Ayr United 4 Queen’s Park 0

One element that has haunted Queen’s throughout this entire season has been the horrible habit our former players have had of returning to score against us. Take Dario Zanatta at Raith and Alan Trouten at Albion Rovers as just a couple of examples.

But the “worst” offender in the old boy network has been Lawrence Shankland who has shown the striking skills nurtured at Lesser Hampden to devastating effect for Ayr United. And today he was at it again, grabbing a hat-trick within the opening 35 minutes to condemn us to our worst defeat since October when Alloa came to HQ and handed out a 4-0 drubbing.

Lawrence made sure it turned out to be a bad day for the Spiders, but it had all started so differently. Somerset Park was bathed in glorious sunshine as the travelling support made their way into the ground from the hospitality suite of the local bowling club. And the celebrities were out in force inside the ground. Our own Smudger Smith – who had travelled up from England for the game – was like the proverbial wean in a sweetie shop as he posed for selfies with legendary children’s entertainer Glen Michael. The Cavalcade continued in the tiny Press box where Chick Young was on duty, along with the one and only Mike Wilson – a local journalist who has been a fixture in Ayr since Homer was a laddie.

It was Mike’s last game before hanging up the notepad … and he’ll seldom have reported on an easier afternoon for his team.

However, the good mood began to dissipate even before a ball was kicked. The teamsheet revealed the influential David Galt and Conor McVey had been ruled out by injury, while new signing Gerard McLauchlan hadn’t recovered from the knock that ruled him out against Stranraer. Anton Brady and Robbie Leitch stepped into the middle of the park, with Lewis Magee carrying on in the centre of defence after his late call-up from the bench last week.

Queen’s started brightly enough and won the game’s first corner after just two minutes. Ross Millen trotted over to our left to hit the inswinger, but overdid the delivery and had to quickly get back to his defensive duties.

Apart from Shankland, Ayr have goals aplenty in their team. They showed their threat after nine minutes when Lawrence set up McDaid and his shot wasn’t far away.

As warnings go, it was a pretty clear one … and one we chose to ignore. The next attack saw Moffat feed a simple ball through to Shankland who finished with ease. Ten minutes gone, and the good mood among the visiting ranks is disappearing fast.

The Spiders tried to respond and Brady at least made keeper Ruddy work with a shot from distance. And Queen’s had their best moment just after the quarter hour. Sean Burns did well to win a foul at the edge of the Ayr box and this time it was Brady who sent over a gem of a cross that was inches too high for Adam Cummins to divert on target. It was a chance – and little did we know at the time it was as good as it was going to get.

While Queen’s did enjoy their fair share of possession, they couldn’t fashion any serious opportunities. Their efforts weren’t helped by the fiery surface, and even the home side saw more passes go astray than they would normally expect.

However, while Ayr’s football might not have been flowing, they looked dangerous each time they did venture forward. The Spiders’ defence had to be alert, but they decided to go to sleep after 28 minutes. Again it was the type of goal that will give Gus MacPherson nightmares. A long ball from McDaid allowed Shankland to bully his way past young Magee and bury the shot behind White.

Things for even worse six minutes later when we conceded a soft free kick and then allowed Shankland the freedom of Somerset inside our box to hook home his hat-trick. There might have been 56 minutes left to play, but we all knew it was already game over.

Thankfully, we managed to get to the break without further damage and the depressing half-time scoreline read:

Ayr United 3 Queen’s Park 0

With the position as tight as it is at the foot of the table, it was important that Queen’s didn’t let their goal difference suffer too much, so there was still plenty to play for when the teams re-appeared. Gus made one change, bringing on Ciaran Summers for Magee – who will have better days in a QP jersey. Scott Gibson moved inside to partner Cummins as Ciaran took his place at left back.

Whether it was the change, or whether Ayr just took their feet off the gas is open to question. Whatever the reason, the second half was a far more tame affair.

Ayr made their first change after 50 minutes, bringing on Craig Moore for Mark Kerr.

Queen’s went looking for a consolation goal and enjoyed a spell of pressure as the game reached 53 minutes. First Brady did well to knock the ball back to Leitch, whose shot was blocked as it headed for the goal. Then Brady and Burns combined well on our left to allow Sean space for the cross – which was a belter. Unfortunately, Rose got there before anybody in a red jersey and deflected the ball behind for a corner. Cummins got his head to the resultant cross, but couldn’t get enough power on the effort to trouble Ruddy.

The game drifted along fairly aimlessly for a long spell after this, with only substitutions and bookings requiring the notepad to be opened. Dominic Docherty was first in the book after an hour when he fouled Crawford. Referee Cook evened things up four minutes later when he carded Moffat for a foul on Aiden Keena.

Gus tried to change things around by bringing on young Ally Millar and Luke Donnelly for Docherty and Leitch, but it made little difference to the pattern of the game. The same could be said for the Ayr change as Alan Forrest was replaced by Craig McGuffie.

Cummins was next in the book as he got a sliding challenge all wrong. Thankfully, he made no contact on McDaid as he broke forward, but Ayr found themselves in a 4-on-2 situation which would probably have seen another goal added to the tally had it not been for a great block from Gibson. Cummins had little cause for complaint when referee Cook then showed him the yellow card.

Queen’s fans did have cause to complain about the antics of McDaid and his tendency to go down rather easily. Little wonder then that when the Ayr man fouled Burns, the visiting support cheered loudly as the yellow card was shown to the Ayr midfielder.

Ayr went 3-2 ahead on bookings when Boyle was carded for another challenge on Sean. And they went 4-0 ahead on the scoreline that really mattered when Fotheringham slid into a rash challenge on McGuffie inside our box; failed to get the ball – and gave the whistler an easy task of pointing to the spot. Substitute Moore had an equally straightforward job to slot the ball behind White.

Ten minutes from time, Shankland was replaced by Stuart Faulds and the reception the striker received from the home fans shows just how important he is to their title bid.

It was the last “action” of what turned out to be a bitterly disappointing afternoon for the Spiders. Nobody expected us to turn Ayr over, but we travelled in the hope of making it at least an uncomfortable experience for the Honest Men. In the end, they won at a canter, and the news that Forfar had beaten East Fife merely added to the gloomy mood as the QP party trooped off homewards.

The depression was lifted slightly when word came through that our other main rivals in the basement battle – Albion Rovers – had lost at home again.

There might only be five more game left in our regular season, but trust Gulliver when he says there are more twists and turns to come before the curtain comes down.

Keep the Faith!

Queen’s Park: Michael White, Ross Millen, Scott Gibson, Lewis Magee, Adam Cummins, Gregor Fotheringham, Anton Brady, Aidan Keena, Dominic Docherty, Robbie Leitch and Sean Burns. Subs: Luke Donnelly, Thomas Orr, Ciaran Summers, Billy Mortimer, Kevin Green, Alistair Millar, Cammy Foy.