Arbroath suffered just their third defeat of the season as Ayr United ran out 1-0 winners in a frustrating afternoon at Somerset Park.
The Lichties huffed and puffed but could not find a way through a resolute Ayr defence as they made it a debut to remember for newly appointed gaffer Lee Bullen.
Dick Campbell’s side were left to rue a sloppy goal on the 18th minute, with Ricky Little bundling in a James Maxwell shot.
Wave after wave of Arbroath pressure came but they could not find a way through to goal.
Here are four Courier Sport talking points from the game:
Assistant boss Ian ‘Pink’ Campbell summed it up perfectly post-match. It was an uncharacteristic performance from a side that is deservedly top of the table.
Arbroath like to play on the counter attack, but they found themselves up against a side that were happy to sit back most of the game.
— Ayr United (@AyrUnitedFC) January 8, 2022
There was little space for Michael McKenna to work his magic, for Scott Stewart to run at the defence or for the strikers to get a clear glimpse at goal.
The visitors had eight shots and, aside from a late Joel Nouble effort, Aiden McAdams in the home goal didn’t have much to do all afternoon.
For all the brilliance this side have shown this season, they never really looked like putting the ball in the back of the net.
Dick Campbell on the terraces
The Arbroath gaffer spent the first half in the far stand, opposite the dugouts.
His brother Ian said after the game that this was down to him observing the game from a different perspective.
After the Ayr goal went in and his side looked to be struggling, he made an appearance on the terraces. First lingering around the touchline, before slowly retreating back.
The assistant referee on that side may have been fearing an earful, just like another unfortunate official had in a previous visit from the Arbroath gaffer.
But the boss was in the dugout for the second half, barking orders to his players.
His side have not reached the top of the league by fluke, and he will have been bitterly disappointed at the showing against Ayr.
Return of Nicky Low
Arbroath were boosted by the surprise return of Nicky Low.
The midfielder told Courier Sport last week he would be happy to play through the pain for his side, although he felt he was a few weeks away from full fitness.
As the Lichties pressed for an equaliser, Dick Campbell put Low on mid-way through the second half.
The 30-year-old made a positive impact with his play adding another dimension to the Arbroath attack.
Although he wouldn’t have made the mark he wanted on his return, Low will be delighted to have got some game time under his belt.
If that short performance was anything to go by, Arbroath will have a top player available to them when fully fit.
Nouble will be difficult to replace
It was a disappointing afternoon all round for Arbroath. It wasn’t the result they wanted and they weren’t able to send Joel Nouble off on a high.
The 25-year-old was one of a few standout players on the day. There were a number of occasions when he had the ball near the by-line seemingly with nothing on for him.
But he still somehow managed to dance around the Ayr defenders and get into a dangerous position in the box.
Nouble will be a massive loss to the Lichties. His ability to hold up the play and create chances will be hard to replace.
They have Jack Hamilton in from Livingston as the Englishman heads back. But they are different types of players.
With Anton Dowds also back at Falkirk, Dick Campbell will have work to do this transfer window to unearth another gem to live up to the highs of Nouble.