Ayr United: Lawrence Shankland is not the only reason for promotion push

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Shankland & McCall on speculation
Scottish Championship: Ayr United v Inverness Caledonian Thistle
Venue: Somerset Park Date: Friday, 7 December Kick-off: 19:45 GMT

Ayr United last graced the Scottish top flight 40 years ago. Their average home attendance this season is less than 2,500.

They’re battling a spree of bigger, wealthier opponents, yet lead the Scottish Championship by two points after 15 games and are eyeing promotion to the Premiership.

Ian McCall’s men won League One on the dramatic final day of last season and consolidated their spot at the Championship summit with Friday’s 5-0 decimation of title rivals Dundee United.

Four of those Tannadice goals were scored by Lawrence Shankland, the 23-year-old striker spearheading their charge.

But is the prolific forward the sole reason for their stunning start? Can McCall keep him in January? And have Ayr got the class and the mettle to stay the course?

Is it just down to Shankland’s goals?

Not entirely, no. For all that Shankland has been in terrific form, his 16 Championship goals – part of an overall tally of 26 – make up just over half of Ayr’s haul of 30 so far.

Six of his team-mates have also scored in the league this term, with Falkirk goalkeeper Leo Fasan also netting an own goal for McCall’s side.

As a point of comparison, Queen of the South’s Stephen Dobbie – who leads the overall Scottish scoring charts on 29 – has scored 15 of his team’s 25 league goals (60%).

So who else has impressed?

Shankland's form has overshadowed Ayr's defensive resolve. They have kept 16 clean sheets in 24 matches across all competitions this term and the 12 goals they have conceded is fewer than anyone else in the league bar second-placed Ross County (10).

Ross Doohan, their 20-year-old Celtic loanee, has been in goal for all but one of those games, protected by a resolute back four. Manager McCall singled out "class act" Michael Rose for praise earlier in the season and Scottish football veteran Mark Kerr, now 36, who sits ahead of them.

"Big Ross and the back four have been great. Michael Rose is developing all the time, physically and mentally," McCall said.

"I had Mark Kerr as a 19-year-old [at Falkirk], he was a top boy and he calms people around him. He allows people like Robbie Crawford to go and play and express themselves."

Crawford and Declan McDaid have been reliable creators in midfield, while Michael Moffat has chipped in with seven goals in all competitions.

Lawrence Shankland
Shankland's four-goal haul at Tannadice means he has scored 26 goals in 23 appearances this season

Sell Shankland or go for title? - analysis

Ex-Motherwell and Northern Ireland defender Stephen Craigan on BBC Radio Scotland's Off the Ball

What level will Lawrence Shankland go to? He could easily play in the Scottish Premiership. Would he play in the English Championship? That's the big question. He's out of contract in the summer. He will go cross-border for free in the summer.

Should Ayr United cash in for £100,000, say? Or, if they're still top come the turn of the year, do they think, 'do you know what, we're going to have a go at this. He's going to leave for nothing so let's just see if we can get another 15 goals out of him'.

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