Goals from the prolific Michael Moffat and Lawrence Shankland were enough to see United clinch Group E and leave Thistle sweating on the outcome of today’s clash between Hearts and Inverness Caley.
The Honest Men displayed a cutting edge that eluded their more fancied opponents and boss Ian McCall, a former Jags manager, declared: “Some of our football was excellent.
“We didn’t have a lot of possession but certainly they didn’t have as many chances as us.”
An astonishing opening five minutes saw Thistle bag three corners, yet it was the visitors who took the lead with a goal the home defence will want to forget.
The Jags came closest from their second corner kick, Niall Keown rising to power the ball goalwards only for Ayr’s Shankland to head it over the bar with keeper Ross Doohan nowhere.
Two minutes later the ball was in the net at the other end. Home defender Christie Elliott dilly-dallied before trying to clear only to create a catastrophic mix-up and United’s Moffat profited by sticking the ball in Thistle’s net.
An open half with two teams trying to play football followed. Thistle won the corner count, but a much more incisive visitors’ attack regularly cut through the home defence.
In 17 minutes a free kick from Shankland rippled the outside of the Thistle net.
Not long afterwards Shankland set up Moffat and only a great one-hand save by Cammy Bell prevented him doubling the score.
As the half ended, Miles Storey looked to rally the Jags. A cross from the left found Blair Spittal whose header went very close, with Doohan only able to watch.
Two minutes later it was Shea Gordon on his own but his header was weak.
Bell made another great save to deny Moffat on the stroke of half-time before Thistle went forward from the re-start.
However, the visitors’ defence sucked up the pressure in what proved to be a relatively featureless half.
In 60 minutes Ayr broke away, but Shankland, set up by Moffat, shot weakly. The miss was totally forgiven minutes later when Shankland, around 40 metres out, craftily lofted first time a loose ball that Bell could only watch as it looped over his head and into the net.
Thistle had a late chance but Storey, set up by Elliot, managed to miss an open goal.
McCall added: “I was having a go at Lawrence. He had missed two or three really good chances – and then he does that!
“I thought that every time we had good possession and we got it in the forward areas we looked a real threat. We moved it really quickly and if we get the ball into the last third of the park we have players that can cut teams open.
“It was a great victory.”
Thistle counterpart Alan Archibald said: “We started really well with a tempo but then it was ridiculous how we lost a goal and it killed our momentum.
“Christie was caught in five minds! He had an eternity to clear and it was a real moment of madness.
“I always thought that we would be waiting on Sunday’s result if we lost today.”