Scottish Cup Fourth Round Replay
AYR UNITED 1
The victory sent hundreds of ecstatic fans from Brian Reid's Black and White Barmy Army pouring onto the pitch on what was one of the most memorable nights in the club's history.
The skipper's 18th strike of the season proved to be the knockout blow as the Division Two leaders sent Colin Calderwood's men crashing to the canvas. It sets up an intriguing last 16 tie against fellow SPL strugglers St Mirren on February 5, and another repeat performance could see Danny Lennon's men go the same way.
This was a classic, ding-dong cup tie played in an electric atmosphere which produced end-to-end flowing football and top drawer entertainment, with the vast majority of the 3826 crowd roaring on the home side following their superb battling draw in Leith 10 days earlier.
It was no less than they deserved with the Honest Men's attacking strategy paying off as they piled pressure on Hibees right from the off, sweeping forward but they also fought a highly effective rearguard action with the tight-knit defensive unit of Martyn Campbell, Chris Smith, Eddie Malone and Jonathan Tiffoney constantly harrying forwards Colin Nish and Darryl Duffy.
Certainly their attacking intent was obvious from kick-off and in the opening minute Rodgers, who formed a dynamic forward line with Roberts, surged from the centre circle and sent a shot from 16 yards just high and wide. Back at the other end David Crawford was called into action three minutes later, making a confident save to foil Kevin McBride 25 yards out. The early flurry of pressure from the hosts almost earned rewards in seven minutes as a well-flighted corner-kick from Scott McLaughlin broke back to Chris Smith to shoot just over the bar from eight yards.
Valiant Malone skilfully hooked the ball away from the six-yard box after McBride had delivered a testing cross in nine minutes. Ayr were in the ascendancy and in 16 minutes Smith aimed a curling cross at Easton but the ball just evaded the former Dundee United man and glanced high and wide.
Three minutes later the roof almost came off the Somerset Road end as great skill from Rodgers saw him make a darting run and pick out Roberts with a perfect pass. The experienced striker swivelled steadied himself and switched the ball between both feet before sending a glorious 10-yard drive under goalkeeper Graeme Smith and into the net.
Former Killie man Nish caused anger among home fans in 25 minutes as he claimed goalkeeper David Crawford had pushed him on the edge of the box but referee Bobby Madden rightly waved play on. Three minutes later courageous Malone thumped away a Francis Dickoh cross into the box.
Ayr were causing all sorts of problems and in 35 minutes a curling cross from 25 yards by McLaughlin was clumsily spilled by Smith and went out for a corner. Then a Smith header from six yards following a McLaughlin corner went just over the bar. Six minutes from half-time Tiffoney hooked clear from Derek Riordan after McBride had set him up.
The hosts were oh so close to going further ahead in 42 minutes as a thunderous 30-yard shot from Scott McLaughlin was saved by Graeme Smith.
In 56 minutes inspired David Crawford pulled off a stunning one-handed save from Derek Riordan after Jonathan Tiffoney had let him in. Just a minute later Willie Easton made a goal-line clearance from a Paul Hanlon header following a John Rankin corner-kick. Back at the other end Tiffoney crossed to Easton eight yards from goal but he miscued.
Smith fumbled a McLaughlin free-kick 15 minutes from time but quickly recovered the ball. Crawford pulled off another super reflex safe to foil Liam Miller 22 yards out in 84 minutes and three minutes from time Miller's 22-yard effort skidded just wide as Ayr held on for a glorious win.
AYR UNITED: David Crawford 8; Jonathan Tiffoney 7; Chris Smith 7; Eddie Malone 9; Martyn Campbell 8; Ryan McCann 7; Stuart Bannigan 7; Scott McLaughlin 8; Andy Rodgers 8; Mark Roberts 8 (Ross Robertson 90); Willie Easton 8. Subs not used: Ally Woodburn, Shaun Kelly, Dale Moore.
STARMAN: Eddie Malone 3; David Crawford 2; Mark Roberts 1.