Shankland (49, 73, 76) – Tidser (14)
One-time Morton loan striker Lawrence Shankland put his former club to the sword at Somerset Park today by helping himself to a second-half hat-trick in a 3-1 over Ray McKinnon’s men.
The new Ton boss’s tenure got off to a bright start when Michael Tidser fired them into an early lead direct from a free-kick, but Shankland hit back with a treble after the break in this Betfred Cup Group E fixture.
For his first competitive fixture in the hotseat, McKinnon utilised a 3-5-2 system, handing debuts to Ryan Scully, Gregor Buchanan, Kerr Waddel, Charlie Telfer, and Ross MacLean.
The full Ton team wore black armbands as a tribute to late former chairman Douglas Rae OBE while McAlister also emerged for the warm-up in specially created kit in support of the family of Alesha MacPhail.
On a sunny day in Ayrshire, goalkeeper Scully made a bright start to his Cappielow career with a hat-trick of impressive first half saves, two of which prevented the hosts from edging in front.
On nine minutes, the former Partick Thistle and Dunfermline Athletic shot-stopper sailed to his left to paw a powerfully placed Shankland free-kick clear up at the top-right corner.
His reflex block two minutes later might just have been even better, Scully pouncing in front of Robbie Crawford to repel his effort after Shankland found him in space inside the box with a pull-back from the right.
Morton, on the other hand, would take the lead with their first attempt on target, Tidser scoring the inaugural goal of the Ray McKinnon regime on 14 minutes.
The playmaker took charge of a free-kick from a central position 25 yards from goal and caught out former Ton loan keeper Ross Doohan with a fierce low drive that fizzed inside the left-hand upright.
A sense of calm seemed to flood over the visitors after that frantic start, and returning midfielder Millar started to show his class in the centre of the park.
On 19 minutes, he was at the business end of a slick exchange, providing the killer final pass that dissected the home defence and picked out the run of MacLean, who came within inches of prodding past Doohan.
Ton bossed the next quarter hour before Ayr gradually re-emerged as an attacking force and saw a goal ruled out on 32 minutes when Michael Moffat was flagged offside after sweeping home a low cross from the right.
They required another fine save from Scully to stop Shankland from restoring parity by scrambling down to his right to prevent the hitman’s bending shot from curling inside the left post.
Fortune also favoured them on 37 minutes when Andy Geggan collected a second ball inside the box and, after a bounce, unleashed a shot that appeared netbound until it took a deflection off a Ton thigh and span wide.
McKinnon’s men made it in at the break with their lead intact, but the second 45 minutes would see Ayr make their chances count.
Former Ton man Shankland cut a rejuvenated figure up top for the Honest Men, and drew his side level within four minutes of the restart.
Getting on the end of a raking cross to the far post from out on the left, he sent a downwards header beyond Scully’s reach and into the bottom-left corner.
Telfer and McAlister combined to present MacLean with a real opportunity to restore the Sinclair Street side’s advantage as the visitors offered a quick response, but the Motherwell loanee dragged his shot wide.
McKinnon then reacted to Waddell suffering the recurrence of a recent ankle injury by bringing on Lewis Strapp and then Bob McHugh in order to switch to a 4-4-2 formation.
Unfortunately, the change could not prevent the traffic from flowing towards the Ton goal and Shankland added his and Ayr’s second in fortuituous circumstances on 73 minutes.
The Ayr No.17 whipped in a low, inswinging cross from out on the left and keeper Scully seemed to be distracted by a run across his line of vision while his defenders hesitated and the ball crept inside the right post.
Shankland claimed both the matchball and all three points three minutes later when he charged in behind the away defence onto a long ball down the right before calmly lobbing the ball over the advancing Scully.
It is not the start he would’ve wanted, but McKinnon’s Morton remains a work in progress. It will take time to implement ideas and for a new and incomplete squad to develop an understanding and on-field relationships.
4. Buchanan 2. Kilday 5. Waddell
8. McAlister 7. Millar 10. Tidser 6. Telfer 3. Iredale
9. Oliver 11. MacLean
Subs used: 14. Strapp (for Waddell, 61), 12. McHugh (for Telfer, 68), and 16. Armour (for Millar, 76).
Subs not used: 15. Langan, 17. Hynes, 1. Gaston (gk).
Ayr United (4411): Doohan; Geggan, Adams, Rose, Harvie; Forrest (McGuffie, 68), Kerr (McDaid, 64), Murdoch, Crawford; Moffat (Moore, 72); Shankland.
Subs not used: Ferguson, Bell, McCowan, Hare-Reid (gk).
Booked: Murdoch (65).
Referee: Willie Collum
Attendance: 1,586 (431 away fans)
⭐️ Star Man: Chris Millar
Images: Gary Bradley