Ayr United’s players are, quite understandably, irked by the suggestion that they are a one-man team and that they would not be promotion candidates if they did not possess prolific striker Lawrence Shankland.
Then again, the statistics tend to suggest that to argue otherwise is to be disingenuous. Shankland has 18 league goals this season, six times as many as United’s joint second-highest scorer Alan Forrest, Michael Moffat and Craig Moore. Indeed, the tally for United’s entire squad without Shankland is 15.
Shankland, who has 57 goals in 59 appearances since leaving Aberdeen in 2017, was missing on Saturday as Ayr slipped to their first home defeat for nine months. Fortunately for them, the 23-year-old is expected to recover from the calf injury which sidelined him here in time for Saturday’s visit to Inverness. His absence was certainly felt at Somerset Park, where United dominated possession but could muster only two attempts on target against a team which had kept only two clean sheets in their previous 13 outings and which was bottom of the table on Saturday morning.
A calamitous error from goalkeeper Ross Doohan gifted the points to Falkirk. He spilled a long-range shot from Ross McLean and Zac Rudden fired home the rebound. United captain Steven Bell should have equalised in the final minute but horribly mishit his shot from a yard out.
“When it came to me I should have maybe gone with my left foot,” Bell conceded afterwards. “It hit the inside of my ankle. It was just one of those days. We had other chances apart from that. We had a corner kick that came right across the six-yard box and no one was there to put it in, so it’s a frustrating day all round.”
Bell, however, does not agree that Shankland’s injury was the reason for their impotence. “There are 19/20 players here; to just single one player out isn’t the full story,” he said. “Obviously, Lawrence has scored a lot of goals but today a lot of the balls that went into the box were through good play. Craig Moore is a different type of player to Lawrence and so is Michael Moffat.
‘We all need to chip in with goals – we can’t just rely on Lawrence. To say we lost because he wasn’t playing is, I think, unfair. You could say it was frustrating because we created enough chances to win the game.”
Ayr could have returned to the top of the pile with a victory but remain three points behind leaders Ross County, albeit with one game fewer played. Falkirk, meanwhile, moved off the bottom with their fourth away win of the campaign.
Manager Ray McKinnon had gambled by starting five new signings and introducing a sixth later in the game. His boldness paid off and will have bolstered confidence ahead of Saturday’s meeting at Firhill with Partick Thistle, who now occupy the automatic relegation slot. Former Scotland full-back Paul Dixon was one of the debutants and he believes that McKinnon’s new signings – he hopes to add three or four more this week – can give the Bairns the edge in the fight for survival.
“It’s going to take us time to gel but there are good early signs and, hopefully, we can take the positives and build on this for the games coming up,” he said.
“We had good professionals on the pitch with experience like Joe McKee and Ian McShane.
“It’s guys like us who are going to need to help the lesser experienced players.”