At the end of it all both sides seemed content with the outcome which, along with results elsewhere (all five games were draws), leaves things as they were in the Championship promotion race. Ayr will certainly be happy to have preserved their place at the top of the pile as County asked a stack of awkward questions of them in this physically draining encounter. However, having gone in two goals behind at the interval, the Dingwall men were undoubtedly consoled by the spirit they showed to retrieve a point.
Ayr manager Ian McCall felt the conditions also played their part in the game slipping away from his side in the closing 45 minutes. “We lost the toss, which was crucial,” he insisted. “The first half was a real game of football and we played really well. Then the weather just changed and we were playing into hurricane. They went long ball and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that – they thoroughly deserved the draw.”
This was a proper contest between the top two sides in the division and was a seasonal selection box of wholehearted effort and if we’re being honest, some pretty unconvincing defending. County hit full throttle right at the start and seemed to catch McCall’s men off guard with their breezy assertiveness. They merited the early advantage given to them by Josh Mullin’s glorious hooked volley after 12 minutes.
In the light of this enterprising opening, the Dingwall side must have been bemused that instead of going in at the interval with an advantage they instead found themselves two goals in arrears. It would be easy to blame it all on a loss of composure, but it still needed Ayr to firstly exert the necessary pressure and secondly be clinical enough to capitalise. It isn’t difficult to do the latter when you’ve a lethal finisher like Lawrence Shankland in your ranks.
A completely unnecessary shove by Ross Draper on Michael Rose in the visitors’ box saw the Ayr talisman bury the resultant spot kick beyond Scott Fox with some ferocity. Four minutes later he pounced once again for his 26th goal of the season, this time bundling a loose ball home after County failed to properly defend a Declan McDaid free-kick. The turnaround became even more startling as Andy Geggan made it three for the hosts, heading beyond Fox just before half-time.
Whatever they discussed in the County dressing room during the break it certainly couldn’t have been an introspective muse on how they had let things slip. Remarkably, the game flipped on itself once again and before we knew it parity had been restored as Billy Mckay replicated Shankland by scoring first from a penalty and then minutes later slammed the ball home from close range to make it 3-3.
As the heavens threw just about everything they could at the bedraggled players so they did much the same to each other. County held the upper hand in terms of pressure but just couldn’t get someone on the end of several teasing crosses that went by the face of Ross Doohan’s goal. The hosts became increasingly reliant on hitting on the break, but for all that they were on the back foot, they still passed up the best chances of seizing a winner with notably a Shankland shot saved by a stunning reaction block from Fox.
“It was a great comeback. But I think you credit both teams. You could use the weather as an excuse but it was a fantastic advert for a top of the table clash in December”, reflected County co-manager Steven Ferguson.