Thursday 4th August 2016

AS part of Sons 24, we are taking an in-depth look at the nine teams who stand between Dumbarton and the points they need to achieve their goal this season.

During the 24-hour marathon of build-up to the new season, we will profile each team in ascending order of where they finished the 2015/16 campaign. We start with Ayr United, whose push for promotion to the Championship last season ended with a spot-kick lottery against Stranraer. The man whose penalty won the shoot-out for them is no longer with the club, but although former Sons skipper Andy Graham has moved on, there are plenty other connections between two clubs with a long-established history.

Please note that the views in this article are not necessarily those of Dumbarton FC, its board or any staff.

Dumbarton v Ayr United: Saturday, October 15 and Saturday, February 18

Ayr United v Dumbarton: Saturday, December 24 and Saturday, March 25

Previous meetings with Dumbarton: Not met since season 2010/11 in the old Second Division (now League One).

Saturday, August 21 2010 – Ayr United 1 Dumbarton 0
Saturday, November 13 2010 – Dumbarton 3 Ayr United 2
Sunday, January 2 2011 – Ayr United 2 Dumbarton 0
Saturday, April 21 2011 – Dumbarton 1 Ayr United 2

Season 2016/17 so far: Befred League Cup sectional matches –

Saturday, July 16 – Ayr United 2 Hamilton Accies 1
Tuesday, July 19 – St Mirren 1 Ayr United 0
Saturday, July 23 – Ayr United 1 Edinburgh City 0
Tuesday, July 26 – Livingston 0 Ayr United 2

Signings: Paul Cairney (midfielder, Stranraer); Jordan Hart (goalkeeper, Annan Athletic); Daryll Meggatt (defender, Alloa Athletic); Craig Moore (striker, Motherwell, loan); Michael Rose (defender, Aberdeen); Jamie Thomas (striker, Burnley, loan).

First four league games: Raith Rovers (H); Queen of the South (A); Dundee United (A); St Mirren (H).

The run-in (last four league games): Dundee United (H); Morton (A); Hibernian (H); Raith Rovers (A).

Analysis: Congratulations Ayr, and welcome to the Championship. Your prize is to be Dumbarton’s main target for points this season – just as Stranraer, Peterhead or Livingston would have been had they won the play-offs.

Over the years, clashes between the sides have been unforgiving, demanding affairs and, more often than not, have been ferociously contested. This is especially true of the four meetings above, all close battles where Sons’ only success was on the day when trialist striker Pat Walker scored on his debut against the team he supported as a boy. The only game not to be won by the odd goal hinged on what some felt was a harsh penalty decision to put Ayr a goal up. Now, with the Somerset Park team promoted to the second tier, four more vital games can be anticipated, and the two teams will have a keen eye on each other’s preparations.

The signings of Paul Cairney and Daryll Meggatt are good ones by the Honest Men. Cairney was one of Stevie Aitken’s last signings for Stranraer before he took the Dumbarton hot seat. Although not a regular goalscorer (his only goal was in the play-off semi-final against Livingston) his top flight experience with Kilmarnock and Hibernian was a key part of getting the Blues to the play-offs. Things never really took off at Dundee for Meggatt, who has played only 107 minutes of first team football in 2016. However, he was an integral part of Alloa’s two successful bids to stay in the Championship, with his parting gift to the Wasps being the goal that won them the 2015 play-off final against Forfar.

In terms of players from last season who have stayed around for the step up, the name which stands out to Sons fans is Nicky Devlin. The big breakthrough at Motherwell never materialised for the former Dumbarton youth player, but his career has taken a new direction to the extent that he is now team captain at Somerset Park aged only 22. His fellow full back Pat Boyle is another player with DFC connections as part of the 2009 Third Division title-winning squad.

Ayr’s experience of the top levels of Scottish football is limited, but they do have ex-Gretna keeper Greg Fleming and former Rangers midfielder Brian Gilmour still on the books. There are also some highly-rated prospects in midfielders Robbie Crawford and Alan Forrest, and the return of Motherwell striker Craig Moore on loan is a huge boost. However, it could be argued that one of their most important players last season will be wearing a Dumbarton shirt this time around. We are about to find out the true extent of Ryan Stevenson’s influence to their successful promotion push.

If Dumbarton are to steal another march on Ayr this season they will ideally need to end a 12-year wait for a victory at Somerset Park. Their last win there was on Saturday, October 23 2004 when Andy Rodgers scored the game’s only goal in injury time. It’s not as bad as it sounds, as Sons have only played there five times since, although their only goal in those games was scored by an Ayr defender putting through his own net. Points are essential with home advantage against the newly-promoted side, and at least one trip down the A77 has to be successful too.

Verdict: If Sons are to achieve their goal they can’t afford to drop many points to Ayr – who will feel exactly the same way about Aitken’s men. Perhaps the four most pivotal games to both clubs’ seasons.

Join the debate ahead of the new season @dumbartonfc and #sons24

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