22-1-2009, Scot Cup Replay, Rugby Park
If this is what we can expect every time Kilmarnock and Ayr United face off in the Homecoming Scottish Cup, then we can only hope that it is not another decade before these bitter Ayrshire rivals meet again.
After another extraordinary contest that more than matched the drama of the original tie, it is Kilmarnock and not their second division opponents from down the road who will travel north to face Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the fifth round of the competition.
The first tie at Somerset Park 12 days earlier had been a crackling 2-2 draw packed with incident and second time around it was no less frenetic. Ayr forged in front early on before being gradually worn down by their more illustrious neighbours who survived the dismissal of David Fernandez to proceed to the next round.
Fears that Sky Sports' live broadcast of the fixture would dilute the atmosphere inside the stadium mercifully proved unfounded. The visiting supporters, in particular, piled into Rugby Park in impressive numbers and the acrimony duly poured out from all four stands. Goodness knows what those watching from their sofas in the Home Counties made of it all, but even curious neutrals would not have dared avert their eyes for a single second for fear of missing something else.
Jim Jefferies, the Kilmarnock manager, felt his team deserved to progress and hoped supporters would not have to wait so long for their next Ayrshire derby.
"It was a cracking game," he said. "We were the best team all night and they couldn't live with us. I knew what it meant to the Kilmarnock people to win after a bad spell previously. I just hope Ayr get promoted and then take the next step into the SPL as the atmosphere was fantastic."
It had all unravelled at a furious pace. Within 10 minutes the visitors were in front, the goal tainted with controversy. Simon Ford's poor clearance was hoisted back hopefully by Dean Keenan for Bryan Prunty to chase. As Ford and Alan Combe dithered, Prunty launched himself at the bouncing ball and converted with a contact only from his left arm. A pure classless cheat!!
There were no protests from Kilmarnock, and Ayr celebrated with the same exuberance as they had greeted their late equaliser in the first tie. Joy for Prunty would be short-lived, however, the striker limping off to be replaced by Alex Williams.
Kilmarnock supporters had every right to approach the visit of their rivals with trepidation. They had lost seven of their previous eight matches at home and had failed to record a victory over Ayr for 15 years.
In Killie's proud history they had never lost 5 straight home games.
The visitors' early goal did little to calm those frayed nerves, although Kilmarnock would gradually claw their way back into the tie after breaking down Ayr's resistance bit by bit.
Neil McGowan, Ayr's stocky left-back, seemed to be on a personal mission to keep his team in the tie. After nodding Allan Russell's deflected shot away from under his crossbar as early as the fourth minute, he was performing similar heroics to scramble another Russell attempt to safety, although television replays would later suggest that the ball may have already crossed the line. (Yup... another bad call see right).
Ayr departed the field at half-time to a heroes' reception from their fans behind the goal, but their luck would run out five minutes after the re-start. Willie Gibson's free-kick was met flush on the forehead by Simon Ford and, although Stephen Grindlay dived to smother the ball like a man putting out a chip pan fire, he knocked it backwards and Steve Conroy, the referee, correctly spotted that it had crept over the line.
Ayr were now feasting on the occasional breakaway but found their cause aided by another moment of controversy when Fernandez swung an arm at Martyn Campell, who toppled to the ground. Conroy's delay only served to heighten the agony for Fernandez before the red card duly appeared.
Respite for the second division side would be brief, however.
Craig Bryson slalomed through the Ayr defence to unleash a shot that Grindlay could only parry and the impressive Mehdi Taouil was first on it to rifle a low shot past the goalkeeper to put Kilmarnock in front.
A pulsating contest was finally settled 10 minutes from time.
Simon Ford, who hadn't scored for Kilmarnock in almost a year, met Taouil's corner to plant another header past the goalkeeper.
Jim Jefferies 22nd on the Ayr Post Match... "I've stayed down here for a few years and I've got to know what this game means to the supporters and it was one that the players were desperate to win for them. After losing a very soft goal, Simon Ford showed great character to come back and get the first one and the third one. Even when we went to ten men, we kept going at them. Everybody played their part tonight in getting through. It's a great result for us. I thought we outclassed them in all departments tonight."
Killie: Alan Combe, Garry Hay, Fraser Wright, Simon Ford, Jamie Fowler, Craig Bryson, (89 mins for Flannigan), Manuel Pascali, David Fernandez , Mehdi Taouil, (83 mins for Skelton), Allan Russell, (87 mins for Invincibile), Willie Gibson
Subs Not Used: Damien Rascale, Gavin Skelton, Donovan Simmonds