Where there is life there is hope, however, and the club’s assistant-manager, Craig McPherson, who replaced Jim Duffy in the technical area as he began his touchline ban for the spat with Neil Lennon earlier this month, is optimistic about their prospects.
“We’re absolutely delighted,” said McPherson. “When you look over the season, we’ve absolutely deserved this.
“Fourth place has been secured but there are still two games left so we’ll see what happens in them. It’s a fantastic achievement for these boys. They and Jim deserve all the credit for their hard work.”
The home side seized the initiative early on and both Lawrence Shankland, with a lob, and Aiden Nesbitt, with a rising drive from the edge of the penalty area, went close in the opening five minutes.
It then took a desperate clearance from Paul Cairney to block Thomas O’Ware’s header from Ross Forbes’ corner on the line after quarter of an hour.
Apart from a few flashes of languid brilliance from Gary Harkins, Ayr did not offer much in the way of a threat. Indeed, it was midway through the first half before they threatened the Morton goal, through wide man Alan Forrest – brother of Celtic and Scotland winger James. Immediately afterwards Shankland squandered a glorious opportunity to draw first blood. Released by Gary Oliver’s pass, he drew Greg Fleming from his line but then dragged his shot well wide of the far post from 12 yards.
The game had opened up by then and, teed up by Harkins, Mike Rose delivered a low 20-yarder which ended up on the wrong side of Derek Gaston’s right-hand posy by inches.
Shankland made amends for his earlier gaffe when he belatedly broke the deadlock seven minutes from the interval.
O’Ware started the move with a pinpoint 40-yard crossfield pass for Oliver. He cut inside and fired in a shot which was deflected into Shankland’s path. With the visitors appealing in vain for an offside decision, the striker volleyed home from six yards.
Morton merited their lead but they lost it on the stroke of half-time. Rose burst forward when a home attack had broken down and his through ball for Craig Moore appeared to be overhit.
However, a quite superb touch brought it under control and created the angle for Moore to drive it firmly behind Gaston from 15 yards.
Morton continued to dominate after the restart and Lee Kilday forced a fine diving save from Fleming with a swerving shot from distance in the 55th minute.
A momentary lapse of concentration from Aiden Nesbit saw him inadvertently provide Ayr captain Nicky Devlin with a clear sight of goal but the full-back snatched at the chance and sliced his shot wide.
Morton’s pressure produced a succession of half-chances but they were still vulnerable to counter attacks.
Harkins’ lofted pass created a shooting opportunity for Forrest but his attempt was high and wide of the mark when he should, at the very least, have tested the goalkeeper.
Ayr centre-back Darryll Meggatt took one for the team, happily accepting the inevitable caution for hauling back substitute Jamie McDonagh as he burst past him. Harkins and Rose were also cautioned.
United remain at the foot of the table, two points adrift of St Mirren and three behind Raith Rovers with two fixtures remaining.
“We’re a point closer to St Mirren,” said manager Ian McCall. “A draw was a fair result and we live to fight another day.
“It looks as though Dumbarton are almost safe and we’ll see how Rovers do at Easter Road in midweek. Our mindset is that we’ve got to win our last two games [at home to Hibernian and away to Raith].
“We tried to win here today as well but this is a tough place to come. We looked the likelier team to score in the second half but our final ball let us down. However, there is still the belief that we can stay up, absolutely.”