Fram's 20 year old Guðmundur Magnússon. He has just had a breakout season, playing sixteen time for Fram in their successful bid to avoid relegation from the Premier Division. Our contract offer is three times what he earns now, and will continue to earn, as he says he doesn't quite feel ready for a move abroad right now, and instead signs a deal to join Breiðablik, the Premier Division Runner's-Up. Back to the drawing board.

Friday 7th October
Tomorrow is Challenge Cup Semi-Final day, and we welcome Morton to Somerset Park. They come into the match say 5th in the First Division, while we are in the same position one tier lower down the pyramid. This will be the third meeting between the sides since the save began in 2008/09, and both have come in each of the last two seasons, with both in this very same competition. Morton won the first meeting in August 2009 with a 3-1 win in the Second Round, while we repaid them with a 1-0 win last July in the First Round. The First Division side are odds on favourites, while you can get 3/1 on Ayr making an appearance in the Challenge Cup Final next month.

Saturday 8th October

Scottish League Challenge Cup, Semi-Final
Somerset Park, Ayr
Ayr United v Greenock Morton
Attendance :-
2,981. Weather :- Dry, 7c.

We created so many chances against Peterhead that I had no intention of making any changes for this one, and both starting eleven and matchday squad remain as they were a week ago. Nigerian striker Kayode Odejayi has been pinpointed as Morton's dangerman with 8 goals in all competitions to date. He has some good back up too, not least from 25 year old Australian midfielder Erik Paartalu and former Scottish Under-21 International right winger, Iain Flannigan, who arrived from Leicester City on a Free Transfer in the summer.

With nearly 3,000 fans inside Somerset Park, plus a National TV audience on a Saturday afternoon, we were keen to put in a good performance. So a goal after just 70 seconds was just the ticket. Liam McMenamin sent the ball down the right touchline, and Craig Fisher raced onto it. The forward angled his run into the box, and then sent the ball towards the far post. Northern Irish winger James McLean found himself unmarked, and it was hardly a strikers finish, as he volleyed it right into the ground, but it looped up and over the dive of Pierre-Antoine Martini and his very first goal for the club was a big one!

Morton were giving us less to worry about than anticipated, Erik Paartalu's effort was a desperate one from long range, and didn't threaten the target. A shot from Iain Flannigan was from much closer in, and was aided by a deflection from Aidan O'Kane, which fortunately for us took all the sting out of the shot, and Stephen Grindlay managed to get back across his goal and make the save. Alan Morgan was next to have a crack, but his shot from the edge of the box was blocked. And even when we didn't quite get it right, lady luck seemed to be smiling at us today, Ian Sharps cross from deep on the half hour should have been comfortable for Grindlay to take, but he dropped the ball right to Flannigan, who could only fire it right back at our prone goalkeeper, who held it at the second attempt.

Sometimes one goal is all you need to jolt yourself into a rich vein of goalscoring form, at least I hope thats what will eventually happen with my strikers. But it was McLean who was looking for a second today, and good build up work from Aaron McElwee and Peggy Lokando saw the ball come to McLean on the edge of the box. He caught this one much better, but he sent his shot over the bar. Before the break, McMenamin sent another ball down the right wing, and Lokando was past Sharps and away into the box. As he approached the byline, he cut the ball back into the middle, Michael Nelson missed the ball, and Fisher sent in a low shot, but Martini made a superb stop.

Thanks to the Frenchman's great reaction save, we were only one up at the break and it was still very much game on. I didn't want to praise up the players too much and have them think the job was done, so instead I encouraged them, telling them that the job wasn't done yet, but the opposition were getting frustrated. They nearly did something about that less than two minutes after the restart, Morgan's corner picking out Liam Hatch at the near post, his glanced header was turned over the top by Grindlay.

But we were not exactly going into our shells, McMenamin picking that ball down the touchline once more, and Lokando made his run into the box, then tried to force the ball between Martini and his near post, the keeper doing well to give him nothing to shoot at and push the ball out to safety. Or as safe as it gets when we have a corner. As the defence all gravitated towards Olafur Örn Bjarnason as O'Kane delivered the ball, he instead sent it to the edge of the box and to Ryan McStay, who unfortunately hit nothing but sky with his shot. With Lokando causing problems on the right, McLean was finding space on the left, and Owen Heary picked up the first yellow card of the match just before the hour, the full back beaten for pace by our goalscorer, and sent him to the grass with a poorly timed lunge.

We were doing well, but we hadn't yet killed Morton off. In the 63rd minute, top scorer Kayode Odejayi made his first positive attacking contribution of the match, picking up the ball wide left and cutting further and further infield, before playing a short pass to David Amoo, the Ghanaian former Liverpool youngster sending in a shot on the turn that just missed the target. But Odejayi would contribute considerably more just a minute later when he got on the end of Flannigan's short, low cross, and buried his low effort into the net to level the match at 1-1.

That was a bitter blow, but we went right back on the offensive, David Partridge sending the ball wide to Lokando, and the winger got into the box, before going down under what he believed to be a foul by Sharps. The ref wasn't inclined to agree, and awarded only a corner instead. That would also produce a penalty claim, Bjarnason convinced he had been prevented from jumping and trying to get on the end of O'Kane's delivery, the ref emphatically said no.

The game had now started to close up, neither side prepared to risk too much and ship a goal at a crucial stage. It was likely to need a moment of magic to win it at this late stage, Morton sub Graeme Holmes not managing to find it with a free kick struck from all of 30 yards out that Grindlay watched carefully the whole way. Odejayi looked much more likely when he got on the end of Morgan's cross from the left, but he steered his shot just the wrong side of the near post. I opted for fresh legs in the midfield in the 83rd minute, as McElwee was replaced by Mark Wilson, and as the clock hit the 90 minute mark, a key moment arrived. Heary crudely body checked McLean in full flow as he crossed halfway, and the ref called the already booked full back towards him. With the crowd baying for what appeared to be an inevitable second yellow, the ref lost his bottle, and issued him with nothing more than a warning. The atmosphere was already pretty amped up, but the ref had just lit the touchpaper as we moved into extra time.

We thought we had started the extra half hour exactly as we had started the regulation 90 minutes, McMenamin picked out Mark Wilson in the midfield, and he threaded the ball through the Morton defence to Fisher, who collected the pass, rounded Martini, and slotted the ball into the net, only to be dismayed by the offside flag. The replays were inconclusive. The refereeing didn't seem too equal from where I was stood, but we pushed on nonetheless, Wilson getting his head to a long throw by McMenamin, and Martini had to clutch onto the ball right under his own cross bar.

Morton weren't going away though, a long ball over the top from Spencer Harris sent Odejayi into space. McMenamin got back and forced the striker into a pass, and the moment seemed to have passed when Amoo struggled to get the ball out of his feet. But when he did, he found Holmes, who let got with another effort from range that took the top coat of paint from the bar on it's way over. That was a let off, as Grindlay wasn't getting near it.

As we moved into the second half of extra time, Lokando picked out Fisher, and the striker just missed the far post with his shot across goal. I still had two changes left to make, and I did so in the 107th minute. The fresh legs of Ryan Stevenson and Neale Fenn would of course be a bonus, but on top of that, both would be considerably higher up a list of potential penalty takers than Lokando and Alex Owen who they replaced. Yeah, it had gotten to the point where thoughts naturally turned to spot kicks, though we were nearly saved that test by David Partridge's awful back pass, Grindlay saving his defender and the ball as he tore off his line to block sub Diarmuid O'Carroll's shot. There was still time to try and win it at the other end, but when McLean got past the crowds favourite villain, Heary, his cross was plucked out of the air by Martini, and we would head to the drama of a penalty shoot out.

We were more concerned with which end the kicks were taken from as opposed to the order in which they were taken, something that clearly didn't cross the minds of Morton as they won the toss, and elected to go first. They would do so in front of the stand where our most vocal supporters elected to watch the match. O'Carroll would go first, and he drove a left footed penalty just off centre, too powerfully hit for Grindlay to do anything about. Mark Wilson would be up next, and he went low and hard, not quite finding the bottom corner, but close enough that Martini wasn't getting there even though he guessed the right side.

Odejayi couldn't have got his effort any further into the corner if he tried, nudging Morton back in front, while up stepped the player I was probably most worried about, Neale Fenn. I need not have concerned myself though, as the veteran striker picked out the exact spot that Odejayi had just hit, and made it 2-2. Centre back Spencer Harris was next up, placing a perfect and powerfully struck penalty right into the top corner, while Ryan Stevenson also went for power, which was brave, but accurate, as the status quo continued.

Up next for Morton would be Owen Heary. Lucky to still be on the park, and getting booed out of town each time he touched the ball, he was also the target of some pretty unsavoury songs as he stepped forward to take his turn. He then had to deal with Grindlay slowing down the process as best as he could, all of which took it's toll on the full back, as he blasted his spot kick way over the bar, to the absolute delight of our fans. We now needed cool heads, and I still had two regular spot kick takers to call upon. Aidan O'Kane stepped up next, and drilled his left footed kick confidently into the bottom corner.

One spot kick remaining each, and we had a one goal advantage, meaning we were almost already at the sudden death point. Particularly for Alan Morgan, who had to score to keep Morton alive. Grindlay got fingertips to it, but could only push it higher into the net, and the visitors were still alive. It would fall on Ryan McStay now. Score, and we were in the Challenge Cup Final, miss and it would be sudden death. He had proven himself reliable already for us, and he did it again here, slotting the ball into the bottom corner, and finishing the job!

Ayr United (1) 1 - James McLean (2)
Greenock Morton (0) 1 - Kayode Odejayi (64)
(after extra time, Ayr United win 5-4 on penalties)
Stephen Grindlay; Liam McMenamin, David Partridge, Olafur Örn Bjarnason (capt), Aidan O'Kane; Ryan McStay, Aaron McElwee (Mark Wilson 83); Peggy Lokando (Ryan Stevenson 107), James McLean; Alex Owen (Neale Fenn 107), Craig Fisher.
Unused Substitutes :- Andrew Hageman, Bryan Gilfillan.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 52% - 48%. Man of the Match :- James McLean (Ayr United).

I was told that this competition didn't matter, that it was insignificant. Try telling that to the 2,500 or so Ayr fans who were celebrating wildly after Ryan McStay put that last penalty away. The club will appear in their first Cup Final since their surprise run to the Scottish League Cup Final a decade ago. You can make that two decades since the club last appeared in the Final of this competition.

I appear to be making a bit of speciality out of the Cup competitions. In Lurgan, my team won a Cup competition in each of my two full seasons at the club, and now in my first full season in Scotland, my team had also managed to reach the Final of a Cup competition. Sometimes, life as a football manager can be exhilarating, I might write a story about it one day.........

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Sunday 9th October 2011
My head hurts. That was quite the celebration we enjoyed last night, and we haven't won anything yet either. I think I just needed to let go for a few hours. A few weeks ago things were not looking so good for us, and now we just might have turned the corner. We were still getting it done without any help from strikers. We have three strikers that we have been rotating, and they have played almost 1,500 minutes of football between them, without managing to find the net. It's an absolutely horrific run of form, and when you factor in that James McLean's strike yesterday was his first ever for the club, it makes you realise how reliant we have become on our midfield and of course, our defenders from our bread and butter of set pieces.

Eventually, either they will have to start finding the net, or we will have to bring in strikers who can get the job done. For now, we can take hope from the news that yesterday produced the largest gate receipts in the clubs history, as we banked £35,000 from the day, more than doubling the previous record of £14,000 from the May 2009 match against Ross County in the Second Division Promotion Final. That match had also produced our best attendance figure during this save, 1,730 the figure for that match. The 2,981 that attended yesterday has easily surpassed that, but it's a long, long way off the September 1969 record of 25,225 for a match against Rangers.

Our opponents for the Final, which will be held at Broadwood Stadium, home of Clyde, on Sunday 13th November, will be Raith Rovers. That is not necessarily good news based on history. We have only played the now Scottish First Division side four times since the save started, and they were all in the opening season of 2008/09 when both clubs were in the third tier. Rovers won all four fixtures by an aggregate score of 10-1. Hopefully we have more luck in a Cup match against them. They have been led this season primarily by the goals of on loan Newcastle United striker, Nile Ranger.

Scotland played their penultimate UEFA 2012 European Championship Qualifier last night, winning 4-0 in Vilnius against a Lithuania side that were down to ten men as early as the 6th minute when Deividas Semberas was shown a straight red card. A twenty five minute scoring burst saw Steven Fletcher give the Scots the lead, and Wigan's midfielder Scott Robertson quickly double the lead with his first International goal. An eight minute brace from Sunderland forward James McFadden cemented Scotland's win before the break.

Of significantly more importance for Qualification itself was the Republic of Ireland putting in one of the finest performances in their history, as a full house at Lansdowne Road saw them sweep aside the reigning European and World Champions, as Spain were demolished 3-0 in Dublin. The Irish were two up through a pair of Tottenham Hotspur players, Robbie Keane and Owen Garvan, by the time Fernando Torres missed a potentially crucial penalty just before half time. It would prove to be the case when Andy Keogh headed home late to secure the points. All the while, Denmark were being held to a 2-2 draw in Copenhagen against Hungary. The Irish had now played their last game, and were sat in second spot. Spain were through despite the defeat, and now Denmark would need to win in Spain on Wednesday to prevent Ireland from appearing at Euro 2012.

Monday 10th October
Noel Anderson plays the party pooper, as he today tells the media that a lack of First Team football is leaving him contemplating his future at Somerset Park. He is told that he is only regarded as a backup player at the club, and as such, he should be patient.

Tuesday 11th October
Anderson has today issued a public apology to both myself and his team mates. He stated that he should know better than to run to the media, and he realised his actions were unlikely to help his situation.

He didn't feature for the Reserves today as they defeated Montrose 3-0 at Somerset Park, first half goals from midfielders Danny Williams and David Meyler were added to in the closing moments by young striker Archie Campbell. There is a return to training today for Ciaran Foy, but he was not risked in that match.

Paul Dummett plays the full 90 minutes for Wales Under-21's in Swansea, but they are held to a disappointing 1-1 draw by Moldova.

Wednesday 12th October
Our Under-19's are beaten soundly at Somerset Park by Peterhead's youngsters this afternoon. Dougie Sharp opened the scoring in the 19th minute, and a double from John MacKay in the 41st and 60th minutes ended the match as a contest. Left winger Jim Robinson pulled one back late on, his first goal of the season for the second season Youth player.

An afternoon kick off in midweek is not normal, but the kick off was brought forward to avoid clashing with the kick off for Scotland's final European Championship Qualifier, as they thump bottom of the table Kazakhstan 4-0 at Hampden Park. The goals came from Chris Maguire of West Ham United, Kevin Thomson of Sunderland, James McArthur of Bolton Wanderers and Steven Fletcher of Blackburn Rovers. That leaves Scotland finishing a disappointing 5th in the seven nation Group, well ahead of both Lithuania and Kazakhstan, but behind Denmark and Hungary and seven points from Qualification. That was something that Ireland did achieve, thanks to Spain beating Denmark 3-0 in Jerez, a pair of goals from David Villa, and a header from Sergio Ramos.

Friday 14th October
We return to League action tomorrow afternoon, and we have a home match against East Fife ahead of us. We go into the match in 5th spot, with a chance of getting back into the Playoff places if things go our way in our own game and elsewhere. We go into the match as Even money favourites against the visitors who currently are 7th in the Division.

Saturday 15th October

Scottish League Second Division
Somerset Park, Ayr
Ayr United v East Fife
Attendance :-
967. Weather :- Dry, 18c.

It's back to the bread and butter of League football, and I'm hoping we can translate some of our Cup form into moving up the Division. It's an unchanged lineup once again for this one against a club we want to keep below us in the table.

Visiting skipper Chris Templeman fired an early warning shot with an effort from the edge of the box that continued rising even as it cleared the cross bar. Alex Owen went a little closer at the other end, but that would be his last action of a brief appearance, as he was withdrawn with a knock before the quarter of an hour mark, Neale Fenn brought on to replace him.

The trend for firing shots just too high would continue, with Adam Pepper of East Fife the latest to chance his arm and fail. Paul McManus added his name to the list, though he should have done better after Pepper's diagonal through ball into the box got the winger in behind our defence.

Aaron McElwee fired a shot wide, and McManus did the same a few minutes later as chances continued to go begging at either end, and the match became a more attritional midfield slog. We come the closest yet to opening the scoring when Neale Fenn knocked the ball down to Ryan McStay, his shot was blocked, but it ran to Peggy Lokando, the wingers shot across goal grazed the far upright on it's way past. Still goalless at the break, and it was anybody's game.

East Fife would have plenty of the ball early in the second half, but we did a fairly good job of keeping them at arms length, Pepper sent another shot from range over the bar, while David Muir's shot was wide of the goal frame. But we were struggling to find a way through ourselves, though it was obvious that Liam McMenamin was starting to build up quite the partnership with Lokando down the right. The full back lifted the ball over the defence for Lokando to chase down, and the winger was clearly aware of our strikers recent record as he made the decision to go alone, his run outstripping a defender and giving him a run in on goal, but while he placed his shot well, Glyn Garner somehow managed to keep it out.

Lokando had now had the two best chances of the game, and he was giving Dean Pooley such a tough time that Paul Sinnott was having to help the full back out. Those chances would be equalled on the hour though, when Templeman flicked on a long throw, and Nathan Taggart got in behind our defence, but in the story of the afternoon, he also missed the target. Someone would finally work a goalkeeper when McManus directed a shot on target, Stephen Grindlay pushed that aside fairly comfortably. Someone would get booked too, Pooley was beaten by Lokando once again, and this time he grabbed a handful of jersey to try and slow the lad down a bit.

So, it would be down to an old faithful. McStay swung over a 71st minute corner, and Olafur Örn Bjarnason planted his header out of Garner's reach to finally break the deadlock. Now we knew how to break them down, we gave it another go a few minutes later, this time Aidan O'Kane sent the corner in from the other side, and Lokando got enough on his glancing header to direct it between Garner and his defender on the post, as we made it 2-0 in the space of a few minutes.

That quickfire double salvo had me pretty confident that the win was in the bag, and I made a pair of 78th minute subs, McMenamin and Aaron McElwee came off, with Bryan Gilfillan coming on for a League debut for us and Mark Wilson coming into our midfield. If they were hoping for a stress free quarter of an hour or so of football though, they would be disappointed, as McManus picked out Muir with a square pass, and he rifled a 20 yard shot into the roof of the net that Grindlay didn't even get a sniff of!

Muir was clearly the man that East Fife were trying to find now he had found his range, and McStay and Wilson both had to throw themselves to nulify him, firstly McStay into a block, and then Wilson into a tackle that he was lucky didn't result in a booking. But we played smart, and when we had the ball we put it into the corners, and East Fife couldn't work that clear opening to deny us today.

Ayr United (0) 2 - Olafur Örn Bjarnason (71), Peggy Lokando (74)
East Fife (0) 1 - David Muir (82)
Stephen Grindlay; Liam McMenamin (Bryan Gilfillan 78), David Partridge, Olafur Örn Bjarnason (capt), Aidan O'Kane; Ryan McStay, Aaron McElwee (Mark Wilson 78); Peggy Lokando, James McLean; Alex Owen (inj - Neale Fenn 14), Craig Fisher.

Unused Substitutes :- Andrew Hageman, Ryan Stevenson.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 50% - 50%. Man of the Match :- Olafur Örn Bjarnason (Ayr United).

Our Icelandic skipper Olafur Örn Bjarnason now joins Ryan McStay as our top goalscorer in all competitions with three goals, a situation that continues to be worrying. It looks much better from an assist angle, with Aidan O'Kane out in front with six, thanks mainly of course to those amazing corner deliveries of his.

After extending our unbeaten run in the League out to four games, we have nudged up to fourth place in the Second Division. We now have a two week break in our fixture list before our final game of the month, a trip to bottom of the table East Stirlingshire. Not that their current position will allow us to take them lightly, last time we took a trip to the side at the foot of the League, we were beaten in Cowdenbeath.....

.....and who knows if I'll even still be here. It seems I'm a wanted man!

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Sunday 16th October 2011
Derby County were relegated from the Coca-Cola Championship two and a half years ago now, just two months after hiring Mick McCarthy to try and avoid just that eventuality. Less than seven months later, McCarthy was out of work again, and John Ward was brought into the job, and he was a week away for hitting the one year milestone when they let him go too. Andy Cale was next into Pride Park to try and restore this former giant of a club, but he also lasted less than a year, and was sacked this weekend with Derby at the foot of Coca-Cola League One and with just five points to their name from the opening eleven matches. I'm reported to be the second favourite for the post, but I put those rumours to bed pretty quickly, telling the press that it's not the right job for me at this point. If the rumours are to be believed, The Rams might also be about to head into a financial situation that could prevent them from moving back up the Leagues for quite some time.

Both Nathaniel Mendez-Laing (one month with a twisted knee) and Archie Campbell (two months with fractured ribs) suffered injuries in todays Reserve match. Not that it seemed to slow them down too much, Campbell getting on the scoresheet along with an Abdi Ibrahim first half brace. Ciaran Foy from the spot and then Noel Anderson late on completed a 5-0 win over Elgin City at Somerset Park.

Monday 17th October
There is no place for Aidan O'Kane in the latest Team of the Week. Two players from our club are included though, Olafur Örn Bjarnason and Peggy Lokando's goals earning them a spot this week.

Wednesday 19th October
Our Under-19 side make it a double over Elgin City in the space of a few days, as they win 1-0 at Somerset Park, thanks to a goal eight minutes into the second half from attacking midfielder Patrick Fleming.

Friday 21st October
19 year old centre midfielder Shaun Smith is the latest player to express his dissatisfaction over the amount of First Team football he has been afforded, which in his case, amounts to none. The former Dundee man goes down the Noel Anderson route when he is given the standard answer and reminded he is a back up player. He has a few hours cooling off, and then comes back with an apology.

Sunday 23rd October
The draw has been made for Round Three of the Scottish FA Cup, and it has not been particularly favourable to us. While there were nine non-League clubs in the draw who we could have been matched up with, or even one of the seven clubs remaining from the Third Division, we are instead drawn to play away to First Division club, Ross County. We will face them at Victoria Park in late November.

Thursday 27th October
We have missed out once again on a compatriot of Icelandic defender Olafur Örn Bjarnason. I had been considerably more optimistic this time around too, now 20 years old, midfielder Victor Pálsson had spent two of his formative football years in the UK with Liverpool, making a Premier League appearance for them last season, before being released in the summer. We found ourselves competing with two Icelandic sides, but our financial clout wasn't up to Keflavík's, the winners of the 2011 Icelandic Cup.

Friday 28th October
He would have come in handy to have around, as tomorrow we are going to try something a little different at bottom of the table East Stirlingshire. We are 4/6 favourites to come away from Ochilview Park with a second straight League win.

Saturday 29th October
In Annan, our Under-19 side leave it very, very late to clinch the point against the hosts. It was three minutes into injury time when we were awarded a penalty, Ian McLaughlin duly dispatching his first of the season into the net, and our Youth side move up into second place in Group 3.

Scottish League Second Division
Ochilview Park, Stenhousemuir
East Stirlingshire v Ayr United
Attendance :-
209. Weather :- Dry, 22c.

The something slightly different is not exactly ground breaking. Our midfielders are getting the job done, while our strikers most certainly are not. So why carry two strikers, when we can add another midfielder? So our 4-2-2-2 wide is switched to a 4-3-2-1 wide, with Alex Owen dropped from the squad, and David Meyler brought in to join Ryan McStay and Aaron McElwee in midfield.

David Meyler would have the first chance of the match too, Aidan O'Kane's long ball down the left found James McLean, and his 4th minute cross was aimed at Criag Fisher. The striker was beaten to the ball by a defender, but his touch only found Meyler, the Irish midfielder cracked a shot that only just missed the target. The reasons to be optimistic continued, particularly down the left, as O'Kane and McLean slung over crosses at every opportunity.

A 29th minute cross from the left channel by Peggy Lokando, who had driften into the box when Fisher pulled out wide, found Aaron McElwee all alone at the far post, but with Tom Woodhead desperatley scrambling across his goalmouth, the Northern Irish midfielder scuffed his shot into the side netting. The opening goal would eventually come from the left, but it would be reliant on an old faithful, the set piece. Ryan McStay sent over the free kick, and O'Kane adjusted himself as the ball dropped, before connecting with a sweet left foot volley that gave Woodhead no chance. That first half went almost entirely according to plan, except for a late misunderstanding between Liam McMenamin and David Partridge, that allowed Brian McGrory a free run on goal, but he shot well wide. At half time, there were only reasons to be cheerful.

Those reasons to be cheerful nearly evaporated just 45 seconds after the restart, as wide midfielder Tony Shield uncorked a howitzer from 25 yards out that flew past Stephen Grindlay, but fortunately smacked right back off the cross bar. Relief all around in our camp, and we set about getting a second, with Lokando making minced meat out of Cameron Mawer, and picking out Fisher with a cross, Woodhead making a superb reflex stop to prevent the on loan striker from opening his Ayr United goalscoring account.

Yep, it was all going perfectly. But East Stirlingshire were starting to cause us problems, McGrory getting into space on the right, and his deep cross picked out Phil Trainer, who's low drive on the half volley was only kept out thanks to a save from Grindlay. He could do nothing in the 72nd minute though, sub striker Neale Fenn unable to hold up the ball, opposition sub Jamie McCallum and Trainer quickly got the ball into the box, and McGrory fired a low shot past Grindlay to level the match up. My players appealed for offside, but it wasn't even close to be honest.

We attempted to get ourselves back in front, Meyler trying a shot that was blocked, and he had a second go from the loose ball, but he curled it wide of the target, and that was as close as we would get. I don't think it's unfair to say we probably left two points behind as we boarded the bus for home.

East Stirlinghshire (0) 1 - Brian McGrory (72)
Ayr United (1) 1 - Aidan O'Kane (35)
Stephen Grindlay; Liam McMenamin, David Partridge, Olafur Örn Bjarnason (capt), Aidan O'Kane; Ryan McStay, Aaron McElwee (Ryan Stevenson 87), David Meyler; Peggy Lokando, James McLean; Craig Fisher (Neale Fenn 69).

Unused Substitutes :- Bryan Gilfillan, Andrew Hageman, Mark Wilson.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 44% - 56%. Man of the Match :- Aidan O'Kane (Ayr United).

After bossing that match almost entirely for an hour, coming away with just the single point almost felt like a defeat. The three man midfield seemed to work well, and maybe I will have to admit to some tactical naivety. Maybe with hindsight, I should have looked to add a striker when East Stirlingshire started to push forward, forcing them to worry about the other end of the park.

Aidan O'Kane's second goal of the season is added to with his third man of the match award, making him the best player on the park in 20% of the games he has featured in this season so far. Signing him initially on a Free Transfer for Lurgan Celtic, and then for just £1,000 for Ayr has to be considered a superb value for money piece of business.

Sunday 30th October
At least our Reserves are having no issues finding the net, admittedly against a lower quality of opposition of course. They have come back from Annan with a 3-1 win to move top of the Group 3 table. Goals in the opening five minutes from Ciaran Foy with a spot kick, and Alex Owen, sent us well on the way, and Marc McCann added a third later in the first half.

We could do with some of that goalscoring rubbing off on the First Team in November, a month which will include a Cup Final to look forward to.

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Posted (edited)

2011/12 Scottish League Second Division Table, Up To & Including Monday 31st October 2011

| Pos   | Inf   | Team               |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   |

| 1st   |       | Arbroath           |       | 11    | 7     | 2     | 2     | 18    | 10    | +8    | 23    |
| 2nd   |       | Stirling           |       | 11    | 6     | 1     | 4     | 15    | 12    | +3    | 19    |
| 3rd   |       | Partick Thistle    |       | 11    | 5     | 3     | 3     | 17    | 12    | +5    | 18    |
| 4th   |       | Peterhead          |       | 11    | 5     | 2     | 4     | 13    | 11    | +2    | 17    |
| 5th   |       | Airdrie Utd        |       | 11    | 5     | 2     | 4     | 9     | 7     | +2    | 17    |
| 6th   |       | Ayr                |       | 11    | 4     | 5     | 2     | 12    | 11    | +1    | 17    |
| 7th   |       | East Fife          |       | 11    | 4     | 2     | 5     | 14    | 19    | -5    | 14    |
| 8th   |       | Cowdenbeath        |       | 11    | 3     | 2     | 6     | 12    | 17    | -5    | 11    |
| 9th   |       | Brechin            |       | 11    | 3     | 0     | 8     | 15    | 17    | -2    | 9     |
| 10th  |       | East Stirlingshire |       | 11    | 2     | 3     | 6     | 5     | 14    | -9    | 9     |


Edited by neilhoskins77

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Tuesday 1st November 2011
We entered November with normal service resumed, as Aidan O'Kane reclaims his spot as left back in the team of the week, the only representative from our club this week.

The Board remain satisfied with the way things are going, and there is no change in their opinion on their favourite and not so favourite players. The loss of around £20,000 in October isn't great news, though there is no cause for alarm at all right now, with around £270,000 in the clubs coffers. I could spend that on a striker......

This will be a big month for the club, despite it only featuring four matches. Every club we face this month has been a First Division club at some point during this calendar year. That includes League matches against last season's relegated pair of Partick Thistle at home, and Airdrie United away, and Cup matches against current second tier outfits, Raith Rovers in the League Challenge Cup Final, and Ross County in the Scottish FA Cup.

Wednesday 2nd November
Back in Northern Ireland, there are troubles for Second Division club Wakehurst, and their determined and talented 19 year old midfielder Patrick Watson now wants out. At the age of just 19, he already has 50 Senior League appearances under his belt, not without their productivity too. I offer them exactly zero for Watson, and they accept. The youngsters wage demands are somewhat unreasonable, but we offer him a deal that would considerably increase the £5 a week he is currently getting should he accept.

Friday 4th November
After a tough start to life in the Second Division, relegated club Partick Thistle have now turned things around, winning four of their last five and moving steadily up the League, sitting in third spot a point ahead of us. You can get odds as long as 3/1 on us coming out of tomorrow's match at Somerset Park with a victory to our name.

Saturday 5th November
The young Northern Irish midfielder signs the contract, and Patrick Watson will arrive at the club on New Year's Day. He has declared himself very excited to be stepping up a few levels, and is looking forward to the challenge.

I really need to clear some wage budget at this club, and our Reserve squad needs to be trimmed. Justin Miller, Noel Anderson, Robin Shroot, Gordon Hillis, Gareth Sproule and Lee Matthews are all transfer listed and told they are free to find new clubs. If we move them all on, it would take well over £600 a week off our wage bill.

Scottish League Second Division
Somerset Park, Ayr
Ayr United v Partick Thistle
Attendance :-
954. Weather :- Gusty, 15c.

This match will be the biggest test of the three man midfield so far, as we welcome Partick Thistle to Somerset Park for the first time this season. Ryan McStay keeps his spot in that midfield trio of course, but the other two players are changed, Mark Wilson and Ryan Stevenson replacing Aaron McElwee and David Meyler as we look for a bit more creativity.

The ball was in the net as early as the 3rd minute, Stephen McPhee slicing our defence wide open with a through ball as Liam Buchanan angled his diagonal run behind our back four, and controlled the ball before sliding it home. Fortunately for us, he hadn't quite held his run long enough, and the offside flag was raised. That would be only the opening salvo in what would become an outstanding period of end to end football. James McLean beat the offside trap at the other end, but David Forde saved his first attempt with his legs, then could only watch on from his prone position on the grass as our winger sent the rebound over the bar. Back at the other end, Tom Brighton made a lung bursting run into our box, Stephen Grindlay got to his shot, and then our defenders bought him a bit of time to get back in position to be able to stop Ben Webster's follow up attempt.

An opening goal couldn't be far off, and in the 13th minute Aidan O'Kane was picked out by Ryan Stevenson on the left. The full back drove a cross into the near post area, and McLean slammed it home from 8 yards out! Our Bonfire Night was off to a very early start, and it nearly got better really quickly when Peggy Lokando launched a curling shot that only just missed the target. He wouldn't miss the target in the 20th minute however, as he connected with a header from an O'Kane cross, and doubled our lead.

We weren't quite done with our super spell yet either. David Partridge won the ball on the edge of his own box with a well timed tackle, and sent the ball left to McLean. The winger set off at pace, beating two players before sending the ball square to Stevenson. The midfielder threaded the ball through the Thistle defence, and Craig Fisher held his run just long enough to stay onside, running across a defender to prevent him making a challenge, then rounding Forde and sliding the ball into the far corner of the net to open his account for the club at last, and open a three goal lead for us, all in the space of a nine minute spell.

We weren't taking our foot off the gas here either, and Fisher held the ball up well in the middle of the park before sending it wide right to Lokando. The winger sent in a dangerous cross that Chris Doig needed to get a head to with Fisher unmarked right behind him. The half would end with McPhee getting in behind our defence, but he couldn't find a way past Grindlay who stood firm, and kept our advantage intact.

It was obvious that the Thistle players had been given a really good going over at the break, and they came out hot after the restart, Buchanan weaving his way through a few defenders and making room for a shot, but he only managed to find the side netting. It would take them nearly twenty minutes to work another opportunity, but McPhee blew that one right over the cross bar. His next effort with twenty minutes left to play was much lower, but this time wide of the target. That would be his last action as he was then replaced by Rory McAllister. He would prove himself an altogether different proposition, as he found room to bring down Jonathan Hayes 73rd minute corner, and fired home from six yards out to give Thistle a glimmer of hope.

Two minutes later, Hayes would be involved again. He picked up a header from Partridge in the centre circle and played a one-two with Buchanan, before slipping a pass into the run of another substitute, Nicky Phinn. He managed to hold off Olafur Örn Bjarnason, and steer his shot past Grindlay, and in off the post to bring the match back to 3-2 with a quarter of an hour still to play.

If I wasn't concerned before, I certainly was now. Bjarnason would have a chance to extend our lead, as he got to an O'Kane free kick with a header that Forde only just managed to keep out. I decided that fresh legs were the order of the day to try and finish off the job here, Mark Wilson and Stevenson replaced by Aaron McElwee and David Meyler. The final moments became a little like the opening moments of the match, Phinn's shot from range was lacking enough power to trouble Grindlay, while Steven McKeown saw his shot blocked. At the other end, Fisher got away from the Thistle defence, but shanked his shot. It didn't matter, we had held on for a big win!

Ayr United (3) 3 - James McLean (13), Peggy Lokando (20), Craig Fisher (22)
Partick Thistle (0) 2 - Rory McAllister (73), Nicky Phinn (75)
Stephen Grindlay; Liam McMenamin, David Partridge, Olafur Örn Bjarnason (capt), Aidan O'Kane; Ryan McStay, Mark Wilson (Aaron McElwee 82), Ryan Stevenson (David Meyler 82); Peggy Lokando, James McLean; Craig Fisher.

Unused Substitutes :- Bryan Gilfillan, Andrew Hageman, Neale Fenn.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 53% - 47%. Man of the Match :- Aidan O'Kane (Ayr United).

Wow, what a match that was. The just under one thousand people who were at that match will remember it for quite some time I imagine, not just for the five goals and the near fightback by Partick Thistle, but also for the end to end play that took over large parts of the match.

We held on, and Craig Fisher finally got his first goal since arriving at the club on loan, Aidan O'Kane added two more assists and another man of the match award to his increasingly impressive looking stats, and we had extended our unbeaten run to six League matches, moving up to fourth place while we were at it. That could all provide huge impetus heading into next weekends Cup Final.

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Sunday 6th November 2011
The feel good factor around the club right now has only one disturbing issue, and that is the number of players who, one after the other, have grown restless with their lack of First Team football, and started to voice their discontent. Republic of Ireland Under-21 International centre back, Laurence Gaughan, is the latest. He tells the press that he'll be seeking a move if he doesn't get more game time soon, so I tell him he is free to move on. He issues an immediate apology, but he has already been transfer listed by then and is the subject of a fair bit of interest.

Adam Campbell and Kenny Connolly score within five minutes of each other fairly early on to put our Reserves in control away to Peterhead this afternoon. Martin Bavidge managed to pull one back before the break for the hosts, but Alex Owen sealed the points for our second string side early in the second half.

Three of our players have been called up for Under-21 International duty ahead of next weeks International Window. For goalkeeper Zannetos Mytides, it's the prospect of matches in Pafos and Nicosia against Italy and Slovenia respectively in the European Under-21 Championship Qualifiers. It's the same competition for the other two players who have been called up, with wantaway defender Laurence Gaughan looking to play for the Irish against Greece in Mytilini and Latvia in Riga, while Paul Dummett will also face away trips with Wales, as they play Sweden in Trollhättan and then France in Alençon.

Monday 7th November
I am informed by an email from my secretary that Aidan O'Kane has been included in the team of the week. I am starting to suspect she is just copying and pasting last week's email to save herself a few valuable seconds.

Wednesday 9th November
As the build up for this weekend's League Challenge Cup Final starts to ramp up, I am keeping a close eye on an 18 year old striker from Northern Ireland's Premier Division who appears to be having a bit of a public falling out with his manager at Glentoran. With nearly 20 League goals to his name already in his young career, I doubt I'll be the only one who has noticed the Under-21 International. We'll see how that one develops.

Our Under-19's played away to Airdrie United this afternoon. They were a pair of goals down at the break when Andy Kirkpatrick and Daniel Love netted within three minutes of each other. Our youngsters came roaring back in the second half, Jamie Barron got the ball rolling, and Allan Smith then netted twice, one from the spot, as three goals in twelve minutes earned the win.

Friday 11th November
It wasn't a particularly successful International day for either of our trio of Under-21 players. Laurence Gaughan was the only one involved in a positive result, but he played only the final 19 minutes as the Republic of Ireland managed a 1-1 draw in Greece. There was a full ninety minute outing for Paul Dummett, but despite Wales playing against ten men for around an hour, they still lost 2-0 in Sweden. It was the same scoreline in Pafos, where Zannetos Mytides was beaten twice in the last twenty minutes in Cyprus' defeat against Slovenia.

Saturday 12th November
Our supporters are described as 'pessimistic' as they make final preparations for their big day out at Broadwood Stadium, home of Clyde FC, and the venue for tomorrow's Scottish League Challenge Cup Final. Whoever heard of a group of supporters being pessimistic heading to a Cup Final?

Ignoring the fact that we are priced at 7/2 for tomorrow's match, amd the fact that we have a poor record against Raith Rovers, the competition history makes better reading, and gives more reasons to be hopeful. This will be Raith's first ever Final in this competition, and they may have other things on their mind, they currently sit ten points outside a Promotion Playoff spot already in the First Division. On the other hand, we were losing Finalists in this competition in successive seasons in 1990/91 and 1991/92. Would it be third time lucky for the Honest Men?

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Sunday 13th November 2011

Scottish League Challenge Cup Final
Broadwood Stadium, Cumbernauld
Raith Rovers v Ayr United
Attendance :-
7,992. Weather :- Drizzle, 15c.

Cup Final day has finally arrived, and the Broadwood Stadium is full to capacity with fans from opposite coasts of Scotland, as Raith Rovers represent the east, while we at Ayr United move in from the west. It's been so far, so good, since we moved to a three man midfield, and that will continue this afternoon. The starting lineup and matchday squad both remain as they were for the win over Partick Thistle last weekend.

Raith Rovers made a quick start, and in the early moments, it looked as if their quality would be too much for us to handle. Firstly French midfielder Patrick Noubissié sent a through ball between our defenders, but on loan Newcastle United striker Nile Ranger blasted his shot wide. Moments later, we only managed to partially clear a corner, and defender Adam El-Abd drilled in a shot that was blocked and fell right to Icelandic/Scottish midfielder Baldur Bett. It didn't look like he could miss, but he did, as Stephen Grindlay thrust out a hand to keep his shot out, before James McLean hacked the ball to safety.

So you might say it was somewhat against the run of play when in the 13th minute, Craig Fisher rolled the ball back to the corner of the box, and Ryan McStay drove the ball first time high into the roof of the net with a spectacular effort that left János Balogh stranded, and a couple of thousand Ayr United fans jumping up and down in absolute delight as their side took the lead in the Cup Final. Maybe the delight spread to the players on the park too, taking their focus off the job in hand. As within four minutes, Bett picked up the ball just inside the box, and without a sight of goal, he slipped the ball into the path of Levi Porter. The midfielder did what he needed to do, and slid the ball under Grindlay and into the net, allowing others to deal with the possible offside question. That turned out to be a no, as the assistant kept his flag down, and the goal was awarded.

A booking for Ryan Stevenson shortly after was a direct result of the frustration felt by the players for failing to hold onto what they had. Rovers meanwhile were starting to reassert the dominance they had held in the early moments, John Irving's deep cross from the right found Sam Williams at the far post, but he was unable to keep his header down. They continued to pressure, Bett whistling a shot over the bar from long range, Noubissié sending one wide from the edge of the box. Just as we looked to have ridden the storm and given ourselves a chance of reaching the break on level terms, Irving intercepted an attempted long goal kick on half way, and curled a through ball that left David Partridge exposed to the speed of Williams. The winger easily outpaced the centre back, rounded Grindlay, and slotted the ball home to give Rovers the lead for the first time going into the break.

It was disappointing to go in at half time a goal down after finding a way to get our noses in front, but I made sure my players were aware that this game was far from over, and it was a determined bunch who emerged for the second half. It was Rovers who picked up where they left off after the restart though, Aidan O'Kane and McLean tried to be a little too clever down the left and coughed up possession, leaving Olafur Örn Bjarnason forced to make a risky, but thankfully beautifully timed tackle on Ranger. The skipper wasn't done there either, as he stood strong to block a blast from at least part compatriot Bett, which may have been heading for the top corner. From the resulting corner, Joe Jacobson bundled home the ball at the far post, but it was disallowed, as he was judged to have shoved O'Kane in his effort to find the net. Ranger would manage to wriggle free of a marker on the hour, but he didn't get enough power on his shot, and Grindlay held it comfortably.

Instead we launched a counter attack in the 68th minute that won us a corner. As Rovers had done earlier, O'Kane sent it to the far post, and Bjarnason ignored the attentions of a pair of a defender, at least one of whom had a handful of his jersey, and he planted a downward header inside the upright to level the match up once more with little more than 20 minutes left to play!

The fans were now watching two teams who were afraid to make the mistake that would cost them the Cup, and the final period of the match saw shots from range the new favourites. Bett had two goes, one off target, and another that was pushed over the top by Grindlay. That corner found sub Lewis Guy, who's header didn't trouble the keeper. We also had fresh legs on to help us out, with Aaron McElwee and David Meyler replacing the flagging Stevenson and Mark Wilson in midfield. With the clock past the 90 minute mark, Noubissié struck a free kick that missed the target. Finally, we would get some action down the other end of the park, Peggy Lokando running with the ball to the byline, then cutting it back, but Fisher's shot was blocked. The ball would quickly find it's way back to Lokando again, and this time he would send in a cross, but it was overhit, and this match would need at least another half hour to settle it.

The cagey play continued when extra time got underway, and the ball spent a lot more time in the rainy air than it did on the grass. Raith did continue to dominate the ball in attacking positions, though only Ranger will be able to say for sure if he was trying to catch Grindlay off his line, or if he just shanked a cross, either way our keeper played it safe and pushed it over the bar. That corner would lead to a counter attack for us, or at least, part of one. Aaron McElwee brought the ball out and sent it to McLean on the left. With acres of room in front of him, and plenty of pace in his legs, Bett wasn't prepared to chance it, and cut down the winger as he crossed the halfway line, the ref infuriating our fans by refusing to issue a yellow card. Another sub, Marc Grocott finished off the first half of extra time with a shot that was well wide.

Baldur Bett would continue his long range shooting tactic as we went into the final fifteen minutes, he was no closer to finding his range though, Grindlay watching that one as it floated harmlessly over the bar. It was looking like this one was going to need a mistake to settle it if we weren't going to see penalties. And that would be exactly what would happen in the 108th minute, in fact, there would be two mistakes for the price of one. Bett picked up the ball midway into our half, and ran across the park. He played the ball towards the left edge of the box, picking out Grocott, who had his back to goal. Liam McMenamin mis-read the situation, and charged forward to challenge Grocott. He had left a huge gap behind him, Jacobson ran into it, McMenamin compounded his mistake by losing his footing on the wet grass as he tried to recover the situation, and Jacobson curled a low shot past Grindlay into the far corner!

There was no doubt about it, the young Northern Irish full back immediately realised the magnitude of his his error, and as his skipper and mentor Bjarnason put his arm around his shoulder. In a moment reminiscent of Lineker and Gascoigne in Italia'90, there was a look across to the dugout that told me all I needed to know about the lads current state of mind. His misery was ended quickly, as he was brought off within minutes, replaced by striker Neale Fenn as we tried to get that goal back in the remaining ten or so minutes, while unused subs Andrew Hageman and Bryan Gilfillan attempted to console the now sobbing young defender.

As we pushed forward in an effort to level the match once more, the inevitable gaps were left in our defence, and if Guy had lifted the ball to the far post for Bett instead of aiming for the top corner from an acute angle, it would have been game over. It was still closer than we managed, O'Kane's cross was too deep for intended target Fenn, and Balogh held the ball well. A last ditch attempt to get the ball into a position of danger failed when it was swung out to the right where Meyler was in space, but the ball picked up pace off the wet turf, and our chance of silverware had gone on this ocassion.

Raith Rovers (2) 3 - Levi Porter (17), Sam Williams (40), Joe Jacobson (108)
Ayr United (1) 2 - Ryan McStay (13), Olafur Örn Bjarnason (69)
(after extra time, 2-2 after 90 minutes)
Stephen Grindlay; Liam McMenamin (Neale Fenn (109), David Partridge, Olafur Örn Bjarnason (capt), Aidan O'Kane; Ryan McStay, Mark Wilson (Aaron McElwee 78), Ryan Stevenson (David Meyler 78); Peggy Lokando, James McLean; Craig Fisher.

Unused Substitutes :- Andrew Hageman, Bryan Gilfillan.
Bookings :- Ryan Stevenson 21
Possession :- 46% - 54%. Man of the Match :- Levi Porter (Raith Rovers).

So near, yet this time, so far away. It's a horrible feeling going forward to collect your medals first, and then having to watch as your victorious opponents go and collect the prize. It's even worse when you have a 22 year old kid who blames himself, despite the squad telling him not to, and the fans giving him a great reception. He broke down again in the dressing room. And twice on the bus on the way home. It might take him a little while to get over this.

Our only consolation is the prize money of £10,000, of which nearly half is distributed between the First Team squad. We have to dust ourselves off quickly, as it's back to League action next weekend against Airdrie, before our final chance at making a name for ourselves in the Cups, with the start of our Scottish FA Cup campaign against Ross County.

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Monday 14th November 2011
Peterborough United striker Ben Wright is trying to force a move away from the club. I suspect he would be a big success at our level of football, but an asking price of £16,000 is non-negotiable as far as the London Road club are concerned, with plenty of other clubs showing interest. A loan offer for Rangers forward Kal Naismith is also rejected, as they have accepted a loan offer from St Patrick's Athletic, who have an option to make the move permanent at any point of the loan for £40,000.

Tuesday 15th November
Norwegian/Somalian attacking midfielder Abdi Ibrahim is the latest to tell the press that he doesn't see a future at Somerset Park if he continues to be overlooked for First Team football. He is one of the more talented youngsters that I brought in during the summer, and the former Manchester City youngster isn't a player I'm ready to move out right away, particularly as we are now playing with three midfielders. I call on him to prove in training that he is capable of making an impact in the First Team, buying me some more time to assess the player at least. He accepts the challenge.

Thursday 17th November
Another of our players has hit the weights a little too hard. This time it's 18 year old Youth Team centre back, Shaun Green. He will be out for around a month.

Friday 18th November
It's a trip to New Bloomfield tomorrow afternoon for our second meeting of the season with Airdrie United, who continue to try and find their feet after relegation from the First Division last season. We took a win at home against them back in August, but many believe tomorrow will be a different proposition against the 6th placed side. Not the bookies though, who are backing us to bounce back from our Challenge Cup Final disappointment with a return to winning ways tomorrow.

In the press conference, I take an opportunity to heap some praise on a player who has put in a upturn in form. Peggy Lokando has proven a valuable asset to us in recent weeks, and I'm surprised that he still only has just one cap for The Congo.

Saturday 19th November
Our Youth side kick off the day, and suffer another injury. Forward Patrick Fleming had given our youngsters the lead in the 25th minute at Somerset Park, but he had to leave the game at half time, and within half hour, Queen of the South were 3-1 to the good and cruising to victory. Fleming had strained a calf muscle, and will be out three or four weeks.

Scottish Second Division
New Broomfield, Airdrie
Airdrie United v Ayr United
Attendance :-
1,048. Weather :- Breezy, Wet, 7c.

It's back to League action, as we look to prevent Airdrie from leapfrogging us in the ever developing table. After making the major decision required, and electing to keep faith with Liam McMenamin at right back, I do make a pair of changes in midfield. Neither Ryan Stevenson or Mark Wilson are fit enough to start again today in this one, the former dropping out of the squad altogether and replaced by debutant Abdi Ibrahim, while the latter goes onto the bench, with Aaron McElwee taking his spot in the starting eleven. Airdrie have a name many from the future would recognise, 20 year old Andros Townsend signed for the club in late August on a Free after being released by Tottenham Hotspur.

It wasn't exactly an impressive start by the eager to impress Abdi Ibrahim, as he lost the ball almost right from kick off, and Graeme Sharp nearly punished us with a superb run down the left, his cross headed over the top by Dwayne Samuels. Thankfully we settled down a bit after that, but there was no denying that the hosts were the more dangerous side, Sharp in particular looking, well, sharp. He was fairly well marshalled by Liam McMenamin though, who's confidence was visibly growing as the match went on, making a couple of important defensive headers. There wasn't much he could do midway through the half though, Alex Dyer dropped a free kick over the defensive wall, and Sharp raced beyond our line and guided a low shot in off the inside of the post to open the scoring.

That was his first goal for his club, and we immediately set about trying to recover that one, with the best chance coming ten minutes before the break. Ryan McStay sent a free kick in towards the edge of the box, where James McLean brought the ball down and managed to escape the attention of Joel Ward, unfortunately losing his composure at the crunch point, and firing his shot over the bar. As the final seconds of the half ticked down, Sharp set up Samuels again, this time squaring the ball across the edge of the box, but Stephen Grindlay was always well behind the placed shot and held the ball easily.

We needed to do more in the second half, and a set piece provided a platform for us to put some pressure on Airdrie. A corner was floated over by Aidan O'Kane, and Olafur Örn Bjarnson jumped about ten yards out, winning the ball in the air comfortably, but as the corner was floated, he couldn't generate enough power into his header, and it ballooned harmlessly wide. Our hopes were boosted when Airdrie suffered a double injury blow, losing both Marlon Jackson and skipper Paul di Giacomo during the second half. But despite making a few changes of our own, including a late change to a more attacking formation as we chased an increasingly unlikely point, it never looked like happening for us today.

Airdrie United (1) 1 - Graeme Sharp (22)
Ayr United (0) 0
Stephen Grindlay; Liam McMenamin, David Partridge, Olafur Örn Bjarnason ©, Aidan O'Kane (Neale Fenn 85); Ryan McStay, Aaron McElwee (Mark Wilson 76), Abdi Ibrahim (David Meyler 76); Peggy Lokando, James McLean; Craig Fisher.
Unused Substitutes :- Andrew Hageman, Bryan Gilfillan.
Bookings :- Aidan O'Kane 89
Possession :- 53% - 47%. Man of the Match :- Graeme Sharp (Airdrie United).

That was a below par outing, summed up by two facts. We didn't get a shot on target, and Liam McMenamin was our best player. If we are going to have a successful season, we need to find our killer instinct. Fortunatley, the damage done by todays defeat is limited. Partick Thistle have jumped above both ourselves and Peterhead with their win over Cowdenbeath. But Airdrie have not managed to overtake us, as they sit a goal behind us on goal difference and we will go into the final month of the year sitting in fifth spot.

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Posted (edited)

2011/12 Scottish Second Division Table, Up To & Including Sunday 20th November 2011

| Pos   | Inf   | Team               |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   |

| 1st   |       | Arbroath           |       | 13    | 8     | 2     | 3     | 21    | 11    | +10   | 26    |
| 2nd   |       | Stirling           |       | 13    | 7     | 1     | 5     | 20    | 16    | +4    | 22    |
| 3rd   |       | Partick Thistle    |       | 13    | 6     | 3     | 4     | 21    | 15    | +6    | 21    |
| 4th   |       | Peterhead          |       | 13    | 6     | 2     | 5     | 16    | 15    | +1    | 20    |
| 5th   |       | Ayr                |       | 13    | 5     | 5     | 3     | 15    | 14    | +1    | 20    |
| 6th   |       | Airdrie Utd        |       | 13    | 6     | 2     | 5     | 10    | 10    | 0     | 20    |
| 7th   |       | East Fife          |       | 13    | 5     | 2     | 6     | 19    | 24    | -5    | 17    |
| 8th   |       | Cowdenbeath        |       | 13    | 4     | 2     | 7     | 13    | 19    | -6    | 14    |
| 9th   |       | Brechin            |       | 13    | 4     | 0     | 9     | 17    | 20    | -3    | 12    |
| 10th  |       | East Stirlingshire |       | 13    | 3     | 3     | 7     | 7     | 15    | -8    | 12    |


Edited by neilhoskins77

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Sunday 20th November 2011
If we are going to strengthen the squad in January, I will most certainly need to move some players on first. I start the ball rolling on that process today, offering several of our players out to other clubs as we attempt to streamline the squad and wage bill. I bet there are sides in the Premier League and First Division who don't have a wage bill like ours sat in the Reserves. Justin Miller, Noel Anderson, Gordon Hillis, Gareth Sproule and Lee Matthews are the first wave of players that I'm looking to move, they have all been placed on the Transfer List already, and now they have been offered to other clubs.

Monday 21st November
While we wait for any interested parties to make themselves known for the first half dozen, the next wave of players are also put on the radar of clubs looking for new players. We get offers of £3,000 from Galway United and Alloa Athletic for Laurence Gaughan. The Irish club are clearly flush with cash, as they also offer £4,000 for Robin Shroot, with Kettering Town matching that offer.

That starts the ball rolling, with eight clubs making offers to take Justin Miller on a Free Transfer, all of them from this side of the border with the exception of Billericay Town. It looks like Noel Anderson will also be on the move, as eleven clubs, including some from the Football League are interested in relieving him from our wage bill on a Free Transfer. Meanwhile Gordon Hillis has the choice of remaining in Scotland, or returning to Northern Ireland, with Premier Division club Cliftonville amongst the suitors. Gareth Sproule will likely be remaining in Scotland, with Montrose and Queens Park amongst the sides interested in signing him.

If we do manage to get all those players out of the door, we will be £720 a week better off on our wage bill, bringing us back inside our weekly wage budget, and with some transfer money back in the kitty that would almost certainly be shifted to supplement the wage budget.

Friday 25th November
It may have been a long week waiting for news, but our patience has been rewarded. Five times capped Republic of Ireland Under-21 International centre back Laurence Gaughan will return to the emerald isle, as he agree's to sign for legendary Irish goalkeeper Pat Bonner's side, Galway United for £3,000. The deal will be completed the day before New Year's Eve.

Gordon Hillis isn't waiting that long, as the Northern Irish midfielder leaves right away to join Blue Square South side Billericay Town on a Free Transfer. He played eight League matches, contributing one assist during his time at Somerset Park.

On what is turning out to be a busy day for us, Robin Shroot is the next player to agree a move away from the club. He rejects the chance to join Gaughan at Galway, and instead he is heading south of the mainland border, joining a Kettering Town team that are finding their third season in Coca-Cola League Two more difficult than their previous two seasons in the Football League basement. He will make the move on New Years Day, and we will receive £4,000 for the player.

While the press conference is taking place ahead of tomorrow's Scottish FA Cup Third Round tie against Ross County in Dingwall, which we are very much second favourites for at 4/1, the news breaks that a fourth player has agreed to move on. Gareth Sproule will also now leave the club on New Year's Day, the striker will remain in Scotland, dropping down a division to try and help improve the fortunes of Queen's Park, who he will join on a Free Transfer.

Sproule will be joined by South African defender Justin Miller, who has also agreed to move to Hampden Park at the turn of the year, also on a Free Transfer. The day is eventually completed with a sixth departure confirmed, as Robin Shroot also agrees a January 1st move, as he agrees a Free Transfer to Coca-Cola League Two club Crewe Alexandra.

Saturday 26th November
While the First Team are on their travels for a Scottish Cup match, the Youth side travel along the west coast to take on the youngsters from Stranraer. Goals at either end of the first half from midfielder Scott Bennett and centre back Grant Gilmour opened both of their accounts for the season, while more productive forward Jamie Barron completed the scoring ten minutes into the second half to finish off a 3-0 win and secure our second place in Group 3 for now.

Scottish FA Cup, Round 3
Victoria Park, Dingwall
Ross County v Ayr United
Attendance :-
1,224. Weather :- Gusty, Showers, 8c.

If we are looking at this match in a negative fashion, we would say that if we lose, we will then only have the League to concentrate on. However, if we were to look at it in an entirely positive fashion, we would say that if today doesn't go well, and we were to lose, we would only have the League to concentrate on. Ryan Stevenson returns to the lineup in place of Abdi Ibrahim, while on the bench, Neale Fenn is left out today, and Alex Owen is brought back into the matchday squad as a substitute.

Our start was about as good as the weather, and we found ourselves a goal down inside five minutes. Adnan Ahmed's corner went right through our penalty box, before being recycled by Tom Aldred, who got it back to the corner taker, and he sent the ball inside the near post as Stephen Grindlay struggled to get back across his goalmouth. They could have quickly made it two, Ahmed heading down a long clearance up the park from Bryn Halliwell and into the path of Alan Trouten. He skipped past the challenges of both James McLean and Aidan O'Kane, and his cross picked out Billy Preston, but his header was well wide of the target. The chances were starting to stack up, and Ahmed was becoming a real pain to deal with, he swung over another corner, and Craig Sives powered in a header that crashed back off the cross bar. The bar had scarcely finished rattling when it was hit again, this time it was Rashid Yussuff with a header from Trouten's floated cross.

If I'm giving you a sense that it wasn't looking like being our day, then I'm giving you an accurate description. A second goal was pretty much inevitable. It duly arrived midway through the half, with a touch of fortune about it I might add. Sean Higgins skinned O'Kane, then sent a cross towards the penalty spot. Preston connected with a header that Grindlay looked to be about to comfortably deal with. That was until Aaron McElwee intervened by trying to head the ball away, and it spun off him across goal and inside the opposite post to make it 2-0. It had been a miserable opening half hour, and when Higgins won a foot race against Olafur Örn Bjarnason, it required a good stop from Grindlay to stop the damage getting any worse. That turned out to only be delaying the inevitable though, and Yussuff won the ball in midfield and got it wide to Trouten. His cross from the byline picked out Yussuff, who would have got his name on the scoresheet, had it not taken a huge deflection off Bjarnason, who became the second of our players to be credited with an own goal.

The players got a well deserved rocket at half time, and while I severley doubted our ability to be able to turn this one around, I was at least expecting a much improved second half. There was a bit of bite about our tackling that hadn't been there in the first half, apart from Bjarnason, who had already been booked and dared not put a challenge on Higgins when he got into our penalty box, preferring instead to force him wide and make him shoot at goal from an impossible angle, which failed to embarrass Grindlay.

We were starting to get a little success of our own now though, and James McLean turned Alan Maybury inside out before cutting the ball back for Ryan McStay, the midfielder missing the target with a curling shot that he had hoped would land inside the far post. Our next chance would fall in the 73rd minute, involving two of the same players. McLean moved effortlessly past Maybury again, and picked out Craig Fisher in the penalty box. With his back to goal and a defender in close attendance, the striker laid the ball off for McStay, who this time fared far better with his placed curling shot, beating Halliwell and reducing the arrears with his 5th goal of the season.

With the bit between our teeth, I switched us back to our more attacking 4-2-2-2 wide formation, Peggy Lokando going off, McElwee moving to the right wing, and Alex Owen coming on to join Fisher up front. Most of our attacks continued to come down the left wing through McLean, but apart from a curling shot from range by Ryan Stevenson that just cleared the goal frame, we didn't really threaten to get another goal, and our final chance of a Cup run this season had come to an end before we even reached Christmas.

Raith Rovers (3) 3 - Adnan Ahmed (5), Aaron McElwee (23 og), Olafur Örn Bjarnason (43 og)
Ayr United (0) 1 - Ryan McStay (73)
Stephen Grindlay; Liam McMenamin, David Partridge, Olafur Örn Bjarnason ©, Aidan O'Kane; Ryan McStay, Aaron McElwee, Ryan Stevenson; Peggy Lokando (Alex Owen 75), James McLean; Craig Fisher.

Unused Substitutes :- Andrew Hageman, Bryan Gilfillan, Mark Wilson, David Meyler.
Bookings :- Olafur Örn Bjarnason 44, Ryan McStay 87
Possession :- 49% - 51%. Man of the Match :- Ryan McStay (Ayr United).

We bank £20,000 following that defeat, but it will be League games only from this point in for us. If we manage to pick up our form and get promoted, it will be a good thing. Another good thing is the continued impressive form of midfielder Ryan McStay. The 25 year old has been our signing of the summer since joining from Dumbarton for £2,000. He has shown he has no problem stepping up a level, with five goals and four assists over 21 games in all competitions, while carrying an average rating of well over seven. If we do manage to move up a level, McStay would certainly be one of the players who could make the step up with us. He will sit out our opening Cup match of next season though, his booking earns him a one match Cup suspension.

Sunday 27th November
An attempt to bring in Haris Vukic from Newcastle United on a loan deal has fallen by the wayside. The club accepted our offer, but the player wasn't interested. If he had agreed to move to Somerset Park, he would have been unlikely to have the pleasure of meeting midfielder Kenny Connolly. After losing his place in the First Team squad this season, the 24 year old has had enough, and spoke to the press about his desire to leave. When the press called me about it directly, I happily gave them a quote. 'Connolly can leave in January, in fact, I'll put him on the transfer list tomorrow morning.' The player called me when that reply was published online, apologising and insisting he had been misquoted. Too late I told him, my mind was made up on his future, especially as he's on £350 a week.

The Reserves are very much on form at Strathclyde Homes Stadium, particularly the two players who had been left out of the First Team squad yesterday. Dumbarton's second string are torn apart by a 12 minute scoring spell, started by Abdi Ibrahim, and completed by a brace of goals from Neale Fenn, the first from the penalty spot. That'll hopefully do his confidence the world of good.

Monday 28th November
As of today, I'm the same age as Neale Fenn, and ten years older than Kenny Connolly, who doesn't appear likely to be here much longer. Alloa Athletic have tabled a £5,000 offer for him, which has been accepted. He may yet have more offers, with rumoured interest from clubs in Ireland and England.

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Thursday 1st December 2011
With the Cups now behind us, we need to get back to regular winning ways in the League. The month of December will throw us four matches, two away first, followed by two at home either side Christmas. This month will also see the first anniversary of me taking the job at Somerset Park, and the Board now believe I should be doing slightly better in the role, though there is no suggestion at this point that my job is on the line. On the flip side, they are delighted with the form of Ryan McStay, and they will also be happy to have seen the clubs bank account swelled by over £45,000 last month.

Friday 2nd December
If the Board were already happy with the state of our overall finances, they will be happier still to see another £5,000 in the coffers, as Kenny Connolly agrees personal terms and confirms we will transfer to Alloa Athletic at the turn of the year. It has been a very successful period for trimming the squad and wage bill, but it's very possible that the next piece of business will be an incoming player, as I have sent a contract offer to a player very capable of turning some heads in this Division, and who has just become a Free Agent.

Tomorrow is a chance to get ourselves back on track after three defeats in a row since our run of seven matches unbeaten spell was ended. Leaders Arbroath provide the opposition, and they are having a tough time on a run of their own, having lost their last three away matches. Unfortunately for us, they are not away from home tomorrow, as it is us who are travelling.

Saturday 3rd December

Scottish Second Division
Gayfield Park, Arbroath
Arbroath v Ayr United
Attendance :-
881. Weather :- Drizzle, 1c.

The weather has turned, and so has my formation, as I switch us back to my favoured 4-2-2-2 wide formation in an attempt to shake my team back into life at the League leaders. It's a partnership of Ryan McStay and David Meyler in the midfield for this one, with Alex Owen selected to join Craig Fisher up front. Neale Fenn returns to the matchday squad on the substitutes bench. Aaron McElwee and Abdi Ibrahim are both left out of the travelling squad today.

A stalemate opening ten minutes or so was broken by Arbroath midfielder Sam Deering hitting a dipping long range shot that Stephen Grindlay had to turn over the bar. It was a good save, but he would emerge with considerably less credit around five minutes later when he darted off his line to deal with a long ball down near the corner flag when there was no danger and he could have let the ball go out. He compounded that rash decision by only picking out Luke Barrett with his clearance, and from fully 45 yards out, the striker sent the ball straight into the unguarded net with our keeper now stranded woefully out of position.

That mistake had us chasing the game, and with a referee who appeared all too keen to hand out yellow cards today, that wasn't likely to be a good thing. Fortunately, Ryan McStay made sure his challenge on the edge of the box was perfectly timed on the half hour, and a curling effort from Dale Binns that failed to find the target was about as close as our hosts got for the remainder of the first half.

In front of the entire team, Grindlay was told to pull his finger out, and that everyone else should heed the warning too. I told them I was sick of seeing personal mistakes cost us points, and we needed to get our act together, and fast. We certainly came out of the blocks much quicker from the restart, Oliver Rowe was forced into a hurried clearance, and Craig Fisher charged it down, unfortunately making the decision not to take a shot right away, and trying to cut back inside, giving Rowe the opportunity to get back goal side and block him off. That missed chance would look even more costly moments later when Barrett dropped deep to pick up the ball and send it left for Binns, who picked out Josh Robinson in the box, who had enough time to bring the ball down, and then smash it high into the top corner.

That could have easily kicked the fight right out of us, but that didn't happen. Three minutes later, Liam McMenamin won a header on the halfway line, and the ball arrived with Fisher on the edge of the box. The striker was forced wide, but played a clever ball back to Peggy Lokando, who picked out Alex Owen. The young striker stepped away from a challenge by Alan Lithgow, and slotted the ball beyond the dive of Jamie Jones to net his first goal for the club, and bring us right back into the match. It was unfortunate that it would be one of the strikers last contributions today, as an injury forced him off just after the hour, replaced by Neale Fenn.

Arbroath were not about to allow us to walk back into this match without a bit of fight of their own, and Tom Mullen escaped the attentions of David Partridge before firing over the bar, and then set up Bryan Scott, who also missed the target. But in the 73rd minute we won a corner that Aidan O'Kane swung across, Olafur Örn Bjarnason met it with a powerful header, which cannoned back off the bar, only to be met by a second Ayr header, Fisher nodding it downwards and between the players still trying to locate the ball, and knotting this back up in a 2-2 tie.

That felt so good seeing almost the entire team celebrate in the corner of the park right in front of our pocket of travelling fans. It was a considerably less pleasant feeling just moments later when sub Danny Pilkington played a pass into the box for fellow replacement Dave Bamber, who twisted past Partridge before going down over his planted leg. The ref pointed to the spot, and a sinking feeling moved right to the pit of my stomach. I had reckoned without the impact of the arse kicking that Grindlay had suffered at the interval. Barrett certainly found it more difficult with the keeper where he should be, and his attempted drive down the middle was stopped as Grindlay got a foot out and up high enough to kick the ball away!

In my mind, coming from two goals down, and then seeing my keeper stop a penalty was going to be the turning point of our season. As it turned out, it wouldn't even be the turning point in this match! I had made a pair of late changes to make sure the legs were fresh, David Meyler and James McLean replaced by Bryan Gilfillan and Ryan Stevenson. But it was a player who had failed to learn his lesson who would make the difference. After Stevenson and Fisher had both proven too shy to take a shot that might have won us the match, the ball was pumped up the park, and flicked into the right channel. Scott got into the box, Partridge bundled him over, and the ref pointed to the spot once more. The feeling was even more sickening this time, afterall, lightning had just struck twice, it was odds against lightning striking twice for a second time. And so it proved, Scott taking the spot kick three minutes into injury time, and it was driven down the middle or thereabouts once again, Grindlay unable to provide the heroics for a second time. Choked!

Arbroath (1) 3 - Luke Barrett (18), Josh Robinson (50), Bryan Scott (90+3 pen)
Ayr United (0) 2 - Alex Owen (53), Craig Fisher (73)
Stephen Grindlay; Liam McMenamin, David Partridge, Olafur Örn Bjarnason ©, Aidan O'Kane; Ryan McStay, David Meyler (Bryan Gilfillan 86); Peggy Lokando, James McLean (Ryan Stevenson 86); Craig Fisher, Alex Owen (inj - Neale Fenn 61).

Unused Substitutes :- Andrew Hageman, Mark Wilson.
Bookings :- Olafur Örn Bjarnason 40, Alex Owen 45+1, David Partridge 76
Possession :- 46% - 54%. Man of the Match :- Oliver Rowe (Arbroath).

Ok. So that just happened then. Let's try and take something positive from it. Both our strikers found the net, which is very refreshing, though Alex Owen is now out for around ten days, the 19 year old suffered bruised ribs shortly after netting his first goal in our colours. In less positive news, we're now down into 6th place with our fourth consecutive loss.....oh, and David Partridge is walking home.

Sunday 4th December
20 year old former Dundee youngster, Chris Maxwell, is itching to make his Senior debut, and has now become the latest player to make his feelings known in the Sunday sports pages. The winger says he is tired of waiting around when he feels he could do a better job than those that are being selected ahead of him. He went on to say that if he isn't going to get a chance, then it's best for his career if he moves on. With the squad becoming more fragmented by the day, I use my right to reply to tell Maxwell to get his head down, show me what he can do, and prove he's as good as he says he is, and make it impossible for me to leave him out. He is delighted with that opportunity. But earning a spot in the side might just be about to become even more difficult for him.......

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Monday 5th December 2011
Clearly the left back spot continues to be an issue for clubs across Scotland's third tier of football. Not for us, as with nine assists now to his name for the season in all competitions, Aidan O'Kane once again is our sole representative in the Team of the Week selection. Not a shock.

What did turn out to be a shock however, was our announcement today of a new signing. It's not very often that you get to announce a signing where the media in particular have absolutely no idea who the new player is going to be. In these times of social media, wall to wall sports coverage etc, it's hard to keep a secret in football.

That secret would turn out to be 21 year old attacking midfielder, former Norway Under-19 International, and former Manchester United youngster, Magnus Eikrem. The quick, agile, set piece specialist left his hometown club of Molde in 2006 to sign for United for £300,000. He had three seasons at Carrington, failing to make a competitive First Team appearance for 'The Reds' In 2009, he moved back to his hometown club on a Free Transfer, but things had moved on without him at the Aker Stadion, and after making just two appearances in three seasons, the two times Norwegian Cup Winners decided to let him go after suffering relegation from the Norwegian Premier Division.

That was just four days ago, and now he has agreed a deal until the end of the 2012/13 season to return to the UK and sign for Ayr United. I'm very excited to have him here, and despite the poor weather, he is given a warm welcome by a large group of fans at Somerset Park as news of his arrival is released. They will have to wait a little to see him in action, Eikrem is currently recovering after suffering fractured ribs. The main decision now will be whether he will partner Ryan McStay in midfield, or if his crossing ability means he takes a berth on the right wing. That may well depend on any further players we bring into the club. Now if I told you that his arrival may not even be the best signing we make, it should give you an idea of the aggressive transfer policy I'm adopting for us going forward.

Tuesday 6th December
If Eikrem's career takes an upward turn from here, he may yet get the chance to be involved in a home major International tournament during his career. The race to host UEFA's 2020 version of the European Championships is hotting up, and Norway are a leading contender, along with neighbours Sweden, and the current favourites, Italy.

Wednesday 7th December
A brazen and cheeky attempt to sign AFC Telford United's hotshot striker, Danny Carey-Bertram, on a Free Transfer, has unsurprisingly been snubbed. It's not a shock, as since signing for the New Bucks Head club in the summer of 2008, the 27 year old has played in 123 League matches, and found the net 58 times. I'm told it would take £30,000 to sign him from the Blue Square North club. If I had it, I think I would probably pay it.

Friday 9th December
We are away again tomorrow, this time to 4th placed club, Peterhead. The general consensus is that we will struggle against a club that has lost just twice since the end of August, while we have now lost four in a row, a run I'm pretty sure is the worst of my career to date. I decide that a positive press conference is in order, and manage to turn almost every question around to the subject of the impressive form of Ryan McStay, or what I hope to get for Christmas. I'm not sure I'm fooling anybody, including myself.

Saturday 10th December
Somerset Park was a miserable place this lunchtime as our youngsters hosted Dumbarton in Group 3 of the Under-19's League. After the visitors missed an early penalty, and with the score still goalless going into the last five minutes, a bore draw looked on the cards. Enter Dumbarton midfielder Martin Johnstone, the 17 year old heading in his first goal of the season from a cutback, and our lads drop down to 4th place.

Scottish Second Division
Balmoor Stadium, Peterhead
Peterhead v Ayr United
Attendance :-
529. Weather :- Strong Winds, 12c.

In a change to the back four for this trip North to play Peterhead, there is a chance for Bryan Gilfillan to show what he can do at centre back, partnering Olafur Örn Bjarnason and replacing David Partridge, who is dropped from the First Team squad after managing to give away a pair of penalties last time out. In a second change, Neale Fenn is brought into the starting lineup in place of the injured Alex Owen. There are more changes on the bench, with Mark Wilson also dropped today. That leaves three spots, which are filled by the returning to the First Team squad, Ciaran Foy, along with midfielder Aaron McElwee, and young striker called up from the Reserves, former Stoke City player, Adam Vickers.

An early goal would have been a god send for us, and we should have notched just that within 90 seconds. Aidan O'Kane's short throw in found James McLean, and the winger twisted around his marker before sending a angled pass into the box and to the feet of Peggy Lokando. The winger cut across the path of a defender to shield the ball, and then drove it past Michal Kula, unfortunately it also went past the near post as well though. Instead, we would find ourselves a goal down in the 9th minute, Seán Evans cross was met at the near post by Scott Gemmill, and his header found the top corner of the net.

Every time we go behind, our players become a little guilty of trying to do too much, McLean the culprit in the 20th minute, David Donald taking the ball off him and starting a quick passing move that ended with Conan Byrne moving into a dangerous position, before O'Kane rescued the situation for us with a timely tackle. Midway through the half, Craig Fisher passed up a chance to shoot after David Meyler found him in the box from a Liam McMenamin short throw. The ball ended up back with Irish midfielder Meyler, and he tried his luck from range, the effort just clearing the cross bar. Moments later at the other end, Marty Robinson almost doubled the Peterhead advantage, a shot from 15 yards out crashed back off the near upright.

The chances continued to come at both ends, but mostly at the end we were attacking. Fisher sending a square ball into the box from the left, Ryan McStay's low driven shot was kicked away by Kula. As the break approached, O'Kane sent over a corner and Olafur Örn Bjarnason glanced a header wide of the post. We would have much better luck from another corner in injury time, the curl on McStay's delivery caught out Kula, and at the far post, O'Kane couldn't miss, levelling the match with the 25th League goal of his career.

That goal made the half time team talk a much happier event, and the players emerged for the second half with their tails up. They almost had them put right back between their legs however, Anthony Pulis putting in a through ball for Byrne, who rounded Stephen Grindlay, only to see McMenamin get a foot in to block his shot from finding it's way inside the near post. Lokando would be using his foot to kick himself if he could, he brought down McStay's through ball, but got his shot on the turn badly wrong and missed the target. Neale Fenn had been very quiet today, and he was injured just before the hour, replaced by Adam Vickers up front. Byrne would have one last attempt at impacting this game, connecting at the far post with Nicky Smith's corner, but his header went high and wide after he beat both McMenamin and Bryan Gilfillan in the air.

Byrne was injured in a period of play that led to Pulis sending a shot from the edge of the box off our cross bar. As he was replaced, we made two further changes of our own, Lokando and Meyler replaced by Aaron McElwee and Ryan Stevenson, the latter asked to show us what he could do on the right wing. Versatility is a good thing. Giving away penalties is not though, especially after last week. Donald sent a free kick to the left channel of our box, and McMenamin grabbed himself a handful of centre back Callum MacDonald's jersey. The ref pointed to the spot, and the sinking feeling from last week returned to my stomach. Grindlay went the right way, but sub Jamie Tolley's spot kick was perfectly placed inside the post, and with around ten minutes left to play, we found ourselves in an increasingly familiar position. Losing. I can't even tell you that we made a fight of the remaining minutes, we created nothing at all, and that's now five losses in a row!

Peterhead (1) 2 - Scott Gemmill (9), Jamie Tolley (80 pen)
Ayr United (1) 1 - Aidan O'Kane (45+2)
Stephen Grindlay; Liam McMenamin, Bryan Gilfillan, Olafur Örn Bjarnason ©, Aidan O'Kane; Ryan McStay, David Meyler (Aaron McElwee 75); Peggy Lokando (Ryan Stevenson 75), James McLean; Craig Fisher, Neale Fenn (inj - Adam Vickers 58).

Unused Substitutes :- Ciaran Foy, Andrew Hageman.
Bookings :- David Meyler 64, Bryan Gilfillan 84
Possession :- 48% - 52%. Man of the Match :- Aidan O'Kane (Ayr United).

Neale Fenn will be out around two weeks after suffering a gashed leg during an accidental collision, while Aidan O'Kane was roundly congratulated for his performance, which was capped by his 25th League goal of his career.

Ok, we should move onto the more important facts. That's five defeats in a row in all competitions, and with the anniversary of my appointment here just ten days away, my neck is now on the block, as my name appears on the list of manager's who's jobs are insecure. Deserved? Tough to say really. When I took the job last season, we were sat in 9th place with 18 points from 18 games. Right now we have 20 points from 15 matches, and have played in a Cup Final this season. The finances are looking pretty healthy too, but I am overspending on the wage bill, the player turnover has been high, and as it stands, the atmosphere in the dressing room isn't anywhere near what it could be.

Things need to improve, and in a hurry. I think we still need some help, but reinforcements are on the way!

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Sunday 11th December 2011
I said that reinforcements were on the way, and a pair of them arrive the next day, as we confirm the signing of a pair of Free Agents who are both Full Internationals. The first is London born British/Bangladeshi centre back, Anwar Uddin. He has been capped five times by the South Asian nation, who are currently managed by Brazilian 49 year old, Dido. The 30 year old stands 6'1 tall, and started his career as a youngster at West Ham United just before the turn of the century. After an unsuccessful switch to Sheffield Wednesday for a season, Uddin finally made his Senior debut for Bristol Rovers after a Free Transfer in the summer of 2002. After being a semi regular in his first season in the West Country, he spent most of the following season out on loan, firstly with Hereford United, and then AFC Telford United. But it was 2004/05 when things really got going, as he returned closer to his roots with a Free Transfer to Dagenham and Redbridge. He would play seven seasons at Victoria Road, featuring in at least 38 League games in each campaign, before being released in the summer. He has joined for the remainder of the season, signing a £90 a week deal.

His signing is, with all due respect, not the highlight of the day though. That will be reserved for the arrival of 28 year old right winger, Richal Leitoe. Not familiar with the name? I'm not surprised. Born in the capital city of Willemstad, our new forward is an International player with the Netherlands Antilles, who I rejected the chance to manage earlier in my career. He has two Senior caps for them, and has a goal to his name, but with a Dutch passport, has played almost all his football in Holland. He cracked the lineup of Eredivisie club FC Utrecht in 2003/04, playing two seasons with them before moving on to feature for FC Den Bosch. Surprisingly, that would signal a bit of a slump in Leitoe's career, as spells in non-League football and then Belgium followed. He returned to Holland's second tier last season with FC Omniworld, but made just five appearances before being released. Being out of the game for a few months has led to Leitoe exploring avenues slightly further afield, and he has signed a deal until the end of the 2012/13 season that will pay him £150 per week. Frankly, I'll be surprised if he doesn't immediately become the best player at the club.

A pair of Campbell's get the job done for our Reserve side at Somerset Park this afternoon. Both Archie and Shea strike in the final 20 minutes of the match to notch a 2-0 win for our second string side against the visiting Arbroath Reserve side. That result leaves our Reserves top of the Group 3 table at the mid point of the season, level with Queens Park, both sides having dropped only four points so far this season.

Monday 12th December
Aidan O'Kane takes his usual place at left back in the third tier Team of the Week. It's a bit more of a surprise to see Liam McMenamin also included at right back, especially after he gave away the penalty that cost us at least a point.

Bryan Gilfillan has requested a transfer today, a request that has been rejected. The Northern Irishman started for the first time on the weekend and did pretty well, so has been told to stay as has a future here.

Wednesday 14th December
One of our goalscorers from the weekend's Reserve fixture is also looking for a move away from the club. 20 year old Archie Campbell's request has been granted, and it appears there is plenty of interest in him too. Ross County, Derry City and TNS are among the clubs rumoured to be interested in signing the striker.

Thursday 15th December
Veteran left back Marcus Hall returns to training today. The 35 year old has been superb overall this season, but particularly in the Cup matches he featured in. The Coventry born man with over 400 League games to his name had suffered from a slipped disc.

Friday 16th December
Our final match before Christmas takes place tomorrow, and we finally return to Somerset Park, where I'm hoping we can find a result. It won't be easy however, as our visitors are 2nd placed Stirling Albion. With our poor run of form there for all to see, it's no surprise that the travelling side have been made 4/5 favourites for the points.

Our Under-19's are held to a 1-1 draw by Arbroath's Youth side this afternoon at Somerset Park. A goal from man of the match and visiting striker Stevie MacLaren had our guests in front early on, but Simon McAllister's fourth of the campaign levelled it up right before Barry Burns was sent off for Arbroath. Despite that numerical advantage, our youngsters couldn't find a winner, and the points were shared.

Derry City's offer to take Archie Campbell on a Free Transfer has been rejected. The League of Ireland Premier Division club are told that their offer is not good enough, and that we are looking for a fee of around £2000 for the striker.

Saturday 17th December

Scottish Second Division
Somerset Park, Ayr
Ayr United v Stirling Albion
Attendance :-
880. Weather :- Sleet, -5c.

Winter has well and truly arrived in the West of Scotland, with biting cold sub zero temperatures and persistent sleet seeing the requirement of the orange football. Despite being named in the Division's team of the week, Liam McMenamin has been dropped today, with Ciaran Foy returning to the right back position. Up front, Neale Fenn's injury means that Alex Owen can step right back into the side after recovering from his rib injury. With Andrew Hageman also dropped from the squad for this match, there are places on the bench for the pair of new arrivals, Anwar Uddin and Richal Leitoe.

A good start was vital for us today you would think, but we almost suffered yet another early setback when Nathan Cartman let a free kick from range go, and it only just missed the target. Cartman would have another go soon after, a dipping shot that cleared the bar, while Pat McWalter was causing us, or more specifically, Aidan O'Kane, some real problems down our left side. That left side looked a whole lot better when we were attacking though, O'Kane linking with Ryan McStay, who then sent a ball back to the left side of the box for James McLean, the winger weaving his way towards goal before having the ball knocked away from him as he made the decision of picking his spot.

We weren't the only ones showing some good wing play though, some slick passing in the 36th minute got Stephen Armstrong into space on the left, and his curling cross missed out everyone in the middle, and picked out the arrival of McWalter at the far post, and he squeezed the ball in between Stephen Grindlay and the near post with a half volley to open the scoring and give Albion the lead. We were fortunate to make it to half time with just the one goal deficit, Armstrong got the ball to Kris Maxwell, and he caught Grindlay slightly out of position, and made an attempt to beat him on his post again, this one thumping back off the near upright. I pointed out to my players that we were still very much in this game, despite the fact that we hadn't really got going ourselves as yet.

It would take some time for that to happen, as Liam Corr and Armstrong fashioned a chance for Maxwell, but he well and truly got under the ball and lifted his effort well off target. With just over an hour gone, Alex Owen and opposite number Marlon Broomes were both injured in a collision, which resulted in both leaving the park. Adam Vickers came on to replace the injured striker, while at the same time, Richal Leitoe would make his debut on the right wing, replacing Peggy Lokando. The Netherlands Antilles International would almsot have an immediate impact too, David Meyler swung the ball out towards him, and Leitoe rose above left back Rene Steer to head the ball across goal, Craig Fisher getting in front of a defender to get on the end of it, but just failing to get enough on his touch to put it on target.

With ten minutes to play, we ratcheted up the pressure on our visitors even more. McLean got around his marker and sent a cross into the middle. It was only headed partialy away, and Ciaran Foy rolled it into the path of McStay on the edge of the box. Scott Christie managed to keep out his shot, then producing an even more outstanding point blank stop from Fisher's attempt to bury the rebound! We weren't quite done yet though, Leitoe charging past Steer to try a cross from the byline that was blocked, Foy got to the loose ball first, and sent a cutback to David Meyler, and the Irish midfielder sent a low skidding shot through the crowd of players, and past Christie into the far bottom corner. He had chosen a great moment to open his account for the club, and with the remaining time bringing nothing but a very short Anwar Uddin debut, and a McLean shot from distance that flew over the bar, we had managed to at least save a point and snap the run of losses.

Ayr United (0) 1 - David Meyler (82)
Stirling Albion (1) 1 - Pat McWalter (36)
Stephen Grindlay; Ciaran Foy, Bryan Gilfillan (Anwar Uddin 90), Olafur Örn Bjarnason, Aidan O'Kane; Ryan McStay, David Meyler; Peggy Lokando (Richal Leitoe 63), James McLean; Craig Fisher, Alex Owen (inj - Adam Vickers 63).

Unused Substitutes :- Ryan Stevenson, Aaron McElwee.
Bookings :- David Meyler 70
Possession :- 48% - 52%. Man of the Match :- Pat McWalter (Stirling Albion).

That was a gutsy second half showing, and right now, I'll settle for gutsy if it gets that points total moving in the right direction again. Richal Leitoe showed that even playing only around a third of a game and with limited match fitness, he is still more than capable of making an impact at this level. If it hadn't been for that superb double save by Scott Christie, we could have been celebrating a win this evening. That would have put me in the Christmas spirit.

Alex Owen damaged a heel in that collision with Marlon Broomes, and he will be out for up to a fortnight as a result. We might still be looking to get back to winning ways as we prepare for Christmas, but as long as this is the first step, I'll take it for today!

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Sunday 18th December 2011
I had another look at that offer for Archie Campbell from Derry City, and approached them with a counter offer, asking them if they were interested in a swap deal that would see us get Northern Irish Under-21 left winger, Stuart Dallas. The club were interested, but the player had no intention of even speaking to us. I could have lived with that, but then he went the extra mile, and agreed a deal to sign for our nearest rivals, Kilmarnock.

Sean Fitzharris staked his claim for another go at First Team football by scoring twice for the Reserves in today's 4-1 win over Forfar Athletic at Somerset Park. There was also a goal for Mark Wilson, and Connor Branson put the ball in his own net. Robert Jack's late goal was nothing more than a consolation.

Fitzharris may well have some more competition for the a strikers berth soon, as a Free Transfer offer for a new striker has been accepted by his current club, and a contract offer has now been sent out.

Monday 19th December
Aidan O'Kane is selected in the Division wide team of the week once again. I'm starting to think he might be the only left back in the League.

Wednesday 21st December
32 year old Middlesbrough born striker Lee Matthews has announced that he will retire from playing at the end of the season, and seek to find a backroom staff role and stay in the game. Unfortunately, that won't be with us, as he is bought out of his contract for £1000 and leaves the club.

Set to arrive at Somerset Park on New Year's Day is a replacement striker. 30 year old Northern Irish forward, Jason Gillespie, will arrive on a Free Transfer for Northern Irish Division One side Ballinamallard United. In three and a half seasons with the club, all spent at the same level, the striker who can also operate on the right wing or behind the front line has 17 goals and 17 assists in 89 League matches. Just like I did when I came here almost a year ago to the day, Gillespie has agreed to take a pay drop to move to Ayr. He represents a bit of a change in tact for us, as he stands just 5'7 tall, and is blessed with great pace.

Thursday 22nd December
New signing Magnus Eikrem has been cleared to start training with us for the first time after missing around two months of football with fractured ribs. That now gives the Norwegian midfielder a shot of making his Ayr United debut in the Boxing Day fixture at home to Cowdenbeath.

Friday 23rd December
Neale Fenn is also now back in training. With just six months left on his deal, and yet to find the net for the First Team, there has to be significant doubts about Fenn's future with us going forward. The experienced striker has been a real disappointment unfortunately.

Saturday 24th December
It has been a little while since we have been made favourites for a match, and it may say just as much about Cowdenbeath as it does about us. But I'm fine with it as long as we get the job done on Monday afternoon, as we are 5/4 favourites to beat the side currently sat in 9th place, which is the Relegation Playoff spot.

Monday 26th December

Scottish Second Division
Somerset Park, Ayr
Ayr United v Cowdenbeath
Attendance :-
882. Weather :- Wet, 5c.

Two changes are made from the side that managed a draw here against Stirling Albion before Christmas, as we look to finally get a win on the board and start to turn things around. Peggy Lokando is dropped, while Alex Owen is injured again. Richal Leitoe makes his full debut on the right wing, while Sean Fitzharris is rewarded for his brace in a Reserve game with a start up front alongside Craig Fisher. On the bench, Aaron McElwee is also dropped, with Marcus Hall coming into the squad, alongside Magnus Eikrem, who could make his Ayr United debut from the bench today.

Bobby Madden had a decision to make just ten minutes into the match, Graeme Brown flicking on a long ball forward, and as the ball headed out for a goal kick, Ciaran Foy was closed down by the quickly arriving Mustapha Carayol, and had to knock it behind rather than let it run out. The winger went down, the ref paused for a moment, before only awarding a corner. Meanwhile, our first excursion of note to an attacking position came in the 15th minute, when Aidan O'Kane drifted in a corner, and Olafur Örn Bjarnason managed to escape from his marker before connecting with a powerful downward header into the bottom corner to put us in front.

The Icelandic centre back's 5th goal of the season had put us in a good position, and we nearly improved it when David Meyler sent the ball into the box, and Craig Fisher produced a sublime bit of skill to get away from two defenders, but then smashed the ball over the cross bar. It wasn't all one way traffic though, and on the half hour mark, Brown escaped the attention of midfield pair Ryan McStay and Meyler, and let a shot from range go that had Stephen Grindlay backtracking, before being relieved to see it hit the top of the bar on it's way over. With around ten minutes left before the break, Richal Leitoe produced a dangerous cross that Luke Oliver had to head over his own goal frame. The resulting corner was sent over by McStay, and Bjarnason got his head to the ball again. It appeared to heading wide this time, but Noel Johnston tried to get it clear, the ball spinning off his boot and high into the net to extend our lead to 2-0.

That lead would have been perfect for us going into the second half, but things are rarely that straightforward for us at this club. Johnston sent the ball forward to right winger Johnny Flynn-O'Connor. Our defenders backed up, and then backed up some more as the forward continued to plough forward, getting inside the penalty box and then striking a placed shot beyond Grindlay to half our recently earned two goal advantage.

The half time was fifteen minutes spent by myself and my staff reiterating to the players how important it was going to be to keep our focus and make sure we didn't get complacent. It's quite possible that in the away dressing room, the Cowdenbeath players were told to get stuck in a bit more, and if so, Oliver took it far too literally, as he kicked out at Craig Fisher as the pair squabbled over a blade of grass while waiting for a throw in to be taken. The ref consulted his assistant first, and everyone expected a red card, leading to me nearly losing my focus when he only booked the centre back.

Fortunately, it wouldn't have too much of an impact on a second half that was surprisingly short on action. Oliver did head clear a cross from Foy shortly after Richal Leitoe departed the action and Magnus Eikrem came on, while with five minutes to go Kasali Yinka Casal played a corner into the near post for Johnston, but his shot was blocked. It went right back to Yinka Casali who sent it to the far post this time, and sub Chris Arthur won a header that went back across goal, evading everyone in the six yard box and passing the far post harmlessly. We had held on, and finally got ourselves a three point afternoon.

Ayr United (2) 2 - Olafur Örn Bjarnason (15), Noel Johnston (37 og)
Cowdenbeath (1) 1 - Johnny Flynn-O'Connor (44)
Stephen Grindlay; Ciaran Foy, Bryan Gilfillan, Olafur Örn Bjarnason ©, Aidan O'Kane; Ryan McStay, David Meyler; Richal Leitoe (Magnus Eikrem 79), James McLean; Craig Fisher, Sean Fitzharris (Adam Vickers 79).

Unused Substitutes :- Anwar Uddin, Marcus Hall, Ryan Stevenson.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 51% - 49%. Man of the Match :- Olafur Örn Bjarnason (Ayr United).

At last!! It's our first win in five in the League, and with four points from the last two matches of 2011, we can at least go into the New Year with some positivity and an upturn in form. The one consistent thing that we do have is set pieces, in particular, corners. Teams have been struggling to deal with my sides from corners ever since I took the Lurgan Celtic job three and half years ago. Where people think of the old Wimbledon crazy gang for the long ball game, and Neil Warnock for getting clubs into the Premier League, it's possible that my clubs will always be associated with getting goals from corners. And I'm absolutely fine with that.

After a run that had threatened to destroy our hopes for the season had now been snapped, we go into the New Year one game away from the midway point of the League season, and just three points from the Promotion Playoffs, and eight away from the Relegation Playoff spot. That is a much improved position compared to this time last year I think, but it has taken a lot of upheaval to get to this point, and with my job still deemed to be on the line, our newly improved form has to continue into the 2012, as the Board's patience is unlikely to stretch through another winless spell like that one.

Wednesday 28th December
A deal has been agreed to bring another Free Agent into the club, but there is a significant amount of doubt over whether the 22 year old in question will qualify for a Work Permit. The result of that is due by the New Year, and should we able to bring him in, then more details will be given at that point.

Thursday 29th December
Alex Owen has recovered from his latest injury issue, and the 19 year old striker is available once again after returning to training today.

Friday 30th December
It's going to be quite a player exodus from Somerset Park over the coming days, and centre back Laurence Gaughan gets the ball rolling, as he completes his £3,000 transfer to League of Ireland Premier Division club, Galway United. In the next few days, our wage bill will drop by a significant amount, and there may be more departures to announce yet.

Saturday 31st December
It's also the time of year where we need to start thinking about the contracts of those players that are due to expire this coming summer. There are quite a few for us, of which three have now received new offers, however, all have been offered reduced salary. There are then another three or four who won't be offered new deals, and those players have all been told that they can leave on Free Transfers in the January window should they wish to.

One man who will almost certainly not have an enjoyable New Years Eve, is Icelandic skipper, Olafur Örn Bjarnason. Fortunately, it's nothing too serious, as he has caught the flu, and will be doubtful for our first match of the New Year in midweek.

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Posted (edited)

2011/12 Scottish League Second Division Table, Up To & Including Saturday 31st December 2011

| Pos   | Inf   | Team               |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   |

| 1st   |       | Arbroath           |       | 17    | 11    | 3     | 3     | 34    | 15    | +19   | 36    |
| 2nd   |       | Airdrie Utd        |       | 17    | 9     | 3     | 5     | 18    | 15    | +3    | 30    |
| 3rd   |       | Partick Thistle    |       | 17    | 7     | 6     | 4     | 28    | 20    | +8    | 27    |
| 4th   |       | Stirling           |       | 17    | 8     | 3     | 6     | 26    | 22    | +4    | 27    |
| 5th   |       | Peterhead          |       | 17    | 7     | 4     | 6     | 22    | 21    | +1    | 25    |
| 6th   |       | Ayr                |       | 17    | 6     | 6     | 5     | 21    | 21    | 0     | 24    |
| 7th   |       | East Fife          |       | 17    | 6     | 3     | 8     | 25    | 33    | -8    | 21    |
| 8th   |       | Brechin            |       | 17    | 6     | 1     | 10    | 25    | 24    | +1    | 19    |
| 9th   |       | Cowdenbeath        |       | 17    | 4     | 4     | 9     | 16    | 28    | -12   | 16    |
| 10th  |       | East Stirlingshire |       | 17    | 3     | 3     | 11    | 11    | 27    | -16   | 12    |


Edited by neilhoskins77

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Firstly, please allow me to apologize for disappearing from the Forum for a month or so with no warning or explanation. I realize that starting and stopping is not great in terms of continuity for the story, but health issues are continuing to be an issue from time to time, and on this occasion I decided to take a complete time out from both playing and writing for a short period.

Secondly, I'd like to say thanks to everyone for their votes in this years FMS Awards. I didn't expect anything this year, much less to share an award with writers of the quality of @CFuller and @EvilDave and their superb stories. Congratulations to all those who were nominated and awarded on Sunday night. The standard here continues to be high, and I'm sure there will be plenty more high quality stories over the next year.


Sunday 1st January 2012
The Transfer Window is now open, and it's five out, and two in through the door at Somerset Park to get 2012 underway. 19 year old midfielder Patrick Watson has completed his Free Transfer from Wakehurst, while he is joined by compatriot and striker, Jason Gillespie, who also arrives on a Free from Ballinamallard United. Our attempt to bring in another young midfielder is thwarted when we're informed he doesn't meet criteria to be given a work permit.

Making room by leaving the club are Noel Anderson, who has moved to Crewe Alexandra on a Free, while Justin Miller and Gareth Sproule have both moved to Queens Park, also on Free Transfer deals. Former Under-21 International forward Robin Shroot has completed his £4,000 transfer to Kettering. Finally, it's Kenny Connolly, who leaves for £5,000 to join Alloa Athletic. It's a long, long way short of the club record for a transfer fee received, but it does become the most I have ever sold a player for in my career.

While I attempt once again to find us the striker who is going to solve our goalscoring issues on a loan deal, another group of players are made available to leave the club right away. Some of those players only receive offers to sign for new clubs in the summer, and those players will be offered deals to mutually agree to leave now if they want, so we can get them off the wage bill now, and they can get on with their careers elsewhere without wasting another six months.

The Board reiterate that they believe I should be performing slightly better in my role at the club, but they have also confirmed that they remain delighted with the arrival of Ryan McStay and the impact he has had at the club since his signing in the summer. The club made a loss of over £47,000 in December.

Monday 2nd January
Adam Campbell has thirteen offers to consider to leave the club in this Transfer Window, and he has options to move to England, remain in Scotland, or return to Northern Ireland. There is even more interest in Abdi Ibrahim, who has also been told he can go. A total of 21 clubs from Scotland and Norway have all made offers to sign the attacking midfielder.

After his performance in the win over Cowdenbeath, centre back and Club Captain here Olafur Örn Bjarnason is the only Ayr United player named in the latest version of Team of the Week.

By the time we reach lunchtime, there have been mixed fortunes for three of our squad members. First up is back in favour full back Ciaran Foy, with the Irishman signing a two year contract extension that takes him through to the summer of 2014. Better still, he has agreed a wage reduction of £75 a week to remain here as well. It's very different news for Shea Campbell and Neale Fenn however. Both have failed to attract any interest from other clubs, and both have agreed to mutually terminate their contracts at a cost of £1,000 each. They have left the club with immediate effect.

Things continue to move at pace, and while I am trying to convince a new defender to join us, we receive three offers for Dutch 20 year old Arsenio Halfhuid. One of them is a Free Transfer offer, which is rejected, but the other two are both from Dutch second tier sides and would pay us £2,000, so we accept both offers. We quickly receive another £2,000 offer as well, this time for striker Archie Campbell, with Derry City the interested party. That offer is also accepted.

The offers keep coming in on a manic day, with 31 year old out of favour forward Marc McCann the next to be told he can go. The fleet footed Northern Irishman just didn't do enough last season to prove himself consistent enough to be a First Team player for us in my opinion, and 21 clubs have made approaches for him, including my former club, Lurgan Celtic.

A frantic day ends with Stephen Grindlay and Peggy Lokando rejecting new contract offers on reduced terms, and Danny Williams becoming the third player to be paid £1,000 to leave the club today after the only offer the midfielder received was to move to Northern Ireland in the summer.

Tuesday 3rd January
Our offer to bring in a new defender on a Free Transfer has been accepted, and we are now able to discuss personal terms with the player. We can't quite reach his wage demands, but we do make him what I consider to be a good offer. It's not a done deal by any means, as he has several other clubs interested in his signature, including some from the Football League in England.

Tomorrow we will play our first match of 2012, with a trip to 8th placed Brechin City. We hold a 2-1 win over them from earlier this season, and we have lost just once against them in six meetings since the save began, with that defeat coming back in the late stages of the 2009/10 campaign. The bookies are struggling to call this one, eventually making City very narrow favourites by virtue of their home advantage.

I continue to search the loan markets for players to come and help us for the remainder of the season, but it's a tough sell at this level I'm afraid. In general, the clubs are pretty happy for players to come to us, but it's the players who have concerns about dropping to this level. It's not all bad news though, as Peggy Lokando signs a slightly ammended second offer of a new contract, a one year extension through to next summer with a slight reduction in wages. His First Team action is likely to drop with our new arrivals in place, but in 35 League matches since arriving here, he has registered 7 goals and 7 assists, and he's a handy player to have around.

Wednesday 4th January

Scottish Second Division
Glebe Park, Brechin
Brechin City v Ayr United
Attendance :-
690. Weather :- Drizzle, 7c.

Our first match of 2012, and after this one we will be at the halfway point of our League campaign. With four points on the board from the last six available, we are looking to keep our upturn in form going with a win in Brechin. With skipper Olafur Örn Bjarnason missing after being laid low by the flu bug, there is what is essentially a debut for Anwar Uddin, if you're prepared to forget the very brief moments he played at he end of the game with Stirling Albion the week before Christmas. There is a further change in midfield, with David Meyler dropping to the bench, and Magnus Eikrem selected in centre midfield to make his first start for the club as well. Up front, Sean Fitzharris is dropped, with Jason Gillespie making his Ayr United debut partnering Craig Fisher. There is no place for Adam Vickers in the matchday squad today either, with Alex Owen brought back into the squad as a substitute, with Andrew Hageman also included on the bench today.

On another fairly miserable day weather wise in Scotland, two sides attempted to entertain just under 700 people on a bumpy pitch. The wide area's certainly seemed to be the best source for us in the early going, Aidan O'Kane and James McLean have had plenty of time to become accustomed to playing alongside each other after being team mates at Lurgan, but on the other flank, the combination of Ciaran Foy and Richal Leitoe was very new, and was showing promising signs in the 10th minute when they combined to get the ball to debutant Jason Gillespie, but he was dispossessed just as he prepared to let a shot go. It was almost ten minutes later when a cross came in from the other side, O'Kane picking out Craig Fisher who was clever to let the ball run across his body, before sending in a low driven shot that James Spencer stopped smartly, before the ball was hacked behind to safety. Not too safe though, as two full debutants combined to open the scoring, Magnus Eikrem sending over an inswinging corner, and Anwar Uddin managed to lose his marker and power a header past Spencer from close range! That good work was abruptly undone a little more than five minute later though, as a superb cross from Steven Canning picked out Jordan White, who had dropped off the shoulder of his marker. As he attempted to get the ball onto his favoured right foot, McLean's good intentions at tracking back proved to be unhelpful when he flew into a poorly timed challenge, sending White spinning to the turf and giving the ref an easy decision to make as he pointed to the penalty spot. Seán Friars dished out the punishment, firing his left footed penalty kick out of Stephen Grindlay's reach and levelling the match. By the time we had reached half time, Friars was back in the dressing rooms having taken a knock that would prevent him from continuing, while Gillespie's pace had frightened the life out of midfielder James Scott, who had found himself as last line of defence and woefully underhit his back pass. Spencer spared his blushes by having a good starting position and being no slouch in the pace department himself.

I'd seen enough in that first half to suspect we had enough about us to come away with a win today, and after a half time pep talk to lift his dropping head, James McLean was particularly keen to play a part in trying to make sure we secured three points. The winger showed some nifty footwork to manoeuvre himself around Connor Watson and the already booked Gareth Porter, and won us a corner at the byline. From there, it was 'take two' for our new boys, Eikrem once again picking out Uddin with his corner delivery, this time the centre back evading being marked at all, and his downward header beat Spencer and Joe Bennett on the post, finding it's way into the net via the inside of the upright to restore our advantage. We could, maybe even should, have extended the lead this time. Midway through the half, Ciaran Foy launched a long ball forward from the right back area, and Fisher showed his strength by beating both City centre backs in the air to win the ball and knock it down. Unfortunately, Gillespie would appear to need a bit more time to be on the same wavelength as his new strike partner, as he didn't anticipate the knock down and Spencer mopped things up once more. There were signs that the Brechin players heads were now starting to drop, and when sub Stephen McKenzie missed the target by miles I decided to make a couple of changes of my own. After a mixed day, McLean was brought off in the 74th minute, and joined by Gillespie, as Ryan Stevenson and Alex Owen came on in their place. We nearly blew it though, Watson found himself in acres of space in an advanced position on the right, and his cross picked out White who arrived with perfect timing, but his header flashed wide of the target with five minutes remaining, and we survived to head back to the West Coast with another three point haul to improve further on our recent form.

Brechin City (1) 1 - Seán Friars (28 pen)
Ayr United (1) 2 - Anwar Uddin (20, 56)
Stephen Grindlay; Ciaran Foy, Bryan Gilfillan, Anwar Uddin, Aidan O'Kane ©; Ryan McStay, Magnus Eikrem (David Meyler 90+1); Richal Leitoe, James McLean (Ryan Stevenson 74); Craig Fisher, Jason Gillespie (Alex Owen 74).

Unused Substitutes :- Andrew Hageman, Marcus Hall.
Bookings :- Anwar Uddin 85
Possession :- 36% - 64%. Man of the Match :- Anwar Uddin (Ayr United).

I thoroughly believe we deserved that, as we controlled the match for large spells, and gave City next to no room to show what they could do on their home patch. With Peterhead managing only a draw this evening, we have moved back into the top half of the table, with another away trip to come on the weekend, our match against East Fife is the only remaining match in this division due to Cup matches taking place.

It was another good outing for Ciaran Foy as he continued his return to form back in the First Team. The boss of Kettering Town is Mark Cooper, and he was present at the match amid rumours that he is looking to make Foy part of his squad during this Transfer Window. In my view, it's unlikely that Kettering have the resources to made a bid attractive enough to mean Foy follows Robin Shroot to Rockingham Road.

It would look far more likely that Foy would be joined by new arrivals at Somerset Park, though at this point, we are setting our sights quite high in an attempt to improve the squad, and our chances of pushing ourselves into the promotion race this season.

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Posted (edited)

Thursday 5th January 2012
There is good news to start the day, as after last nights win in Brechin, my continued employment at Somerset Park does not look to be in any immediate threat, with my name no longer appearing alongside those who's job status is considered to be 'insecure'. For the time being at least, the Board are once again satisfied with the job I am doing at the club. No rest for us though, as we continue to search for options to improve the quality of our squad. One position that hasn't particularly been impacted by player turnover however, is goalkeeper. That may change out of necessity though, as Stephen Grindlay rejects our second contract offer. Our first choice custodian is 30 in a few months, and is approaching the 300 Career League games mark. This is his fourth season at United, and his contract is due to expire in the summer. He is willing to continue negotiations, which is promising, but I am determined to get him to a lower pay scale than his current £275 per week deal.

Striker is a position that is a different kettle of fish altogether, with several players having been given chances to try and become the goalscorer that the club desperately needs. You'll be able to add another new name to that list as well, as we finally get our man, and agree a contract with AFC Telford United's 27 year old hotshot striker, Danny Carey-Bertram. The Birmingham born forward, who is currently Captain at the New Bucks Head, has an great record of 94 League goals in 258 League games at the time of writing. However, it's his record during his three and a half seasons in the Blue Square North with Telford that brought him to our attention. During that time, he has netted 59 League goals in 125 League matches, giving him a strike rate of close to a goal every other game. If he can continue that rate of scoring at what will be a better standard of football, the United fans will love him. The only downside is that they'll have to wait until next season, as the deal is for the Brummie striker to join on a Free when his contract expires in the summer.

Friday 6th January
While it's good news that we have a striker on board who could finally be a regular scorer for us, it doesn't solve our problem right now. And Friday looks more like being a day where departures take centre stage. Two are announced before we've even had time to finish our rice krispies. Norwegian attacking midfielder Abdi Ibrahim joined last summer with high hopes from both parties. He showed plenty of talent too when playing for our Reserve side, but couldn't force his way into the First Team, and became more sulky the longer he was left out. He will be on the move again this coming summer, as he will return to his native Norway, where he has agreed to sign for First Division side, Notodden FK.

Also on his way is another of last summers arrivals who failed to make any real impact. 20 year old Dutch utility player Arsenio Halfhuid is delighted to be returning to Holland, and has this morning signed for Eerste Divisie club FC Dordrecht with immediate effect, as they have paid £2,000 for his signature.

By lunchtime, it's a hatrick of players headed for the exit door, as 20 year old Scottish forward Archie Campbell completes his transfer to Irish Premier Division contenders, Derry City. Short on players as time ticks down towards the beginning of their 2012 season, City are in the middle of a overhaul after being sucked towards an unexpected relegation battle last season, and they have boosted our coffers to the tune of another £2,000 to secure their latest signing.

I reinvest some of my new found wage budget room in a man who can play anywhere down the left side of the park, and is sure to keep guys like Aidan O'Kane, Marcus Hall and James McLean very much on their toes. If he passed Campbell on his way out, 31 year old Shaun Holmes could absolutely give the forward some tips on how to prepare for life south of the Irish border. The former Manchester City, Wrexham and Glentoran player who also has one full cap for Northern Ireland, has spent the last six seasons in the Republic, bouncing around from Derry City, to Finn Harps, to Bohemians Dublin and finally to Bray Wanderers last season. While the pace is not exactly blistering these days, the wand like left foot is still very much there, and Holmes is the kind of dead ball specialist that makes opposition players very wary of where they give away free kicks. On a six month deal at just £60 a week, the Ulsterman could find a new lease of life in the West of Scotland.

As one Ulsterman arrives, another leaves the club, as we bid farewell to winger Marc McCann. I have a lot of time for Marc, and in different circumstances I would have been happy to give him a more prolonged spell in the First Team to prove he can still produce the old magic. If there is any magic left in his legs, it will now likely be the fans of Dumbarton who will get to witness it, as that is where McCann will be heading this summer on a Free Transfer when his contract with us expires. Good luck Marc!

Saturday 7th January
It's game day for us, but as the squad sets off for the away game against East Fife this afternoon, the news is broken that another player has agreed a deal to leave the club. This time it's 23 year old left sided player Adam Campbell, who's destination is south of the border, as he signs a deal to play for Fleetwood Town as of next season. Campbell will be hoping that his new club will be able to secure promotion back to the Blue Square North that they were relegated from last summer.

As we continue our journey to the 'Kingdom of Fife', I'm called with the news that we have missed out on the loan signing of young Newcastle United striker, Ryan Donaldson. The 20 year old Geordie has instead decided to sign for First Division club Queen of the South for the next three months after spending the same amount of time last season trying to help Airdrie United's doomed bid to avoid relegation to the third tier.

Scottish Second Division
New Bayview, Methil
East Fife v Ayr United
Attendance :-
306. Weather :- Gusty, 0c.

On a freezing (literally) cold day in the east of the country, and with a strong wind blowing in from the North Sea that made it feel yet colder again, we would look to try and get over the disappointment of that Ryan Donaldson news by continuing our recent impressive form. With Olafur Örn Bjarnason still unavailable with the flu, the back four remained as it was from the midweek match. In fact, there was only change from that game, with Magnus Eikrem not yet at a fitness level to allow him to play back to back games so close together, and he switches with David Meyler, who comes into the lineup from the substitutes bench.

The low temperatures meant that the orange ball would be in use today, and we immediately set about trying to put it into the East Fife net. Richal Leitoe made a superb run down the right wing, before sending over a measured cross that Dean Pooley had to get his head to, but he didn't find safety, Jason Gillespie volleying the ball just wide of the goal frame. That set the tone for the early stages, Craig Fisher forcing a reaction stop from Glyn Garner, but David Meyler volleyed the rebound well over the bar. At the other end, Richard Overment's flat corner delivery to the near post was headed over the top by Chris Templeman. It would be Overment who would try himself midway through the half after being played into space on the right side of the box, but Stephen Grindlay pushed his rising shot over the cross bar. A fairly even first half ended with Fisher sending a shot over the top after being played in by Leitoe who cruised by a couple of players after coming infield off his wing.

I urged my players to kick on and secure another three point haul in the second half, but that plan took a rather controversial set back only moments after the restart. This time it was Paul McManus who was coming in from the wing, the East Fife left, and he kept moving further and further square across the park, before sending the ball to his left, and through our defensive line. They were all stood with their arms up for a routine looking offside against Overment, but the flag stayed down, and the midfielder prodded the ball past Grindlay and into the bottom corner, while our players surrounded the ref and his assistant to protest against the lack of a flag against a player who was very clearly offside when McManus played the ball through our defence. I needed the lads to focus and get their heads back in the game, and within moments, Leitoe cut inside off his wing again, and sent over a left footer that was caught by the wind and had Garner back peddling to try and get back to it as the ball floated towards the top corner. Garner ended up in a bundle in the back of the net, but the ball hadn't joined him, the keeper managing to get enough of a fingertip on it to stop us equalising almost immediately. The corner fell to Craig Fisher on the edge of the box, but he wanted a touch instead of hitting it first time, and he was closed down before he managed to get a shot in. With our work rate starting to fade, and chances becoming more difficult to come by, I replaced my out of puff wingers, Leitoe and James McLean with Magnus Eikrem and Marcus Hall, the latter going to left back and Aidan O'Kane asked to play in a more advanced role. But today would not be our day, and when a corner was sent in to our near post, Overment emerged with the ball. He had his back to goal, so laid it off to Adam Pepper, who drilled it from the edge of the box, through the crowded penalty box and into the far corner of the net, doubling the hosts lead. Gillespie was withdrawn moments later, replaced by Alex Owen as we sought to find a way through an East Fife team that had now effectively shut up shop to protect their lead. But we were struggling now, and a Ryan McStay scuffed effort from 15 yards out that went harmlessly wide was the best we could muster, while Ryan Blackadder beat Marcus Hall for pace with ease at the other end, but lost his composure in front of goal, sending his effort high and wide of the far top corner he was aiming at, and failing to make a pretty miserable day all around even worse.

East Fife (0) 2 - Richard Overment (48), Adam Pepper (72)
Ayr United (0) 0
Stephen Grindlay; Ciaran Foy, Bryan Gilfillan, Anwar Uddin, Aidan O'Kane ©; Ryan McStay, David Meyler; Richal Leitoe (Magnus Eikrem 65), James McLean (Marcus Hall 65); Craig Fisher, Jason Gillespie (Alex Owen 76).
Unused Substitutes :- Andrew Hageman, Ryan Stevenson.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 52% - 48%. Man of the Match :- Richard Overment (East Fife).

'Please, ladies and gents, don't waste my time or yours asking me about the officiating, or the first goal. I can't say what I want to say when it comes to officiating after a game, and anything I do say will likely land me with a touchline ban, so I'm not prepared to take the risk.' The press conference continued, sounding like a rather dull episode of 'The Bill' as I repeated my answer of 'no comment' on multiple occasions until my pleading looks were taken pity on and the charade of a press conference was called to an abrupt conclusion.

It was our first defeat in four after a brief run of results that had stabilised us over the Christmas and New Year period. We would need to get another run underway as soon as possible to avoid dropping out of the Promotion Playoff picture again, and the mood in the dressing room might be a key to that. Stephen Grindlay rejecting our third offer of a contract extension offer. At least my job is still secure for now.

Edited by neilhoskins77

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Monday 9th January 2012
Our loan efforts are failing miserably, with five more players all rejecting our offer to come to Somerset Park for the remainder of the season. Clearly, we are still setting our sights too high, but there is very little point in bringing in anyone, even on a short term basis, if they are not going to improve our options.

At least there is better news on the goalkeeper front, with Stephen Grindlay, and his contract status. Our first choice custodian has agreed a one year contract extension to remain with us, and we even manage to squeeze a bit of money out of the former Newcastle United and Celtic youngster, who has seen his weekly wage drop slightly from £275 a week, down to £240. Little wins and all that......

Tuesday 10th January
Three more players reject loan offers to join us, while a cheeky well under value offer to my previous club Lurgan Celtic for their standout striker Neil Brown, is obviously given short shrift.

Wednesday 11th January
We are fast running out of options, and even more so after today. Wales International striker Daniel Nardiello has rejected our offer, and signed instead for Coventry City of Coca-Cola League One. It's easy to see why, as Nardiello's contract with The Sky Blues is fourteen times the amount we offered him as a weekly wage. 

Our other target is a Trinidad & Tobago International striker who has played at a much higher level than ours, and appears to have little interest in joining us while he has other offers to consider. Unfortunately, as off today, he has several other offers to consider, primarily from Holland and Turkey, both nations has experienced playing in before.

Olafur Örn Bjarnason has returned to training today after recovering from the flu, and would be in the treatment room half an hour later after being on the rough end of a clash of heads. He has sustained a cut that will put him out of action for a further week to ten days. Frustrating.

The day ends with Chris Maxwell being placed on the Transfer List after running to the press to discuss his unhapiness at a lack of First Team opportunities, while we miss out on yet another transfer target, as Irish defender Michael Keane leaves Clyde on a Free Transfer, but heads south of the border to Chesterfield.

Friday 13th January
The bookies have little doubt that we are capable of returning right back to winning ways tomorrow afternoon, as we entertain bottom of the table East Stirlingshire at Somerset Park. They have failed to win any of their last five League matches, and we are 1/4 to come out of the match with a victory.

Saturday 14th January

Scottish Second Division
Somerset Park, Ayr
Ayr United v East Stirlinghsire
Attendance :-
872. Weather :- Dry, 6c.

The weather had improved, and we were hoping that our form would also improve back to our holiday period levels as we welcomed the Division's basement side to Somerset Park. There is a return in the centre midfield for Magnus Eikrem today, and his recall means that David Meyler is switched out, and dropped from the matchday squad entirely today, with new signing Shaun Holmes brought onto the bench for today's match. There is also a change up front, with Alex Owen swapping places with Jason Gillespie.

'Let's not have a repeat of last weekend today lads, I want to see you take those chances and make them count!' Words that were taken heed of very early on today. Right from kick off, Ciaran Foy dropped a ball over the head of defender Cameron Mawer, and Richal Leitoe hopelessly exposed his lack of pace. The Netherlands Antilles International angled his run into the box, and then caught Tom Woodhead by surprise with a shot that stung as the keepers hands as he fought it off, but Alex Owen was quickly on the scene to sweep the loose ball inside the post and hand us a lead with just 34 seconds on the clock. Stephen Grindlay had to make a save from Tony Shields shot from range to preserve our lead a few minutes later, and then another from Anthony Mason at closer range after Barry McGrory had beaten Bryan Gilfillan in the air to flick on a long clearance. At the other end, James McLean picked up a pass from Anwar Uddin on halfway, and then set off on a pacey dribble through the middle of the park that got him just inside the box, before he lifted his shot over Woodhead, but also just over the cross bar too. Owen would also waste a chance to extend our lead after a swift counter attack from left back all the way to right wing, the striker getting on the end of Leitoe's cut back, but sending his shot across the face of goal and wide of the far post. Ronan Ivory's header over the bar from a Jamie McCallum corner brought East Stirlingshire's attacks for the first half to a close, while an indirect free kick routine saw Magnus Eikrem's blasted effort blocked by the defensive wall.

That first half was a lot more even that most would have expected after we had taken such an early lead. Now I needed the players to stay focused and with their minds firmly on the job, so the team talk was fairly brief, with the theme being mainly to prevent carelessness from creeping into our game. In fact, we could have got a quick goal at the start of the second half too, Aidan O'Kane's corner picked out the head of the unmarked Anwar Uddin, and the centre back got plenty on his downward header, but sent it just wide of the near post. East Stirlingshire had no desire to chuck in the towel though, and McCallum's corner found Mason, who connected with a downward header of his own that was heading inside the near post, until Ciaran Foy kicked it off the line. We were now having to defend solidly as our visitors sent in crosses at every opportunity, but we still looked dangerous when the ball was down the other end, Eikrem getting his inswinging corner to curl ridiculously, and Woodhead needed two attempts to collect it under pressure from Craig Fisher. In what would turn out to be his last contribution of a much improved performance, McLean led two defenders a merry dance down the left before leaving them for dead and cutting back across the park, squaring the ball for Ryan McStay who got well under his shot and missed the target. McLean was joined by Eikrem in being substituted, Shaun Holmes came on for a debut, while Ryan Stevenson would come on to play in the centre of the park. Holmes didn't look out of place at all on the left wing, and got the ball into the box at his first attempt, picking out Owen who believed he was fouled, but the ref was unmoved. As the match reached it's final moments, both sides resorted to long balls, East Stirlingshire in a desperate bid to find an equaliser, and ourselves as a reply to try and launch counter attacks and sew this one up. Not really needing two strikers for this at all, I brought off goalscorer Owen, and brought on Andrew Hageman as we moved to a 5-4-1 to try and safeguard our lead. Within 30 seconds, the big Irish centre back was flat on his face in his own penalty box after injuring himself preventing McGrory getting onto a long ball down the right channel, but it was at least the final nail in the coffin for the away side, and we were straight back to winning ways after last weeks disappointment.

Ayr United (1) 1 - Alex Owen (1)
East Stirlingshire (0) 0
Stephen Grindlay, Ciaran Foy, Bryan Gilfillan, Anwar Uddin, Aidan O'Kane ©; Ryan McStay, Magnus Eikrem (Ryan Stevenson 77); Richal Leitoe, James McLean (Shaun Holmes 77); Craig Fisher, Alex Owen (Andrew Hageman 90+2).
Unused Substitutes :- Marcus Hall, Jason Gillespie.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 47% - 53%. Man of the Match :- Alex Owen (Ayr United).

It was great to bounce right back with a win, but it does seem to be often coming at a cost, and this time it's Andrew Hageman. He was caught with a late challenge by Brian McGrory with seconds left to play as he cleared the ball from inside his own penalty box, a challenge that went unpunished. The centre back had to be helped off the park after being on for only around a minute, and suffered bruised ribs that will keep him out for anything up to ten days.

As pleased as I was with the win, our lack of firepower was still a serious cause for frustration and concern. Craig Fisher and Alex Owen have two goals apiece in all competitions despite nearly 30 starts between them, a figure matched by Anwar Uddin from centre back despite making only a handful of appearances since arriving. Adam Vickers and Sean Fitzharris don't make the stats look any more impressive, with just a single goal between them all season to date. James McLean and Peggy Lokando add another five between them in a combined appearance total of over 50 starts this season in all competitions, a figure matched by both Olafur Örn Bjarnason and Ryan McStay on their own, our joint top scorers. Where am I going with this? Well our failure to bring in a new scoring hotshot (with all due respect to Jason Gillespie) has left us still searching for an answer to our problems. Could it be that the answer is someone who has been out of sight, and out of mind?

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Sunday 15th January 2012
Hearts 21 year old Lithuanian striker Arvydas Novikovas has signed a brand new 2 and a half year contract with the Edinburgh club, and is now looking for some First Team football, having played only four matches since arriving in Scotland in the summer of 2008. Those games were during a loan spell with Partick Thistle, during that first year in the UK, and he got his only Senior goal to date for them too. He isn't prepared to drop down to the third tier to find football though, and rejects our offer to play for us till the summer.

Does our answer instead lie with Daryl Fordyce? Remember him? Deemed too wasteful and inconsistent early in the season after missing a lot of chances to score more than the 9 League goals he did net for us since his arrival a year ago, he was sent out on loan to Coca-Cola League One side, Swindon Town. They were looking to do something about their awful start, and that will have to go down as a fail, as with nineteen matches remaining, The Robins are ten points from safety with just four wins all season and the second worst goal difference in the Division. That loan spell is almost at an end, and Swindon have taken to playing Fordyce as a wide target man, where despite horrible but unsurprising average ratings in a struggling club and playing out of position (6.25 in all competitions), and just three goals, Fordyce has added a new string to his bow, as he has managed seven assists. Is it possible he could come back, and be the man to ignite us into a run of form? Even saying it out loud, I have my doubts, but I am running out of options, and he did just that last winter/spring despite his wastefulness.

One more line regarding strikers for today, Alex Owen's strike 34 seconds into Saturday's match against East Stirlingshire broke a club record for the fastest goal, which had previously been held by James McLean.

Monday 16th January
For the first time in a while, we have multiple players in the Division's announcement of Team of the Week. Well, two anyway, and both members of our back four, Aidan O'Kane and Anwar Uddin.

A fresh batch of loan offers have been sent today, and the responses from the clubs pretty quickly. There were 13 offers, and we got no's from Aberdeen, Celtic, Dundee, Hibernian, Queen of the South (twice) and Rangers (twice). We also get some positive answers, from Celtic for a second of their players, Dundee United (twice), Hearts and St Mirren.

Of the clubs that said yes, each of the players said no......except one! Finally, we have a striker through the door! I'm not going to sit here and pretend that we have landed ourselves a world beater, but beggars cannot be choosers, and in this situation right now, we are indeed, the beggars.

It's a 21 year old American striker from St Mirren who has said yes, and agreed to move to Somerset Park for five months to try and boost us, and himself too. New York City born Devann Yao is of Ivorian descent, and has trained as a youngster with FC Metz in France and Livorno in Italy, which resulted in him becoming a passport holder. He signed with St Mirren in 2008/09 when the save began, and made his debut last season, playing twelve times in the Scottish Premier League, with limited impact and no goals. He does bring something we do need though, and that is an alternative to Craig Fisher, our other on loan striker, who has failed miserably to provide us with a goal source. Yao is 6'4 and weighs a bit more than 14 stone. He's strong, good in the air, aggressive, but also composed. He has not inconsiderable pace to go with it as well. What I really need, is the £250,000 rated striker to get off the mark as quick as possible, and give us a huge boost.

Tuesday 17th January
Queen's Park have asked to keep young defensive midfielder John Robertson for an extra three months on loan. I have no issue with that, as Robertson is getting exactly what I wanted him to get, exposure to First Team football. He has played sixteen times in the League for the Glasgow club, registering one goal and one assist. His average rating is pretty unspectacular at under 6.00, but he is playing for the team in the bottom two of Scotland's third tier. There are some very encouraging signs from the now 17 year old, who has just one booking to his name, and a decent pass completion percentage all things considered. I agree to Queen's Parks request.

The Reserves have played in Group 3 this afternoon away to Brechin City. A strong side comes away with a 2-0 win, with a goal in each half from a pair of players who are hoping the door is not closed on a First Team place, Peggy Lokando and Adam Vickers. The second string side currently top their League, and have a game in hand.

Wednesday 18th January
John Robertson has accepted Queen's Parks offer to extend the loan, and will remain with the Third Division club for another three months. His Youth team colleague, winger Jimmy Ferguson, has stubbed his toe during today's 2-0 win over Queen's Parks youngsters at a almost deserted Hampden Park, and will be out for a week. United's youngsters won the game with second half goals from Patrick Fleming and Simon McAllister. After the match, our opponents approach us with a request to loan Ferguson for three months. We negotiate the request to allow us to recall him if needed, but we also agree in principal to allow Ferguson to go there for the remainder of the campaign. The decision now lies with the player.

Friday 20th January
Tomorrow we'll visit one of the sides that we need to compete with if we're to earn a spot in the Promotion Playoffs at least. Partick Thistle were relegated last season via the Playoffs, and are hoping to bounce straight back up into the second tier. However, there are reports that the Glasgow club are going through a bit of a cash flow problem at the moment, and they may be forced to move on some of their more valued or higher earning players. They have spent no money on transfers this season, but do have four players who alone are earning over £800 per week, and they are also paying former England International full back Danny Mills a wage of £650 a week. They do have the best average attendance in the Division, but it's well under 2,000 at the moment, and clearly the club cannot continue to sustain their current spend levels. They do go into the match sat in third place, and hoping to make ground on top two Airdrie and Arbroath, who play each other this weekend. The bookies have Thistle as odds on favourites at 1/2.

Saturday 21st January
I remain hopeful of getting First Team football to an increased number of our youngsters. One of our better prospects will be looking to get stuck into competitive football for the remainder of the season, as Queen's Park accept our amended terms, and Jimmy Ferguson will join them for the rest of the campaign. The 16 year old left winger spoke to the press, probably for the first time in his young career, telling them he couldn't wait to make the step up from Reserve Team football and try and make an impact. The Under-19 side didn't miss him too much, as right winger Jamie Barron netted a brace, with defender Paul Mackay also scoring in a 3-0 win over Montrose on the road.

Scottish Second Division
Firhill, Glasgow
Partick Thistle v Ayr United
Attendance :-
1,941. Weather :- Strong Wind, Wet, 6c.

We make the trek into Glasgow for a match with a Partick Thistle side that some pundits believe are there for the taking, with morale at a pretty low level as the rumoured financial issues bite harder into the club with each passing day. There are two changes made from last time out, with both coming on the substitutes bench as the starting lineup is left unchanged. Andrew Hageman is out with the bruised ribs suffered in his ridiculously short outing against East Stirlingshire, and is replaced by Olafur Örn Bjarnason, who's presence will mean that both Bryan Gilfillan and Anwar Uddin need to be at their best. At the other end of the bench, Jason Gillespie is dropped from the matchday squad, with on loan striker Devann Yao named in the squad for the first time.

We started very nicely, Craig Fisher moving into the left channel and linking up with Aidan O'Kane. The left back sent the ball to Ryan McStay on the edge of the box, who laid it off to Magnus Eikrem, the Norwegian midfielders curling shot rising just too high and clearing the angle of the goal frame just two minutes in. Our strong opening took a huge backwards step very quickly though, O'Kane's backpass to Stephen Grindlay, his attempted pass to Bryan Gilfillan was cut out by Liam Buchanan, and he nudged it on to Stephen McPhee, who passed the ball beyond Grindlay's dive and into the bottom corner to put Thistle in front in the 4th minute. That was not the ideal start, and by the 7th minute, matters had become even worse. After a series of loose passes from both teams, Nick Phinn picked up the ball, and sent a through pass down the side of Buchanan, who reacted quicker than our defence, and sent a shot across goal and inside the far post to double Partick's lead. An attempt to pull one back presented itself in the 18th minute when Fisher cut the ball back from the byline, and Ryan McStay took a shot from near the penalty spot that was bravely blocked by a defender. We would regret that one too, Gary Harkins free kick was deflected behind for a corner, which Jonathan Hayes sent to the far post. James Hurst connected with a thumping header that flew past O'Kane who was guarding the upright, before coming back off the post, but the ball fell beautifully for Buchanan, and he notched his second with a volley that was unstoppable from ten yards out. The rampaging striker would try his luck for a hatrick on the half hour when Harkins flicked the ball on and he connected with another volley, Grindlay making the stop this time. He wasn't done trying though, and when Anwar Uddin didn't deal well with a long ball forward, Buchanan played a one-two with McPhee, only being prevented from getting a shot away by Uddin making some amends. It was third time lucky for, well, the third time though, as ten minutes before the break Buchanan got his head to Phinn's outwinging corner, and he glanced the ball high into the top corner. It was an outstanding first half performance from the striker. Not quite enough to help us forget we were 4-0 down though!

The decibel level in our dressing room at the break would've took the paint from the wall if we'd got around to painting it back on after the last time. Gilfillan and Fisher were both taken off, with Olafur Örn Bjarnason and Devann Yao brought on in their places. The second half started positively, but that didn't mean too much, as the first half did too. Richal Leitoe did test David Forde's handling with a couple of testing crosses. To be fair, we were actually playing quite well since the restart, though clearly the damage was already very much done. Leitoe would find himself in the middle just after the hour, the winger twisted and turned to earn his yard of space, and then let fly with a shot that looked goalbound before striking McStay and deflecting harmlessly wide of the target. The Netherlands Antilles International winger continued to be involved, a cross from deep had to headed behind by Hurst as Devann Yao's eyes lit up at the prospect of a free header at the far post on his debut, Uddin headed Eikrem's corner delivery just past the near post, before the midfielder decided to chance his arm himself, sending a curling shot off the top off the cross bar. Finally, in the 72nd minute, we managed to recover at least a small piece of our dignity, Leitoe once more provided the cross, and James McLean connected with a header that found it's way into the net. The celebrations were about as short lived as our dignity had been though, as the goal was disallowed for a push on centre back Oliver Russell. The winger looked about as dejected as our fans in the away end, at least, the ones who were still there, and he was replaced by Shaun Holmes. Without doubt, the second half had been a huge improvement, but that first half performance was pretty much unforgivable!

Partick Thistle (4) 4 - Stephen McPhee (4), Liam Buchanan (7,26,35)
Ayr United (0) 0
Stephen Grindlay; Ciaran Foy, Bryan Gilfillan (Olafur Örn Bjarnason 45), Anwar Uddin, Aidan O'Kane ©; Ryan McStay, Magnus Eikrem; Richal Leitoe, James McLean (Shaun Holmes 76); Craig Fisher (Devann Yao 45), Alex Owen.
Unused Substitutes :- Marcus Hall, Ryan Stevenson.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 37% - 63%. Man of the Match :- Liam Buchanan (Partick Thistle).

The fact that we had almost two thirds of the possession in that match showed what a number Thistle had done on us. They had counter attacked to perfection in the first half, and then just about kept us off the scoresheet in the second half. It was well over an hour after the match had finished before my team were allowed to leave the dressing room and board the bus back to the West Coast. If the players thought their humiliation was complete, they then had to endure the full gory details of a football phone in, which they featured heavily in, with very few escaping any kind of talent assassination from a fan base that were considerably less than impressed. They weren't exactly singing my praises either! The only thing they were happy about was that the players were subjected to the full wrath of my temper, plus that of the coaching staff, who didn't hold back.

Next week we face another of the sides above us in the table, as Airdrie United will be the visitors to Somerset Park. I am under the impression that the Board won't stand for too many more performances like today's. I told them I could get this side promoted this season, and if I fail to deliver a Playoff appearance at all, there's a good chance I'll be looking for a new job before the end of the season.

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Sunday 22nd January 2012
As the players gave up so easily yesterday in the first half, I decided that today they can give up their day off, as they were called in for a double training session. While they were kept busy by the coaching staff, I took a look at what the media were saying about us. Despite still being sat just outside the Promotion Playoff positions, the consensus right now is that we're too inconsistent, and ultimately, not good enough to make good on the promises I made at the start of the season.

The players are all brought into a team meeting where we attempt to thrash out what has been going wrong for us. It was an honest and frank open forum discussion, where everyone was entitled to air their view without fear of repercussions. The coaching staff made full use of the opportunity, with several players told they had become lax, and maybe even lazy when it came to training sessions. I wrapped up the meeting with a rallying call. There are fifteen games remaining, and if we can get our act together, everything is still possible for us this season, but we need to start next weekend, when the league leaders come to town. While that meeting is going on, the Reserve squad are held to a 0-0 draw in Stranraer despite dominating the game for large parts. Left back Paul Dummett is named man of the match, sending over several dangerous crosses in an attempt to prise open the deadlock.

Monday 23rd January
It didn't look like we had much chance of landing Arvydas Novikovas on loan from Hearts anyway, but that chance was considerably reduced now that Queen of the South have also made an offer to the Lithuanian striker. We'll have to admit defeat in that one unfortunately.

In an email that entirely expected, Swindon Town have requested an extension to the loan deal of Daryl Fordyce, as they ask to keep the Irish forward on loan for the remainder of the season. The emailed reply didn't take very, not because it was an easy decision to make, but because the thinking had already been done with the request being expected. And now it has been rejected, Daryl Fordyce will play for Swindon Town for the final time this during this loan period on the weekend, and will then return to Somerset Park.

Tuesday 24th January
There is one week remaining in the January Transfer Window, and if I'm brutally honest, I'm not sure we will get anything further done in the remaining time. My gut feeling is that we will now have to go with what we have, and hope it will be enough to get the job done.

Wednesday 25th January
I know who I would sign if I could make it happen. Neil Brown. The Bermuda International striker who I brought to the country originally has had a major falling out at Lurgan Celtic with his manager Graham McConnell, who has put the blame for their downturn in form squarely on the shoulders of the 21 year old. Brown has now stated that he wants out of Knockramer Park, saying that he no longer feels he can work with the manager, and that the club have been taken as far as they can. If I had the money.......

Friday 27th January
Home advantage is not enough to give us the edge over league leaders Airdrie United in the opinion of the bookies, who make the visitors narrow favourites at 5/4, while you can get a price of 7/4 on our inconsistent backsides either turning the corner, or raising hopes amongst the fans with another false dawn.

With little prospect of any new arrivals to help the First Team arriving now, I decide to use the last of my Transfer Budget on a bid for a young striker who looks a very interesting prospect. 19 year old Dwyer Lowry is Northern Ireland Under-21 International who has been on the fringes of the First Team at Linfield this season. He hasn't yet managed to make his League debut for the Premier Division leaders, but he has been a hit in the Cup competitions, striking four goals in as many games. I offer £2,000 for him, but there are other suitors.

While we are on the subject of players on the fringes of the First Team, I have an unhappy midfielder who feels frozen out right now. David Meyler has seen a drop in his playing time since the arrival of Magnus Eikrem, and has said that at his age, he needs regular match minutes to continue to improve. He's told that no one is guaranteed their place, and while that applies to him, he also goes for everyone else. If he gets his head down and works hard, there's no reason why he can't be involved.

Saturday 28th January

Scottish Second Division
Somerset Park, Ayr
Ayr United (5th) v Airdrie United (1st)
Attendance :-
865. Weather :- Dry, 6c.

We need to put last week behind us now, brush it under the carpet, and focus on today, and our chance to turn over the league leaders. Bryan Gilfillan, James McLean and Craig Fisher are all dropped from the starting eleven and onto the substitutes bench, and replaced by Olafur Örn Bjarnason, Shaun Holmes and Devann Yao.

Last week, we started well and then got blown away. This week, we started well, and pinned our foot to the accelerator. Aidan O'Kane's third minute throw in was flicked on before being partly clear by Bobby Connelly. It went right to Magnus Eikrem though, and from 25 yards out he struck a low curling shot that beat Joe Lindsay and found the net via the inside of the upright. Shaun Holmes nearly doubled that lead in the 5th minute, Devann Yao playing him into space in the left channel, but his rising shot cleared the cross bar. But in the 7th minute we would get an even better opportunity, as Eikrem picked out Richal Leitoe. The winger jinked into the box, doing Andros Townsend for pace, and the former Spurs youngster tripped Leitoe and conceded a penalty. Holmes was given the task of doubling our lead, and drove his low left footed penalty to Lindsay's right, and became the second player to score his first goal for the club. Olafur Örn Bjarnason's 15th minute header from an O'Kane corner only just cleared the goal frame as we nearly extended our lead still further, but we wouldn't have to wait too much longer. Midway through the half, Holmes picked out Yao in the box, and the on loan striker unselfishly squared the ball to Alex Owen, who sidefooted into the net to make it 3-0. Leitoe was next to try and get in on the act, collecting a pass from Yao and then twisting past a defender and lofting a shot over Lindsay's head, but it came right back off the bar, and was headed clear. Before the break, Owen nearly added his second of the match, deciding to have a go from range after collecting the ball from Holmes, the strikers curling effort had Lindsay beaten, but just swerved away from the target.

What an incredible difference from last weekends first half, and Airdrie suffered a further blow at half time as they lost their skipper and influential centre back Donnelly to injury after he suffered a knock in the closing stages of the first half. The second half started just as the first did, and in absolutely spectacular style. Ciaran Foy collected the ball from Stephen Grindlay, and then passed it forward to Leitoe. From the halfway line, the winger turned past Townsend and quickly got to full tilt down the right wing, before slicing inside sub Ken Irons and around Marc Smyth, before slamming the ball past Lindsay and inside the near post, opening his account for the club with a superb solo goal that had the fans on their feet and applauding the fleet footed winger. He had torn Townsend apart this afternoon, and within a minute of that goal, he was taken off, along with Stephen Pearson, as the shell shocked league leaders tried to change the balance of the match. They looked totally beaten, but just before the hour mark they did give us a taste of our medicine, Graeme Sharp's corner was an outswinger, and Alex Dyer got in front of Grindlay, who thought he had a clear run to collect the cross. He didn't, and Dyer's header flew past him and just under the bar. That goal could have easily caused us to start doubting ourselves, but it didn't, and we continued to ping passes around effortlessly, with the ball constantly finding it's way to Leitoe, who now had Smyth tasked with marking him, and Leitoe left him for dead twice in as many minutes. With 73 minutes on the clock, I decided to make my changes in one go, with Eikrem, Holmes and Yao replaced by Ryan Stevenson, James McLean and Craig Fisher. The last part of the match produced little in the way of goalmouth action, though Leitoe did appear to be on a personal mission to set up Craig Fisher for a goal, and he was quickly joined by James McLean, who also started slinging crosses over. It didn't happen, but that wasn't exactly going to take the shine off today for us.

Ayr United (3) 4 - Magnus Eikrem (3), Shaun Holmes (7 pen), Alex Owen (22), Richal Leitoe (50)
Airdrie United (0) 1 - Alex Dyer (58)
Stephen Grindlay; Ciaran Foy, Anwar Uddin, Olafur Örn Bjarnason ©, Aidan O'Kane; Ryan McStay, Magnus Eikrem (Ryan Stevenson 73); Richal Leitoe, Shaun Holmes (James McLean 73); Devann Yao (Craig Fisher 73), Alex Owen.

Unused Substitutes :- Bryan Gilfillan, Marcus Hall.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 58% - 42%. Man of the Match :- Richal Leitoe (Ayr United).

Wowzers! Who was expecting that today? I'd be lying through my teeth if I said I was! That was an outstanding comeback from last weekend, and hopefully we have reminded some people exactly of what we are capable of. The key now though will be continuing this form, as every time we have won this year so far, we have been beaten next time out. We can't afford to do that this time, as we have a ten day break, before we travel to face bottom of the table Cowdenbeath. In the two meetings so far this season, the home side has won 2-1.

Richal Leitoe picks up his first man of the match award since his arrival at the club, and capped it with an absolutely outstanding goal to break his duck in our colours. Even Airdrie manager Kenny Black couldn't disguise his admiration of our wing wizard, stating to the press that he was glad his side don't have to face the likes of Leitoe every week. When we managed to land Magnus Eikrem and him, we certainly raised the bar and set a new standard for future forays into the transfer market.

Saturday comes to an end, as it often has done in this tale of Ayr United with news of the striker variety. Daryl Fordyce made the last appearance of his loan spell with Swindon Town, playing in midfield in a vital 1-0 win over Port Vale, their second victory in a row. The Irish striker will travel back to Scotland on a flight in the next few days. Our effort to bring in promising young striker Dwyer Lowry has failed however, as the 19 year old Northern Irishman has elected to remain with Linfield for the remainder of the season, and will move on to Coca-Cola League Two side Lincoln City in the summer.

Sunday 29th January
Paul Dummett suffered bruised ribs that will keep him out for a week or so in our Reserves convincing 3-0 win at Hampden Park against Queen's Park's second string. Three goals in a half hour spell from Adam Vickers, Jason Gillespie and Reece Brown kept our lads top of the Group 3 Reserve table. Queen of the South, last years Champions, remain hot on our heels.

Monday 30th January
We join Partick Thistle with the joint most amount of players in the team of the week, a treble of Ciaran Foy, Aidan O'Kane and Richal Leitoe all named in the Monday morning ritual.

I wasn't expecting us to welcome any more arrivals during this Transfer Window, but an opportunity presented itself to improve out squad, and I took it, especially as it came on the cheap. 33 year old defensive midfielder Darren Young has fallen out of favour at Stirling Albion after being a regular for them last season. The former Aberdeen, Dunfermline Athletic and Dundee man has made over 300 league appearances in his career to date, and is nowhere close to being past his best yet. We get him on a Free Transfer, and will pay him just £40 a week in a deal until next summer. I'll be surprised if the deal for the 8 times capped former Scotland Under-21 International will turn out to be anything other than a bargain.

Tuesday 31st January
After that deal, Transfer Deadline Day was never likely to be anything other than quiet for us at Somerset Park. Failed attempts to secure loan deals for youngsters Callum McKinnon, Patrick Fleming and Simon McAllister aside, there was nothing to report at all today, and we now have what we have for the remainder of the campaign.

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2011/12 Scottish League Second Division Table, Up To & Including Tuesday 31st January 2012

| Pos   | Inf   | Team               |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   |

| 1st   |       | Arbroath           |       | 22    | 12    | 5     | 5     | 37    | 18    | +19   | 41    |
| 2nd   |       | Partick Thistle    |       | 22    | 11    | 7     | 4     | 39    | 24    | +15   | 40    |
| 3rd   |       | Airdrie Utd        |       | 22    | 12    | 3     | 7     | 25    | 22    | +3    | 39    |
| 4th   |       | Stirling           |       | 22    | 11    | 4     | 7     | 33    | 25    | +8    | 37    |
| 5th   |       | Ayr                |       | 22    | 9     | 6     | 7     | 28    | 29    | -1    | 33    |
| 6th   |       | Peterhead          |       | 22    | 8     | 6     | 8     | 28    | 30    | -2    | 30    |
| 7th   |       | East Fife          |       | 22    | 9     | 3     | 10    | 32    | 38    | -6    | 30    |
| 8th   |       | Brechin            |       | 22    | 7     | 1     | 14    | 28    | 32    | -4    | 22    |
| 9th   |       | Cowdenbeath        |       | 22    | 5     | 4     | 13    | 20    | 35    | -15   | 19    |
| 10th  |       | East Stirlingshire |       | 22    | 4     | 5     | 13    | 15    | 32    | -17   | 17    |


Edited by neilhoskins77

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Wednesday 1st February 2012
While my job is not currently considered to be in danger, the Board do feel that I should be doing a slightly better job. In particular, the negativity in the dressing room is a big concern of theirs, and they believe it could be an issue that may even derail our promotion bid. They are however delighted with the addition of Magnus Eikrem, but there is also another negative, a loss of almost £25,000 in January.

A 2-0 win for our Youth side at Somerset Park against the youngsters of Ross County means that there is now a second Group 3 league that we are top of. There might well be a second talented 'McStay' in our ranks as well, as 19 year old midfielder Stevie opened the scoring in the first half, with 16 year old striker Patrick Barron wrapping up the points with just a few minutes left to play.

Saturday 4th February
With only three matches taking place on this Saturday afternoon as the Scottish Cup takes centre stage, the main attraction is a top four clash between Stirling Albion and Patrick Thistle, who play out a 2-2 draw at Forthbank Stadium. That gives Arbroath the chance to take over at the top as they beat East Fife 1-0 at home. Our next opponents in midweek, Cowdenbeath, produce the shock of the round in the Cup, as they produce a win over our nearest rivals, Kilmarnock, at Central Park. They are rewarded with a potential money spinning Quarter-Final tie at Celtic, as the Old Firm are kept apart in the last eight draw.

Tuesday 7th February
That victory over Killie hasn't improved the bookies opinion of Cowdenbeath's fortunes in the league. Four straight league defeats, and a win for East Stirlingshire on Saturday has left our opponents floundering down in 10th place. We're odds on favourites for a win tomorrow night, and I tell the press that I'm hoping that the confidence from our last outing will see us through a winnable but tricky fixture.

Wednesday 8th February

Scottish Second Division
Central Park, Cowdenbeath
Cowdenbeath (10th) v Ayr United (5th)
Attendance :-
203. Weather :- Drizzle, 11c.

The first of a four day double header of fixtures as we approach the run in for the 2011/12 season. There's no reason to make any changes to the starting lineup from the win against Airdrie last time out, though there is one change made amongst the substitutes. Bryan Gilfillan is furious after being made the odd man out in the back four when Olafur Örn Bjaranason returned to the side. His hissy fit means he has been dropped out of the matchday squad, and Marcus Hall will act as cover for the defence, with new signing Darren Young brought in and lined up for a potential debut from the bench.

Our hosts came out fighting, Johnny Flynn-O'Connor sent the ball to the edge of the box, where David Irwin had two attempts at a strike that were both blocked, the second one right back to Flynn-O'Connor. He gave it back to Irwin again, and this time he did get his shot through, but it just missed the target. Skipper of the home side, Mark Baxter, tried to force a through ball into the box, but Shaun Holmes blocked it and attempted to launch a counter attack, which was thwarted by Baxter pulling him back by the jersey, yet somehow escaping a booking. When we did get into their penalty box, Holmes' shot was blocked, and Ryan McStay saw his effort pushed aside by Martin Rice. And the keeper would have to be in top form again shortly after, Richal Leitoe skinned Kasali Yinka Casal and sent in a cross that was just behind Alex Owen, but found Devann Yao, who's firmly struck shot was kept out. When Holmes forced yet another save out of Rice, I was becoming very encouraged by our ability to get beyond their defence. Leitoe miscued a volley that went harmlessly wide, while Olafur Örn Bjarnason would have been disappointed when he sent a header from Aidan O'Kane's corner just over the target. Magnus Eikrem also missed a golden chance to open the scoring when he fired wide from Holmes' cut back from the byline. You can imagine my disappointment when neither O'Kane or Anwar Uddin could prevent Kyle Lambert from sending over his cross from the right, and with others chasing back to fill in the gaps, Eikrem was hopelessly outmatched in the centre and Noel Johnston's downward header found the net. I'm quite fond of kicking a water bottle every now and then, and I got some pretty good air and distance on this one. I couldn't believe we were going in at half time behind in this one.

The air was more blue than the Cowdenbeath players shirts at the break, and I told the players to sort themselves out in the second half. We had made, and missed, enough chances to win a couple of matches, and my encouragement from earlier had given way to frustration. We hadn't seen much of arguably Cowdenbeath's best player in the first half. Left winger Chris Arthur set about addressing that, and he played a one-two that sent him into acres of space, and then sent a cross to the far post, O'Kane had to judge it perfectly to get himself in front of Lambert and prevent the winger having a tap in. The pattern of the first half started to repeat itself as we began to take control, Holmes sending in a cross that Yao brought down, and then played to Ciaran Foy at the edge of the box, but he blasted his shot high and wide. O'Kane sent in the next cross, this time to Ryan McStay on the edge of the box, but he couldn't keep his shot down either. As we approached the final ten minutes, Uddin broke up an attempted counter attack, and Foy sent the ball down the line for Leitoe. As he did umpteen times last week, Leitoe showed his ability to beat a man, and Yinka Casal took the bait, lunging into a tackle and sending our winger to the turf, giving the ref an easy decision to make. The Nigerian full back was rightly booked, and Holmes sent the spot kick high into the net and out of Rice's reach to square the match up. Sensing an opportunity to win this match yet, I opted for fresh legs, with Eikrem and Own replaced by Darren Young and Daryl Fordyce. Our new midfielder almost marked his debut for us in style when he picked up the ball from a cleared corner, and he smashed a shot towards the target, missing the top corner by inches. I brought on James McLean late on to try and inject some late pace into our side, but it was too little too late.

Cowdenbeath (1) 1 - Noel Johnston (32)
Ayr United (0) 1 - Shaun Holmes (79 pen)
Stephen Grindlay; Ciaran Foy, Anwar Uddin, Olafur Örn Bjarnason ©, Aidan O'Kane; Ryan McStay, Magnus Eikrem (Darren Young 80); Richal Leitoe, Shaun Holmes (James McLean 88); Devann Yao, Alex Owen (Daryl Fordyce 80).

Unused Substitutes :- Marcus Hall, Ryan Stevenson.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 40% - 60%. Man of the Match :- Noel Johnston (Cowdenbeath).

Only time will tell if that turns out to be a point earned, or two thrown away. But I know where my money would be at the moment, and I told the players after the match that we can't keep throwing away that many chances and still expect to come away with the points. It had been a very frustrating evening.

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On 12/10/2018 at 13:13, oche balboa said:

Great stuff mate 

Thank you mate. Hope you're well.

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Thursday 9th February 2012
It's no surprise at all to hear the news that Richal Leitoe has been called up by Netherlands Antilles for their vital 2014 FIFA World Cup First Phase Qualifier fixture in the North American section, as they face a two legged tie with Grenada. It's the Dutch outpost nations first competitive fixture for four years. They lost to the Cayman Islands at this stage in Qualifying last time out.

More of a shock is the inclusion of 22 year old attacking midfielder Jamie Craggs in the Montserrat squad. Yeah, remember him? Not only has Craggs failed to get a look in with the First Team, he has also failed to get into the Reserve side as well. It's pretty clear his days with the club are numbered already, though there have been no takers to see what he can do on loan. He will be hoping to show his talents when his nation go into their own tie with St Kitts & Nevis, a fixture they are very much the underdogs for.

Friday 10th February
Tomorrow we host the side right behind us in the fight to be first in the queue to steal a place in the Promotion Playoffs. Sixth placed Peterhead have a slight edge over us in the four meetings since I arrived, with two wins to our one. This might be the biggest meeting yet though, with neither side able to afford to drop too many more points with the number of matches remaining leaving little room for error. I tell the press that a run of games close together might be good for us to help string a few performances together.

Saturday 11th February
Let's hope the Saturday morning Youth fixture isn't an omen for our weekend, as the youngsters are beaten 2-1 down in the Borders against Berwick Rangers age group side. Stuart Moore gave Rangers the lead, before centre back Grant Gilmour levelled just after the half hour mark. Moore would strike again early in the second half though, and that would be enough for them today.

Scottish Second Division
Somerset Park, Ayr
Ayr United (5th) v Peterhead (6th)
Attendance :-
874. Weather :- Dry, 10c.

I make one change from the draw in Cowdenbeath during midweek. Shaun Holmes has scored twice in as many games from the penalty spot, but he isn't fit enough to play two matches in four days, and so he is replaced by James McLean, who is raring to go after seeing Holmes take his spot and give him some serious competition for the number eleven jersey.

A fifth minute Magnus Eikrem corner dropped slightly lower than expected, but Olafur Örn Bjarnason still managed to connect with a flying diving header that came back off the near post. Aidan O'Kane managed to feed the loose back back to Eikrem, but his shot from out wide was high over the bar. Ryan McStay got considerably closer when his curling shot from the edge of the box flashed just wide of the post. But it would be James McLean who would open the scoring, O'Kane playing the winger into the left channel of the box, and he darted past David Donald and shot across Michal Kula and inside the far post. The confidence was flowing through the team now, and Devann Yao took the ball down from Alex Owen's flick on, and produced a shot on the turn that was too hot for Kula to handle, and he had to be light on his feet to turn Owen's shot from the rebound around the post. Peterhead had to defend robustly as we put together a quick series of corners that saw Eikrem manage to hit the target, but Kula pushed his shot around the post, and Bjarnason sent a header against the cross bar, before Yao shot over the top. The best chance we would get would come just after the half hour mark when Yao moved out wide, and then sent in a cross to the far post. Richal Leitoe beat a defender in the air, but sent his header just wide of the post. Obviously all those missed chances would bite us sooner or later, and Scott Gemmill moved in from the right wing just before half time, and picked out the run of Jamie Tolley down the middle, and he took the ball in his stride and slotted it under Stephen Grindlay's dive and into the bottom corner to level the match up.

I tried to keep calm during the break, telling the players how happy I was with the amount of chances we had managed to create, now I just needed them to put a couple of them up on the scoreboard. Someone who had done that, Tolley, became the first player to have their name taken by the ref after clattering into Eikrem early after the restart. But it was the visitors who were looking the sharper, with Gemmill smacking a shot off the top of our cross bar. I need to get the groundsman to check there isn't a slope on this pitch. Fortunately, they were nowhere near as proficient at creating chances as we were, and after they made a few changes and switched to a 4-4-2, the match ground into a bit of a midfield battle. As we approached the latter stages, I made a pair of changes, Eikrem and Yao replaced by Darren Young and Daryl Fordyce. That didn't go so well, Martin Bavidge making a great run down the right before sending the ball to Anthony Pulis. He lifted a cross towards the penalty spot, and sub Aidan Collins met it with a directed header that beat Grindlay and found the net to give Peterhead the lead. It was his first game, and goal, since signing for The Blue Toon in the Transfer Window. We needed to get that back quickly, McLean evading Donald and sending in a cross. Fordyce got the ball down, but couldn't find space to turn, so instead sent the ball back to Ryan McStay. With two players converging on him, he sent the ball square to the right for Ciaran Foy, and the full took a touch, before arrowing a low shot past Kula's dive and inside the far post. It was his first goal for the club too, and it might prove to be a very important one!

Ayr United (1) 2 - James McLean (17), Ciaran Foy (83)
Peterhead (1) 2 - Jamie Tolley (44), Aidan Collins (79)
Stephen Grindlay; Ciaran Foy, Anwar Uddin, Olafur Örn Bjarnason ©, Aidan O'Kane; Ryan McStay (Ryan Stevenson 85), Magnus Eikrem (Darren Young 77); Richal Leitoe, James McLean; Devann Yao (Daryl Fordyce 77), Alex Owen.

Unused Substitutes :- Marcus Hall, Shaun Holmes.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 52% - 48%. Man of the Match :- Ciaran Foy (Ayr United).

Once more we are in the situation where we won't know if that's a good point or not, but it certainly felt like a decent result after falling behind fairly late on. For a full back who plays in a similar way to Aidan O'Kane, it's hard to work out how it has taken Ciaran Foy over a year to notch not only his first goal for the club, but the first goal of his career. At least he picked a very good time to score it. His strike means we remain ahead of Peterhead, and still in the fight to go up.

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The European Catch-Up
For some reason, I have forgotten to keep you updated with going's on in European competition for Scotland's clubs, so we'll have a little catch up session now if that's okay with you all.

We'll start with the UEFA Champions League, and the Group Stages, where both Celtic and Rangers are involved. Lets begin with the Hoops, who are drawn into Group D, and will quite fancy their chances of being competitive and sneaking into the Knockout Stages. They start at home with a win over the Norwegian side, SK Brann. Things get decidedly more difficult for them in Matchday's two and three, as they suffer consecutive away losses, firstly against Fiorentina, and then against Valencia. When the Spaniards completed the double over Celtic with a win in Glasgow, it looked very gloomy for the Scottish club, but a Brann win over Fiorentina on the same night opened things up somewhat, though Valencia were untouchable as they had four wins from four. Celtic would win in Norway in Matchday 5 to keep themselves in the hunt, and Valencia won in Italy, setting up an exciting conclusion in the final round of matches. Celtic knew a win over Fiorentina in Glasgow would likely put them through. But they couldn't break down Viola, and a 0-0 draw would mean they went out on goal difference, with the only consolation being their reallocation into the Knockout Stages of the UEFA Europa League.

It would be a different story for he Blue half of Glasgow in Group E, though not for the better. Handed a pretty tough draw, they started at Anfield in one of the 'Battle of Britain' fixtures that the media are so fond of. Rangers were outclassed on Merseyside, losing 3-1 to Liverpool, but a home draw with German side Werder Bremen, followed by a very credible point in Italy against Sampdoria, left Rangers very much in the hunt. That would be as good as it would get for them though, as successive defeats in Glasgow to the Italians and Liverpool, both single goal games, meant they headed into the final round knowing their European adventure was over for the season. A defeat in Bremen left them with just two points from their six matches.

Scotland's sole representative in the UEFA Europa League Group Stages were Aberdeen, and few gave them too much hope of progressing through Group J when they were drawn with Juventus, Newcastle United and Israeli big spenders Hapoel Tel-Aviv. There was plenty of egg on face then when The Dons opened with six points out of six without conceding a goal either, beating Newcastle 2-0 at Pittodrie, before heading to Israel and managing a 1-0 win over Hapoel. In mid October, the old lady of Italian football, Juve, headed to North East Scotland, and Aberdeen were not disgraced in a 1-0 defeat. When they then headed over the border to St James' Park, and earned a 1-1 draw against the English Premier League side thanks to a late Nejc Pecnik equalizer. Aberdeen looked in great shape to progress, but it looked in much more doubt when Hapoel gained revenge with a 1-0 win in Scotland on the penultimate matchday. So Aberdeen would travel to Italy, knowing if they didn't manage to get a result, a Newcastle win in Israel could knock them out if the goal difference was also made up. The Dons were thrashed 5-0 at the Delle Alpin in Turin, but Newcastle lost 1-0 in Tel-Aviv, and Aberdeen squeezed into the Knockout Stages to join Celtic.

Sunday 12th February 2012
Bryan Gilfillan is selected to play for the Reserves today after being excluded from the First Team squad for his poor attitude. The 27 year old former Northern Irish Under-21 International was man of the match in the 0-0 draw with the Albion Rovers second string at Somerset Park. Defence's were very much on top in a match where the weather meant playing conditions were difficult.

Monday 13th February
Both of our full backs are given the weekly honour this week, with Ciaran Foy and Aidan O'Kane named in the team of the week.

Wednesday 15th February
A pair of young forwards from Ghana have accepted offers to join us as Free Agents, but both are likely to need Work Permits with them only being age group Internationals. We apply for the paperwork, more in hope than expectation.

Richal Leitoe is left out of the Netherlands Antilles matchday squad that plays the 1st Leg of their World Cup Qualifier with Grenada in St George's. They made the 2nd Leg pretty much redundant as they won 3-0 without our flying winger. There was a place for Jamie Craggs in Monteserrat's match against St Kitts & Nevis in Basseterre. The visiting underdogs took the lead as well through Gainsborough Trinity stiker Tesfaye Bramble, who was once a target while I was manager at Lurgan Celtic. That gave him four goals in nine caps, but was as good as it good for Monteserrat, as the hosts scored twice in each half to secure a 4-1 win that you'd say will likely put them into the next phase. Craggs played the entire match, and actually gave a pretty good account of himself as well.

Thursday 16th February
Scotland's two remaining representatives in Europe both start their First Knockout Round ties at home in the UEFA Europe League, though neither have been given particularly easy draws. Aberdeen face Ukrainian heavyweight side, Dinamo Kiev in a First Leg that ends 10 v 10. The Dons were already two goals down after strikes from Humberto Suarzo and Loïc Rémy when goalkeeper Ryan Esson was red carded for a professional foul outside the box early in the second half. Dinamo failed to take full advantage of that, and finished light on numbers themselves when defender Andriy Rusol was also red carded. Aberdeen now have a monster task on their hands after that 2-0 defeat.

Further south, in Glasgow, the visitors are Turkish club Fenerbaçhe as Celtic aim to make the best of their consolation prize entry into the second tier competition. They were behind on half hour though, as Turkish International striker Semih Sentürk netted the only goal of the first half. There would be a response early in the second half however, as Scott Brown found an equalizer. The match ended 1-1, and it will be all to play for next week in Istanbul.

Friday 17th February
The league leaders Arbroath will travel from the East Coast tomorrow, and look to consolidate their position at the top on the West Coast. They have won two of their last three, and are unbeaten in that trio of fixtures as the race hots up not only to secure a Playoff place, but also to finish on top of the pile and avoid the need to play any extra fixtures with an automatic promotion spot. Our great home form leads the bookies to making us short price favourites at 4/5. It's two wins each in the four matches between the sides since I arrived in Ayr.

Saturday 18th February
It's a long trip north for our young players, but it was worth it, as they earn a 2-1 win at Balmoor Stadium in Peterhead. An entertaining 20 minutes spell before half time saw Simon McAllister put us in front, before Ross McGregor netted an equalizer. Patrick Fleming netted what would turn out to be the winner right on half time.

Scottish Second Division
Somerset Park, Ayr
Ayr United (5th) v Arbroath (1st)
Attendance :-
935. Weather :- Dry, 11c.

There was only the single change for us in this one, with Shaun Holmes returning to the left wing in place of James McLean. Not that it would make too much difference in the early stages, as we had an appalling start to our Saturday afternoon. There were just three minutes on the clock when Bryan Scott played a one-two with Tom Mullen that opened up our defence, and Olafur Örn Bjarnason felt he had no option but to take Scott down. Unfortunately, he got there a yard or so too late, and the foul was just inside the box, giving ref Aitken an easy decision to award a penalty. There were a long few seconds while we waited on the colour of the card, which fortunately was yellow. Luke Barrett handed out his own punishment, slamming the ball right down the middle, and giving the league leaders a 4th minute advantage. And our start would show no sign of improvement when influential right winger Richal Leitoe went down with an injury in the 10th minute that would require him to be taken off. Had his long midweek flight for nothing contributed? It's uncertain we'll ever know, but now we had to rearrange, Ryan Stevenson coming on to play in the midfield, with Magnus Eikrem moved out onto the right wing. We now had little pace on either wing, but it didn't seem to hamper us too badly, as Holmes got past Steven Weir pretty easily and won us a corner. Nothing came of that set piece, but a short while later, Aidan O'Kane's throw in was flicked on, and Devann Yao unleashed a shot that was only just over the top of the goal frame. The American striker would make up for that on the half hour, another throw in, this time from the other side by Ciaran Foy, was flicked onto Holmes, with Jamie Jones keeping his shot out, but unable to prevent Yao was thumping home the rebound to score his first goal for the club since joining us on loan. After the way things had begun for us, I was very happy that we went into the break level, as we were living on the edge a bit, with Bjarnason refusing to hold back on his challenges twice, despite being on a yellow already. Fortunately, he timed them both perfectly.

So the second half began with all to play for, which I was pretty relieved about given how the match had started for us. Though the second half almost started as badly as the first when Weir's long throw in was allowed to bounce in our penalty box, and Barrett hooked a shot that fortunately only hit the side netting. Ian Gee also went close to putting Arbroath back in front, his rising shot was just too high after Foy had lost a duel with Mullen. With things not really going our way, I made a change up front, replacing Alex Owen with Daryl Fordyce. That did help the ball stick a bit better up the park and our hold up play was better, but we were still making too many individual errors, and Bjarnason was almost punished for failing to properly control the ball on the edge of his own box, and it bounced off his shins right to sub Danny Pilkington, but he rushed his shot and sent it way over the bar. With fifteen minutes to go, I made my final change, as Holmes was replaced by James McLean. Five minutes later he went on a mazy run across the park that resulted in him eventually winning us a corner. And the man who had become somewhat of the villain of the peace today made everything alright, as O'Kane's cross found it's way into a group of players in front of keeper Jones, and the only white shirted player amongst them, Bjarnason, got just enough on his header to redirect the ball inside the far post and give us a priceless lead! It was a lead we would hold onto fairly easily, and might even have extended, but Ryan Stevenson volleyed O'Kane's free kick delivery over the bar.

Ayr United (1) 2 - Devann Yao (30), Olafur Örn Bjarnason (81)
Arbroath (1) 1 - Luke Barrett (4 pen)
Stephen Grindlay; Ciaran Foy, Anwar Uddin, Olafur Örn Bjarnason ©, Aidan O'Kane; Ryan McStay, Magnus Eikrem; Richal Leitoe (inj - Ryan Stevenson 11), Shaun Holmes (James McLean 75); Devann Yao, Alex Owen (Daryl Fordyce 61).

Unused Substitutes :- Marcus Hall, Darren Young.
Bookings :- Olafur Örn Bjarnason 3
Possession :- 58% - 42%. Man of the Match :- Devann Yao (Ayr United).

It's a priceless victory for us, but it would once more prove to be a quite expensive one. Richal Leitoe is playing at an average of well over 7.00 since arriving, and has also contributed a goal and three assists. He will now be out for anything up to a month though, as he has suffered a twisted knee after turning sharply early in the match. We have plenty of players who can replace the 28 year old in terms of playing in the same position. We don't I suspect, have anyone who can replace what he has brought us since arriving at the club.

On the positive side, Devann Yao is off the mark, notching the first goal of his Senior career. The 6'4 American/Ivorian striker has put himself about nicely since he arrived, always eager for the ball and happy to go into the channels to drag defenders out of position and make room for others. He's a strong, hard working team player, and I think this level probably suits him a lot more than the SPL level he was previously operating at. Also on the plus side, we are now four matches unbeaten, but the next one is a really big one for us, and could go a long way to setting the tone for the remainder of the season.

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Sunday 19th February 2012
Predictably, both of the young Ghanaian players fail to earn work permits to join us, and that effort to improve our squad for the run in has now hit a brick wall. They are both quite gifted talents, and I'll certainly be keeping an eye on their progress. It will be particularly interesting to see where they end up next.

Our Reserve side put in a very good performance at Links Park this afternoon to defeat the second string of Montrose. A goal in the first half from the departing Abdi Ibrahim had us on our way, though we did get some good fortune just before the break when Alex Shearer blasted a spot kick over the top for Montrose. We would then miss one of our own early in the second half, Sean Fitzharris seeing his effort saved. In a match that wasn't as close as the score suggested, we would finally put some daylight between us in injury time, Craig Fisher netting a confidence boosting winner, and giving us a four point lead in the Group 3 Reserve league.

Monday 20th February
Aidan O'Kane is the only Ayr United player named in the Second Division team of the week. I'm so glad he isn't on a bonus for that, as we'd be bankrupt.

Thursday 23rd February
It's a big European night for two of Scotland's clubs, as they fight to remain in the UEFA Europa League. We start in Kiev, where Aberdeen chucked the kitchen sink at Dinamo as they fought to overturn a two goal deficit from the First Leg at Pittodrie. And The Dons would find a way through too in front of a poorly attended match, but it would take them 86 minutes to open the scoring through Lewis Alessandra, and that goal would not be enough, as Aberdeen exit in the First Knockout Round, losing 2-1 on aggregate.

So it would be left to Celtic to uphold the honour of Scotland in European competition this season, as they went to Istanbul after a 1-1 draw last week at Celtic Park with Fenerbaçhe. There was most certainly no issue with poor attendance at the Sükrü Saraçoglu, the place was jam packed well before kick off. Those yellow and blue clad fans would be making plenty of noise too on the hour mark, when Argentine forward Daniel Ludueña, who they signed for a bargain £2.5 million back in 2008, found the net to give the Turkish side the advantage. Celtic could not recover from that despite their best efforts, and all they had to show for their endeavor was a very late red card for French left back Lucien Aubey, who has now seen red three times this campaign in all competitions. That would be game over for the Scottish clubs in Europe for another season.

Friday 24th February
I did say our next match would be a huge one, and we have reached the eve of that clash. Tomorrow we will travel into the central belt of the nation, as we line up against the side immediately above us in the league table and in the place that we need to reach as a minimum, Stirling Albion. As it stands, we are four points behind them with eleven games remaining. If we lose to them tomorrow afternoon, it will be a seven point gap with ten remaining, and we would have to then be seen as outsiders to extend our season. The bookies make Albion fairly firm favourites at 4/6.

Saturday 25th February
We are really struggling for team spirit and unity. The squad know it, I know it, the Board are not happy about it. So on the eve of a big match, I don't want to be informed that a player who I'd expect to know better has spouted off in the press. The culprit this time is 33 year old former Manchester United youngster and England Under-21 International midfielder, Mark Wilson. The timing was clearly very poor, and while I'm not sure that Wilson is calculating enough to do that on purpose, if it had been down to me, he would have been sacked first thing this morning. I was talked down though, and instead issued a statement that Wilson was absolutely free to find another club. I had to stop myself from adding that I would doubt anyone would want to take on a player who thinks that this behaviour is the way to get things done.

Scottish Second Division
Forthbank Stadium, Stirling
Stirling Albion (4th) v Ayr United (5th)
Attendance :-
627. Weather :- Strong Winds, Showers, 10c.

This is our biggest match to date this season, more important than a Cup Final, that's for sure. Failure to get the job done today will leave us as very much the underdogs to earn a spot in the top four this season. If we are to get ourselves a result, we'll have to do so without the injured winger Richal Leitoe. It's Daryl Fordyce who is selected to replace him, with Peggy Lokando brought up from the Reserves to provide cover from the subs bench.

It was Stirling Albion who made the better start, winger Kris Maxwell going the long way around to get himself into a shooting position from the edge of the six yard box, Stephen Grindlay blocking that one without too much trouble. He was almost troubled again within a minute or two, Nathan Cartman collecting a square pass from Pat McWalter on the edge of the box and letting fly, but his shot was too high. Cartman had another go from a free kick, failing to hit the top corner he was aiming for. The domination continued though, and Darryl Knights set off on a mazy run that cut right through us, before slipping the ball to Liam O'Loughlin, and Grindlay had to be alert to push his shot around the post. Meanwhile, it would take us almost half an hour to get into a position to take a shot, Magnus Eikrem's effort from a free kick beat the wall, but curled wide of the target. There was still enough time in the first half for Albion to try their luck once more, Rene Steer made a great run down their left, and then turned inside Ciaran Foy and Daryl Fordyce once he hit the byline, sending over a cross shot that beat Grindlay but came back off the cross bar.

We were pretty lucky to get to the break without being behind, and I told the players that they would need to be fully focused to make sure we stayed in this one. That would be much needed too, as Albion won a series of corners early in the second half, Foy, Olafur Örn Bjarnason and then finally Anwar Uddin all having to make crucial blocks, headers or tackles. But our luck would run out just after the hour mark. O'Loughlin's run down the left and subsequent cross were dealt with by Ryan McStay to concede another corner. Liam Corr's delivery was much deeper this time, and it swung in with the wind too. It bypassed Grindlay, and Foy jumped to try and meet it. He missed it too, and it hit the inside of the post, bounced back across goal and struck Grindlay, rebounding off the prone keeper and into the net! Cartman's shooting from range hadn't improved during the match, and he missed the target again after a series of quick passes got the ball to him 25 yards out. Sub Marlon Broomes tried his luck from distance too, but he didn't fare any better, his shot beating Grindlay, and also the post. I tried a treble substitution to turn the tide, full back Foy and Aidan O'Kane joining Shaun Holmes in being withdrawn, as Ryan Stevenson, Peggy Lokando and James McLean all came on. I would leave just two at the back in an attempt to force an equalizer, as Fordyce joined Stevenson behind the front two, with Lokando and McLean going on the wings. It nearly backfired quickly, as O'Loughlin found acres of room down the left, and his cross was deep enough to cut out our two remaining defenders and find sub Owen Morrison. But he sent his volley into the ground, and that took all the pace off it, leaving Grindlay with a fairly routine save. The clock was ticking down and about to hit ninety when Eikrem sent the ball down the right for Lokando, and his cross was headed behind by Craig Gupwell. With O'Kane already replaced, it would be McLean who would deliver the corner. But that was very easily dealt with, and we had lost the game that we really couldn't afford to lose.

Stirling Albion (0) 1 - Stephen Grindlay (62 og)
Ayr United (0) 0
Stephen Grindlay; Ciaran Foy (Ryan Stevenson 73), Anwar Uddin, Olafur Örn Bjarnason ©, Aidan O'Kane (Peggy Lokando 73); Ryan McStay, Magnus Eikrem; Daryl Fordyce, Shaun Holmes (James McLean 73); Devann Yao, Alex Owen.
Unused Substitutes :- Marcus Hall, Darren Young.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 52% - 48%. Man of the Match :- Darryl Knights (Stirling Albion).

It wasn't the fact that we had lost that was depressing me. It was more the manner that we were beaten that was causing me an issue. The biggest game of our season so far in my opinion, and we failed to manage a shot on target, despite managing to have nearly half of the possession.

When you dig a little deeper into the stats, it was very clear to see where our problems lie this season, and as illustrated below, our away form has been alarmingly bad. Last season, we collected 20 points more at home than we did on our travels. Right now, that total is 22 points more at home.

|2011/12 Home Record |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   |

| Ayr                |       | 13    | 9     | 3     | 1     | 24    | 15    | +9    | 30    |


|2011/12 Away Record |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   | 

| Ayr                |       | 13    | 1     | 5     | 7     | 9     | 19    | -10   | 8     |

That away record is awful, in fact, it's as bad as the teams right at the bottom. That has to improve hugely in the final five away matches of the season, one solitary win on our travels against Brechin City early in the new year, is obviously one of the root causes of our issues.

Are we out of the running now? Well, no, not quite. We are certainly going to need some help, but that may come in the fixture list. Our next three matches are all against clubs below us, two at home, followed by three away. No if's, or but's, we have to win all three of those fixtures, and hope that either Airdrie United or Stirling Albion, also drop some points for us to close the gap up. Then it's the four clubs above us, one after the other, one at home followed by two away, and then another at home. It's quite likely that by the time those fixtures are done in mid April, we'll either be right in the mix again, or out of the running. If we are still in the running, then we finish with three of the sides below us, one at home, and then completing the season with two away matches. Your guess is as good as mine!

2011/12 Scottish League Second Division Table, Up To & Including Saturday 25th February 2012

| Pos   | Inf   | Team               |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   |

| 1st   |       | Partick Thistle    |       | 26    | 14    | 8     | 4     | 51    | 28    | +23   | 50    |
| 2nd   |       | Arbroath           |       | 26    | 14    | 6     | 6     | 42    | 21    | +21   | 48    |
| 3rd   |       | Stirling           |       | 26    | 13    | 6     | 7     | 40    | 30    | +10   | 45    |
| 4th   |       | Airdrie Utd        |       | 26    | 13    | 5     | 8     | 28    | 26    | +2    | 44    |
| 5th   |       | Ayr                |       | 26    | 10    | 8     | 8     | 33    | 34    | -1    | 38    |
| 6th   |       | Peterhead          |       | 26    | 9     | 8     | 9     | 35    | 36    | -1    | 35    |
| 7th   |       | East Fife          |       | 26    | 10    | 4     | 12    | 34    | 45    | -11   | 34    |
| 8th   |       | Brechin            |       | 26    | 7     | 2     | 17    | 29    | 37    | -8    | 23    |
| 9th   |       | Cowdenbeath        |       | 26    | 5     | 7     | 14    | 23    | 39    | -16   | 22    |
| 10th  |       | East Stirlingshire |       | 26    | 5     | 6     | 15    | 17    | 36    | -19   | 21    |


Edited by neilhoskins77

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Thats a horrendous away record Neil, its a good job your home form is pretty damn good otherwise you could be in trouble

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3 minutes ago, mark wilson27 said:

Thats a horrendous away record Neil, its a good job your home form is pretty damn good otherwise you could be in trouble

You know what @mark wilson27, I didn't actually realise how bad it was until I wrote that piece a few days ago and looked into it, and was prompted to include it in the story. I like to play no more than a few matches in front of the thread, as I prefer not to let knowing outcomes influence my thoughts at the time. Rest assured though, I am looking into options to improve our away form.

Hope you're enjoying the story mate.

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Sunday 26th February 2012
That defeat against Stirling Albion yesterday was our first defeat in five, with our strikers failing to consistently find the net still one of our real problems. In the summer, we have Danny Carey-Bertram arriving at the club from AFC Telford United. They are pushing hard to try and earn promotion from the Blue Square North up into the Blue Square Premier. But their boss Rob Smith isn't happy with his striker, saying that he has lost his focus since agreeing his summer move north of the border. He might be right too, as they have won only three of their last twelve matches since we entered 2012, and held scoreless six times in that run of matches. Carey-Bertram has found the net only three times since the turn of the year, and each time has been in the games that United have won. Smith has concerns that his striker is going missing in matches and has lost his hunger since agreeing to end his time at The New Bucks Head at the end of the season.

Monday 27th February
Despite the defeat at Forthbank Stadium on the weekend, centre back Anwar Uddin has been included in the team of the week. His centre back partner in his early games for us, Bryan Gilfillan, has as yet failed to attract a bid for his services as we continue our attempts to move him on.

Tuesday 28th February
Another centre back who's time is up at Somerset Park, is David Partridge. The Welsh International defender is suffering with a cold, and is immediately sent home for the rest of the week to minimise the risk of him giving it to other members of the squad.

Thursday 1st March 2012
It's March, and we are preparing for a huge month that is scheduled to feature half of our remaining ten league matches, starting with a home match against Brechin City on Saturday afternoon. There is a great boost for us announced today as well, with young on loan striker Devann Yao named February's Second Division Young Player of the Month, an award that the American forward has credited me for, telling the press it's been great to play for a manager who has faith in his abilities. I tell him that I'd like to see that faith repaid with an increase in the goals tally. Anwar Uddin was third in the Player of the Month announcement.

The Board are still of the opinion that we should be performing better in the league, and that I should be doing a better job overall, with the negative atmosphere in the dressing room one of their major concerns. They are happy with the loan arrival of Devann Yao, but we have lost money again this month, with another £26,500 leaving the clubs coffers. Not that it is too much of an issue at this stage, the club has almost £200,000 in the bank account.

Friday 2nd March
8th placed Brechin City are our visitors tomorrow afternoon, and they have failed to win any of their last seven matches. We are the red hot favourites for the match at 1/6, and rightly so too. If we can't win this one, then we don't deserve to be speaking about getting our noses back into the promotion fight. In fact, we should all give up and go home if we can't secure the maximum points against City.

The Under-19's play a rare Friday afternoon match at Somerset Park, with Annan Athletic's youngsters the visitors. Defender Paul Mackay had already netted his second goal of the season when Athletic's defender Bobby McLaren was given a 7th minute straight red card for an elbow. Mackay grabbed his second of the match just before the half hour, and left winger Pat McDonald, who has been getting some games since Jimmy Ferguson left on loan, scored his first of the season five minutes later to wrap up the scoring.

Saturday 3rd March

Scottish Second Division
Somerset Park, Ayr
Ayr United (5th) v Brechin City (8th)
Attendance :-
871. Weather :- Drizzle, 9c.

Every game is going to have a big match feel about it from now on, and we start at home against a Brechin City side we are expected to beat, a feeling that would become the base theme of our pre match team talk today. In the only change from last weeks defeat in Stirling, I switch things around on the right wing, as Daryl Fordyce returns to the bench, and Peggy Lokando is selected as a more traditional winger option.

A good start was going to be crucial for us today. It came early too, Aidan O'Kane's free kick from the right was curled to the far post, and despite being held by a defender, and falling backwards, Olafur Örn Bjarnason managed to get enough on it with his right foot to divert the ball into the bottom corner and give us a 6th minute advantage. The possibility of City causing us too many problems wasn't something we had considered, but we had to think about it a bit more when Jordan White sent a through ball between our defenders, only to watch Ryan Charles scuff his left footed shot well wide of the mark. Ok, so they had our attention now, and they were doing a good job of preventing us from creating chances, though they weren't creating too much of anything themselves either, Jamie Davidson missing the target with a 25 yard effort. Seán Friars did manage to work Stephen Grindlay before the break, our keeper tipping his shot over the bar. We held that lead through to the break, but things might be about to get a little more tricky for us.

Both Alex Owen and Peggy Lokando collected knocks near the end of the first half, neither particularly serious, but today was absolutely not the day for taking risks, so Daryl Fordyce and Ryan Stevenson replaced them at the break. It didn't look like too bad a swap either when Fordyce knocked down a long ball forward, and Devann Yao took a pot shot, James Spencer pushing that one over the bar. From the corner, O'Kane put plenty of pace on his delivery, and almost picked out his favourite target, Bjarnason just failing to get his head to that one. Spencer had to be alert again a few minutes later, as Magnus Eikrem's free kick got up and over the wall, and back down to hit the target, City's keeper scrambling across his goalmouth and managing to get his hand to it and keep that one out. We really needed to get one of these chances on the scoreboard to nip the threat from Brechin in the bud, and that would finally happen with just under quarter of an hour remaining. Eikrem's corner wasn't cleared properly, but sub Nick McAusland got his header all wrong, managing to send it back into the danger zone. Anwar Uddin was on hand to win a header of his own, and he looped it over Spencer and into the far corner to finally double our lead and give us some much needed breathing room. One of our subs would need to be replaced himself in the latter stages, Ryan Stevenson came off to be replaced by Darren Young, and the physio would have his work cut out, with three players now nursing potential injuries. City hadn't quite given up yet, but their final chance also went to waste when James Scott's square pass was half volleyed inches wide by Ryan Adams. Mission complete. Only nine more to go.

Ayr United (1) 2 - Olafur Örn Bjarnason (6), Anwar Uddin (77)
Brechin City (0) 0
Stephen Grindlay; Ciaran Foy, Anwar Uddin, Olafur Örn Bjarnason ©, Aidan O'Kane; Ryan McStay, Magnus Eikrem; Peggy Lokando (inj - Ryan Stevenson 45 (inj - Darren Young 82)), Shaun Holmes; Devann Yao, Alex Owen (Daryl Fordyce 45).
Unused Substitutes :- Marcus Hall, James McLean.
Bookings :- Olafur Örn Bjarnason 63, Devann Yao 74
Possession :- 47% - 53%. Man of the Match :- Anwar Uddin (Ayr United).

We could have won that match by enough goals to really send out a message to the rest of the league, but as it was, we would have to be happy with the three points. Oh, and the news from the physio that none of the three players who had to leave the park this afternoon are going to miss any match time, which is very welcome news. 

Stirling Albion didn’t play today as their scheduled opponents Cowdenbeath were getting drubbed 9-0 by Celtic in the Scottish Cup, so that match has been rescheduled for midweek. That leaves Airdrie United to move back into third for now at least, as they defeat East Fife 1-0 at home. We do get some good news, as Peterhead are beaten 2-0 at Arbroath, moving us six points ahead of the club who are rapidly falling away from contention to try and snatch a Promotion Playoff spot for themselves.

Edited by neilhoskins77

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Sunday 4th March 2012
The Reserves are back in action again today at Somerset Park, and they have come away with another win, as they defeat Annan Athletic 3-1. It was Bryan Gilfillan from the penalty spot that gave us a first half lead, and in the second half, Craig Fisher netted our second, before Ewan Hughes put the ball into his own net. Robert Crank did pull one back for Annan, in a match that saw Marc McCann set up two goals in a man of the match display from the Northern Irish winger who joins Dumbarton in the summer.

Monday 5th March
A league leading four Ayr United players are included in the latest edition of the team of the week. Anwar Uddin, Olafur Örn Bjarnason, Aidan O'Kane and Shaun Holmes are the players that are named.

Wednesday 7th March
Stirling Albion play their game in hand at Central Park, and they earn a 2-0 win, unfortunately. They move back ahead of Airdrie United and into third place, meaning that we return to being six points back from Airdrie, instead of only four behind Albion. Nine games to go.

Friday 9th March
We might not be the red hot favourites that we were last weekend when Brechin City came to visit, but at a price of 1/2 with the bookies, you won't find too many punters backing anything other than another Ayr United win when East Fife come to visit tomorrow afternoon. Let's hope it's not us who are the almost obligatory 'coupon busters' tomorrow.

There is a certain right winger who is hoping he can boost our hopes of improving our home record even further. Talented Netherlands Antilles International forward Richal Leitoe returned to training today, and has declared himself available for the match. That would be a pleasant boost to for us as we look to close that gap a little this weekend.

Saturday 10th March

Scottish Second Division
Somerset Park, Ayr
Ayr United (5th) v East Fife (7th)
Attendance :-
881. Weather :- Wet, 14c.

And so we move on to the next one, and what is effectively the second round of a ten game sprint to save our season, and quite possibly my job. East Fife arrive on the West Coast on a mild, but wet day as we seek a second consecutive victory at home against a team lower than us in the table. There is just one change today, and it comes amongst the substitutes, with Ryan Stevenson left out of the squad, and Richal Leitoe included on the bench after his return to training yesterday.

Shaun Holmes twisted and turned like an eel in a tank on the left wing in the 12th minute, eventually doing enough to earn one of those corners that we are oh so dangerous from. Not this time though unfortunately. In fact, it would be East Fife who would create the first real chance, but their skipper Chris Templeman sent his shot on the turn over the bar. With just five minutes remaining in the first half, we really should have been in front. Some sharp, short passing allowed Magnus Eikrem to play Peggy Lokando into space down the right, and the winger got to the byline, before standing up a cross towards the far post area. Devann Yao pulled off the back of his marker, and went for power. That would regrettably be at the expense of direction, and he put his header far too close to Glyn Garner, who clawed the ball away, and kept this one scoreless going into the half time break.

I would be surprised if a fair few of the almost 900 strong crowd inside Somerset Park today didn't hear a fair bit of the rallying call that dominated the half time team talk. Lokando had created the best chance in the match so far, and he would trump that effort in the 53rd minute, making a mazy run that got him into the right channel of the box, before going down under Jim Lauchlan's rather clumsy challenge. The visitors from the Kingdom of Fife were furious with that decision to award us a penalty, and Shaun Holmes didn't improve their mood any when he drilled the penalty kick low into the bottom corner to hand us a lead that delighted the home fans. As the hour mark arrived, I decided to make a pair of changes to try and keep us on top, Aidan O'Kane and Alex Owen substituted, with Marcus Hall and Daryl Fordyce brought on in their places. But it was Lokando once more who provided the spark, the winger given the ball by Ciaran Foy, and he skipped past Ryan Blackadder before sending a low cross into the middle, which Devann Yao sidefooted home to double our lead. Paul McManus immediately tried to pull a goal back for East Fife, but Anwar Uddin didn't give him too much space, and Stephen Grindlay saved the shot down at his near post. Instead, the action returned to the other end of the park, where Holmes' corner was headed in at the far post by Olafur Örn Bjarnason to extend our advantage to a three goal one. That was my signal to get Richal Leitoe a little bit of match time while the pressure was off, and Lokando was given a rapturous ovation as he made his way to the dugout. East Fife welcomed Leitoe into the game by bagging themselves a consolation goal, Darren Smith's cross was cleared, but sub Anthony Malbon retrieved the ball and sent a shot through the crowded penalty box and inside the near post. Fortunately, a consolation was all that it would be, McManus blasting an 88th minute shot well over our bar, and the only damage done was just very slight to our goal difference.

Ayr United (0) 3 - Shaun Holmes (54 pen), Devann Yao (63), Olafur Örn Bjarnason (72)
East Fife (0) 1 - Anthony Malbon (78)
Stephen Grindlay; Ciaran Foy, Anwar Uddin, Olafur Örn Bjarnason ©, Aidan O'Kane (Marcus Hall 61); Ryan McStay, Magnus Eikrem; Peggy Lokando (Richal Leitoe 78), Shaun Holmes; Devann Yao, Alex Owen (Daryl Fordyce 61).

Unused Substitutes :- Darren Young, James McLean.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 49% - 51%. Man of the Match :- Olafur Örn Bjarnason (Ayr United).

That was another excellent home outing, particularly in the second half. East Fife were particularly aggrieved about the award of the penalty, and I told the press that it's probably one of those that you're happy to get, but not happy if it's given against you. I was a little surprised that Peggy Lokando wasn't awarded the man of the match prize today, the winger was absolutely outstanding. Seriously Congo FA people, get the lad involved! But lets take a moment to appreciate the goalscoring exploits of our Captain and 28 times capped Icelandic veteran centre half. Olafur Örn Bjarnason has to be a candidate for signing of the season after his Free Transfer from Accrington Stanley last summer. He now has six league goals this season, matching his best ever league goalscoring season that was achieved back in 2000 with Grindavík, his second spell with the club. He now has 35 league goals in his 21 season career as a professional to date.

There is good news from elsewhere as well, with Stirling Albion beaten 2-1 at Peterhead. With Airdrie winning 4-0 at home, and Arbroath holding Partick Thistle to a 1-1 draw, three of the four sides above us have dropped points this weekend, and we are now four points back from Stirling with eight games remaining. Next weekend we go back on our travels, and our away form has to improve.

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Sunday 11th March 2012
Maybe the confidence from the First Team is now starting to feed down through the club, as the Reserves put in one of their best performances of the season today. The second string made the trip to Elgin City, and a four goal salvo in the first half was key in a 6-1 victory. Abdi Ibrahim, a pair from Adam Vickers and a strike from Craig Fisher had the points in the bag by the half hour mark. Sean Fitzharris and Adan Newbury increased the lead to 6-0, before Bobby Jackson pulled one back at Deanshaugh. The lead at the top of Reserve Group 3 is now seven points with only four matches remaining.

Monday 12th March
A trio of Ayr United players feature in the team of the week lineup, with those named including Aidan O'Kane, Olafur Örn Bjarnason and Shaun Holmes. It's the single biggest representation from one club. 17 year old Youth Team centre back Paul Mackay is out for up to a month after suffering a back strain while lifting weights.

Thursday 15th March
Two of our younger players have been called up for their respective nations for upcoming International matches. Goalkeeper Zannetos Mytides, who has been maturing quite well with regular football for our Reserve side, has been called up by Cyprus for their Under-21 squad as they travel to Sofia next week to face Bulgaria in their UEFA 2013 European Under-21 Championship Qualifier. There is also a call up for Paul Dummett, who is hoping to add to the ten age group caps he already has when Wales firstly face Montenegro in Swansea in the same competition, before they travel out to Greece for a Friendly fixture in Mytilini.

Friday 16th March
Those two wins have got us into a slightly better position, but tomorrow we have a bigger test, as we face an away trip to complete what I'm calling the first of three distinct stages. It's bottom of the table East Stirlingshire who we will face, and their poor form, combined with our improvement over the last couple of matches, has led the bookies to the conclusion that tomorrow will be our day. Nonetheless, 2/5 looks like the kind of skinny odds I'd be avoiding, though I really hope they are right.

Saturday 17th March

Scottish Second Division
Ochilview Park, Stenhousemuir
East Stirlingshire (10th) v Ayr United (5th)
Attendance :-
225. Weather :- Drizzle, 12c.

Some changes are made, and not necessarily just in personnel, but we'll deal with those first. Despite his excellent performance last time out, Peggy Lokando returns to the substitutes bench, with Richal Leitoe returning to the lineup. There is also a switch up front as well, with Alex Owen dropped in favour of Daryl Fordyce. Our 4-2-2-2 today becomes a more conventional 4-2-2, with our wingers being required to be more defensively responsible, which I'm hoping will work better with Leitoe and Shaun Holmes as opposed to Lokando and James McLean. We will be a little less attacking, a little less patient and quicker to build up, and a little less reliant on sending the ball wide. These are not groundbreaking huge changes, but I'm hoping they will make a difference.

It certainly didn't have a bad start anyway. In the 8th minute, Ciaran Foy sent the ball into the feet of Richal Leitoe, who beat his marker for pace, and from the byline clipped a deep cross to the far post. It was over the heads of everybody, with the exception of Shaun Holmes, who netted his first goal in our colours from open play with a powerful downward header that left Tom Woodhead stranded. So that went very well, but our hosts are not a club that are in a position where they can afford to chuck the towel in. Right back Kaid Mohamed's cross was overhit, but that sent it on target, Stephen Grindlay had to back pedal and reach out to his absolute extent to get fingertips to the ball and push it over the top. That would turn out to be a rare foray forward from the home side, and a Magnus Eikrem corner went right through the goalmouth, before Holmes caused more problems, particularly for Ronan Ivory who brought him down, fortunately for him at least, it was just outside the penalty box. Anwar Uddin flicked on Eikrem's delivery, but Devann Yao's shot was blocked. The next time we got a free kick, Holmes took it himself, curling his shot around the wall, and it was headed for the top corner until Woodhead turned the shot over the bar with a superb save. We reached half time with our lead still standing at a single goal.

I had to emphasize the importance of holding onto the lead we had at the break, and make sure the players didn't get complacent. We were halfway through what would be a precious win on the road. We nearly chucked that lead away quickly though, Anwar Uddin was beaten in the air, and Ryan McStay failed to track his man, Shane Huke getting into the box, but then firing his shot over the goal frame. McStay attempted to make amends on the hour, as he collected a pass on the edge of the box, and then sent in a shot on the turn. Woodhead fought it off, Yao sent the rebound into the net, but the flag was up and the striker had been caught offside. Once again we rode our luck in the 65th minute, Uddin sent the ball upfield, Simon Dogan volleyed it right back into our box, and Barry McGrory pulled off the back of our defensive line and brought the ball down, sending a shot past Grindlay's dive, but it bounced back off the far upright, before Eikrem cleared the ball under pressure from two forwards. It would be a different matter when we took our next attacking trip, Adian O'Kane switching the ball from left to right and picking out Foy, and he picked out Leitoe near the corner of the six yard box. The winger hit his shot first time, and it took a huge deflection, leaving Woodhead wrong footed, and beaten! Surely there was no coming back from that for East Stirlingshire, and I decided to use some fresh legs. Goalscorers Holmes and Leitoe were joined by Eikrem in being replaced, with James McLean, Peggy Lokando and Darren Young their replacements. The game had now died it's own little death a bit, though there was an example of the way the wingers have to work in this new system away from home. McLean chased back to cause Huke a problem, and even though he did get a cross in, Peggy Lokando had also done his tracking back, and he was the one who headed the ball clear. I like what I saw today, almost as much as I liked the three points we had just earned.

East Stirlingshire (0) 0
Ayr United (1) 2
Shaun Holmes (8), Richal Leitoe (70)
Stephen Grindlay; Ciaran Foy, Anwar Uddin, Olafur Örn Bjarnason ©, Aidan O'Kane; Ryan McStay, Magnus Eikrem (Darren Young 72); Richal Leitoe (Peggy Lokando 72), Shaun Holmes (James McLean 72); Devann Yao, Daryl Fordyce.

Unused Substitutes :- Marcus Hall, Alex Owen.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 41% - 59%. Man of the Match :- Richal Leitoe (Ayr United).

Ahhhhhh, that's more like it! We didn't have it all our own way, and at times, we rode our luck, particularly at 1-0 when that Barry McGrory shot came back off the upright. But we came away with the points, and an improvement in our very poor away record. In fact, our second win on our travels this campaign has vaulted us from 9th to 5th in the away record table, the same position we find ourselves in the actual league table.

So our position hasn't improved, but our prospects have. The top four all faced off against each other, with the home sides coming out on top. Partick Thistle beat Airdrie United 2-0, while Stirling Albion beat Arbroath 1-0. Peterhead dropped points again with an away draw against Brechin, and they now sit 8 points behind us. For now, we are ruling them out of the running, but that situation could change of course.

On the weekend that the first bit of business is concluded in Scotland, namely last seasons Promotion Playoff winners Alloa Athletic being relegated from the First Division with six matches still to play, we have concluded 'phase one' of our three part run in successfully, with a record of three wins out of three. Things are now expected to get much more difficult as we move into the second phase, and a match against each of the four sides above us. That will start next Saturday, with a visit from the current league leaders, Partick Thistle.

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2011/12 Scottish League Second Division Table (Top), Up To & Including Saturday 17th March 2012

| Pos   | Inf   | Team               |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   |

| 1st   |       | Partick Thistle    |       | 29    | 15    | 10    | 4     | 54    | 29    | +25   | 55    |
| 2nd   |       | Arbroath           |       | 29    | 15    | 7     | 7     | 45    | 23    | +22   | 52    |
| 3rd   |       | Stirling           |       | 29    | 15    | 6     | 8     | 44    | 32    | +12   | 51    |
| 4th   |       | Airdrie Utd        |       | 29    | 15    | 5     | 9     | 33    | 28    | +5    | 50    |
| 5th   |       | Ayr                |       | 29    | 13    | 8     | 8     | 40    | 35    | +5    | 47    |


Edited by neilhoskins77

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