A wealth of interesting statistics may be used to prove that Season 2010/11 was anything but dull. Ayr United had nineteen penalty awards of which seventeen were scored and two saved. Sixteen penalties were conceded of which fourteen were scored and two saved. The club was the victim of nine red cards of which one was overturned. Opposition red cards amounted to ten. There were two own goals in our favour and three in favour of the opposition. Correctly the conclusion may be drawn that the season was littered with contentious games. On the first Saturday of October there was a key 3-1 win at home to Livingston who had been top before the game. Fourth place was now occupied even although we were just one point worse off than leaders Brechin City. On 13th October a 3-2 defeat away to bottom club Dumbarton left no chance for immediate atonement. The grip of the weather meant that our next match did not take place until 2nd January, 2011 (also against Dumbarton and a 2-0 Ayr win). In the same month Hibs were beaten 1-0 at Ayr in a Scottish Cup replay. It was the club’s first ever Scottish Cup win against a club from two leagues above. Cup progress was halted when St. Mirren won at Ayr yet the main focus had to be on the league. Livingston were now stretching away at the top while Ayr United and Brechin City vyed for second place. Second place was achieved on goal difference over Forfar Athletic and Brechin City. An immediate return to the First Division occurred when the play-offs culminated in success at Brechin’s Glebe Park.
Promoted in 2009 – relegated in 2010 – promoted in 2011 – could Ayr United make a shape at survival in the second tier? Form in the League Cup was exceptional. Inverness Caledonian Thistle (home), Hearts (home) and St. Mirren (away) were beaten on the way to the League Cup semi-finals. All of them were Premier League clubs. The semi-final was contested at Hampden and it was a 1-0 defeat from Kilmarnock after extra-time. In the Scottish Cup Montrose, Livingston and Falkirk were beaten on the way to a quarter-final at home to Hibs. A 2-0 loss dashed hopes of eliminating Hibs in consecutive seasons. League fare was predictably tough. Queen of the South gradually got a little detached at the foot therefore the aim was to stay out of the bottom two in order to avoid a play-off for survival. In the penultimate league fixture Dundee were beaten 3-2 at Ayr but elsewhere a Raith Rovers win over Queen of the South meant that we were consigned to the play-offs. At that stage an aggregate defeat against Airdrie United meant relegation whereupon Brian Reid quit and was immediately replaced by Mark Roberts.
Somerset Park’s first competitive action of 2012/13 saw Clyde routed 6-1 in the League Cup. It was a 0-0 at half-time and the second half performance was devastating. When the league got underway the contrast was stark. One point got taken from the first five games. In comparative terms there was a revival in what was a tightly-packed Second Division. Beating East Fife at home in mid-December would have put Ayr United into third place. The 3-2 defeat left the club eighth. Losing 2-0 away to Albion Rovers on Boxing Day compounded the mood. On 2nd January, 2013, leaders Queen of the South won 5-1 at Somerset Park. This left us eighth out of ten and twenty-nine points behind our Dumfries counterparts. In the final analysis that gap was fifty-one points. Seventh place at least meant fighting off the threat of relegation but this was a little comfort. This was the season of the curse of the 2-0 lead due to the instances of failing to win from this position. A winning mentality was clearly needed.
The opening match of 2013/14 was a Challenge Cup tie away to Queen’s Park and the outcome had some historical significance. When Alan Forrest struck a last minute winner he became the youngest ever player to score a competitive goal for Ayr United. He was aged 16 years 321 days. A fortnight later he scored at Arbroath to become the club’s youngest ever scorer of a league goal. That match at Arbroath was won 3-0 and it comprised Ayr United’s biggest away win in an opening league fixture since 1921. By now the leagues had been rebranded. The league formerly known as the Second Division was now branded League One. Regardless of the branding it was the third tier. After successful trials at reserve level, striker Kevin Kyle was signed. With Michael Moffat, Mark Roberts, Craig Malcolm, Michael Donald and Alan Forrest also possessing a scoring threat there was an injection of optimism. When Michael Moffat scored a hat-trick at home to Stranraer in November there was a clear example of Ayr United’s attacking threat. Yet the match was lost 6-3 thereby highlighting that there were other issues to address. By the Saturday before Christmas, leaders Rangers were virtually uncatchable. The nine-point deficit with Dunfermline Athletic also comprised a yawning gap. We also trailed third-place Stranraer by three points. A run of four consecutive defeats between February and March 2014 ended in a most spectacular way with consecutive 5-0 wins (Stranraer at home and East Fife away). In finishing fourth the play-offs were reached at which stage a 5-2 aggregate defeat was suffered against Cowdenbeath.
2014/15 was faced with the loss of Michael Moffat to Dunfermline Athletic. The signings of defenders Nicky Devlin and Peter Murphy would prove to be shrewd business. Winning the first three league fixtures comprised a great start. This had not been achieved since 1991/92 when the first four were won. League win number three was at home to Forfar Athletic in 23rd August, 2014. Ayr United’s next home league win did not occur until 28th February, 2015, also against Forfar Athletic. On 13th December a home defeat against Stenhousemuir left the club with a record of one win in the last eleven games (including the Scottish Cup). It would have been one in twelve had it not been for a home match against Peterhead being voided. Two days after the Stenhousemuir loss, Mark Roberts was dismissed. On 6th January, 2015, Ian McCall was appointed as the new boss. As January progressed we remained in the bottom two. Only on the final league Saturday was it guaranteed that there would be no involvement in the play0-offs to avoid relegation.
Significant signings in the 2015 close season were Paddy Boyle and Ross Docherty. Albion Rovers 3 Ayr United 0 – the result of the opening league fixture was a dreadful disappointment. The response was magnificent. We then had a run of fourteen consecutive league games unbeaten. The competition for top spot was being contested with Dunfermline Athletic. Ryan Stevenson returning to Ayr United was extremely welcome news. In December he joined from Partick Thistle on a 28-day loan but in the January transfer window it was confirmed that he would remain until the end of the season. Losing at Stranraer on 2nd January, 2016, signalled four defeats in five matches including a Scottish Cup tie. The lost momentum manifested itself in a drop from second place but this position was regained and kept after a 4-0 win at Peterhead in April. Peterhead had been popularly perceived as a bogey team but that status was further shattered when Ayr United beat them 6-2 on aggregate in the play-off semi-finals. In the play-off final Ayr United and Stranraer were level at 1-1 on aggregate after two matches and extra time. A shootout took place at the railway end and Greg Fleming made three saves. Andy Graham struck the deciding kick to confirm our promotion to the Championship.
It was sincerely hoped that there would be no repetition of the trend whereby the two most recent promotions were followed by straight relegation. Defeats in the first three league fixtures made the situation ominous. Mercifully an improvement occurred. A 1-0 home win against Queen of the South in October meant that Greg Fleming had four consecutive shutouts. It also meant that in our last six league matches, including this one, we had taken eleven more points than Dumbarton and St. Mirren, nine more than Dunfermline Athletic, six more than Raith Rovers, five more than Queen of the South, four more than Hibs and Morton and the same number of points as Dundee United and Falkirk. That run included a 2-1 win away to Hibs, the Scottish Cup holders. Such a level of consistency could not be maintained and in the ensuing weeks it was clear that the club was mired in a battle to avoid relegation. On 1st April, 2017, a six-pointer was lost 6-2 away to St. Mirren. Even after the match the hosts remained bottom but our one-point lead over them was rendered vulnerable by their game in hand and their resurgent form. Third-bottom Raith Rovers had two points more and only five games remained. The season concluded with Ayr United as the bottom club so it was an immediate return to League One.
Michael Moffat and Andy Geggan returned to Ayr United from Dunfermline Athletic in the summer of 2017. Craig Moore was also confirmed as a signed player rather than a loanee. Another stir was created when it was made known that the season would be opening with a home match against Kilmarnock in the League Cup. Following upon relegation this was an opportunity to make the fans happy. Kilmarnock had not won a competitive match at Ayr since 2nd January, 1993. In the seven League Cup ties they had played at Ayr they could only boast one win and even that was a far back as 25th August, 1951. True to form the result in 2017 was 1-0 to Ayr yet this did not divert from the main priority – the league. Striker Lawrence Shankland was signed as a free agent in time to make his debut away to Raith Rovers on 9th September. By this stage of the season Ayr United had scored thirty-four goals in the eleven matches played between cup and league. Acquiring Shankland would immediately prove to be an outstanding signing. The team’s attacking style was ideally suited to his own style. Fifty-two goals were scored by the end of October. It was only our third season ever in which the fifty-goal barrier had been breached by this point of the season. The league title emerged as a straight battle between Ayr United and Raith Rovers. Both matches between the clubs at Ayr resulted in 3-0 home wins. With three league fixtures left we had a five-point lead and a vastly superior goal difference. With one game left it was a one-point deficit. The league programme concluded with results of Ayr United 2 Albion Rovers 0 and Raith Rovers 0 Alloa Athletic 0. We were champions by one point. It was a season in which 124 competitive goals were scored. This was the second highest in the club’s history. Between league and cup, Lawrence Shankland netted twenty-nine goals in an incomplete season. Craig Moore netted twenty-seven.
Despite intense transfer speculation Lawrence Shankland remained at Ayr United for season 2018/19. Past experience caused an opinion that there would be a straight relegation. There was never the remotest possibility that this would happen. Full points in a League Cup section preceded a 3-0 knockout win away to Premier League Dundee. That tie at Dundee marked a seventh consecutive shutout for Ross Doohan. This was just one short of the club record. By the first Saturday in November twelve league fixtures had been played. We sat top of the league with a three-point gap over Ross County and a seven-point gap over third-placed Dundee United. On the Friday evening on 30th November there was quite a spectacular result – Dundee United 0 Ayr United 5. Lawrence Shankland scored four. Form wavered in January 2019 in which month there were four defeats out of five, including one in the Scottish Cup. Yet that one win was crucial, it being a six-pointer against Dundee United whom we had now taken nine points from to this point. As the season unfolded there was a drop to third place. Set against expectations in the summer of 2018 this was not totally calamitous. On the final league Saturday a 1-1 draw at home to Alloa Athletic saved the visitors from relegation and left Ayr United in a position of fourth. Ian McCall said: “That was two teams who were tipped for ninth and tenth and we finished fourth.” This ensured involvement in the promotion play-offs. Alas dreams of a long awaited return to the Premier League were dashed in a 4-2 aggregate defeat against Inverness Caledonian Thistle.