ANOTHER defeat left East Fife in the precarious second bottom spot. Although they did not lose any ground to Stranraer above them, bottom of the pile Albion Rovers grabbed a win and are now within six points.
Although it was hardly an inspiring showing, the Fifers looked to have done enough to take the points at Somerset Park with their early goal, but towards the end two poor goals were lost and a refereeing decision cost them dear.
Craig Johnstone, David Muir and Darren Smith were missing from the side and were replaced by Robert Sloan, Steve Campbell and Collin Samuel, with Bob Malcolm on the bench in a squad down to the bare bones!
There was little in the way of goalmouth action in the early stages, but a moment of hope for the home side came when a Robert Sloan passback to Michael Brown looked a bit short. The keeper managed to clear, however.
Another home foray saw Buchan try his luck but Brown held easily.
The Fifers attacking pair of the returned Samuel and Paul McManus could make little of the home defence despite McManus’ eagerness to chase.
Bobby Barr also provided them with some hope, but on more than one occasion his promising runs proved fruitless.
However, with 15 minutes gone, he provided the opener. His run down the left saw him cut in and from his cutback Scott Durie beat keeper Smith with a well placed effort, for his first counter of the season.
The home side pushed forward looking for the equaliser, but they could not make any headway in the danger area. A Buchanan 25 yard effort, however, was on target and needed a decent save from Brown.
Coming up to the half hour mark the same player should have put his side level, but he managed to scoop over the bar close in following a Donald cross.
The home side continued to have more possession as the half progressed but there was little threat to the goal, with the Fife back three in control.
At the other end McManus, always the willing runner, picked up the ball wide. He worked his way into the danger area but was eventually crowded out.
The visitors went in at half time with their one goal advantage and looking quite likely to extend their good run of three without loss at Somerset Park.
The home side stepped up the pace in the second period and pushed the Fifers back and Crawford should have at least tested Brown when sent in by McLaughlin.
Soon after a Shankland free-kick offered another opportunity but, on this occasion, Robertson headed over the bar.
In a rare foray into the United danger area, Samuel had a chance from a Barr cross, but his effort did not trouble Smith in the home goal.
With around 15 minutes left, Brown kept the Fifers ahead when he saved low down, at the expense of a corner, from a Donald shot.
With just over 10 minutes remaining, however, the home side did get the equaliser. Indecision in the visitors’ defence left Buchanan free to knock home McLaughlin’s knock down.
Moffat almost added to the Fifers’ misery a couple of minutes later but could not convert a Donald cross. Things, however, were to get worse for the Fifers.
A Barr run into the home penalty box seemed to have brought the real possibility of the first win for three months, when referee Robertson appeared to point to the spot when Barr went down. Despair followed as not only did he not give the penalty, but booked Barr for diving.
The home side looked likely to take full advantage of the decision when Donald had a chance, but his attempt was off target.
It only delayed the outcome a few minutes as, with three minutes left, Brown could not hold a Donald shot and substitute Winters knocked the loose ball home for the winner.
East Fife had brought on Liam Gormley and Sean Jamieson inside the last 10 minutes but they had little chance of making any telling contribution.
So, for the 10th game in a row East Fife failed to take the three points, particularly disappointing as they had been ahead for so long.
Ayr United – G. Smith, Robertson, McCann, Brownlie, Smith, McLaughlin, Shankland (Winters 70), Crawford, Moffat, Buchanan, Donald; subs (not used) – McStay, Wyllie, Marenghi, Brown.
East Fife – Brown, Durie, Sloan, Campbell, White, McCormack, Willis, McManus (Gormley 80), Samuel (Jamieson 85), Barr, McBride; subs (not used) – Keenen, Malcolm, Antell.
Referee – D. Robertson
Attendance – 958
3-2-1 – 3 Barr, 2 Durie, 1 McManus