By Keiran Fleming
It was a season of pleasant surprises in 18/19 for Ayr United fans – following promotion they went straight into the Championship, guns blazing, pushing for promotion and eventually reaching the play-offs, although not gaining promotion. A vital core of their squad has been taken away, but can Ian McCall instigate a similar unlikely success story? Keiran Fleming previews the season for the ‘Honest Men’.
The quality core that Ayr United has had for the last two seasons has been stripped away from the side this summer. Both Lawrence Shankland (Last season’s top goalscorer) and right back Liam Smith left for Championship rivals Dundee United. Centre back Michael Rose left the Honest Men for Coventry. Winger Declan McDaid left Somerset Park for Dundee. Midfielder Robbie Crawford decided to make the step up from the Championship to the top flight with Livingstone. Each of these players were extremely valuable assets yet they all left for free.
This has left Ian Mcall’s team with a very difficult task. They need to rebuild a side that was competing for a play-off spot and their biggest goal threat after making no money off the players that have left the club. Ayr have already done quite a bit of business signing 5 players so far. Whether the signings made are going to pay off is another question.
The Honest Men have successfully got Ross Doohan back on loan from Celtic for another season. The Goalkeeper had a fantastic season with Ayr last year and he is looking to prove that he is not just a one season wonder. If the 21 year old does continue his form into the 2019-20 season it is very doubtful that he will be with Ayr for 3 seasons in a row – Again showing the unfortunate reality for many lower league clubs, which is the fact they can’t look more than one or two season ahead of time, forward planning isn’t easy.
The signing of centre midfielder Stephen Kelly is very exciting for not just Ayr but the Championship in general. The 19-year-old Rangers loanee is considered to be rangers biggest prospect in the youth system. Although this will be the centre midfielder’s first season as part of a professional team, it will be great to see what the future of Scottish Football could look like.
The third and final loan signing of the summer is Aberdeen’s Frank Ross. The attacking-midfielder made only 2 appearances for Aberdeen last and at the age of 21 he is really needing first team football. Although it is only a 6 month deal, Ayr is the perfect platform for him to show off his skill set. He had a relatively successful spell in the Championship two seasons ago whilst on loan to Morton. With just one year left in his contract this move is really make or break for Ross’ career at Aberdeen.
Their first permanent signing of the summer was Sam Roscoe from Aberdeen on a 2 year deal. The 21-year-old impressed whilst on loan to Alloa last season, appearing 23 times. Roscoe looks as though he will fill the shoes of Michael Rose at centre back. He is a very promising signing for Ayr. If he has another solid season in the championship his value will go shooting up.
The second permanent signing and final new face to arrive at Somerset Park is Kris Doolan, who has signed a 1 year deal. The forward scored 6 goals in 39 appearances for Partick Thistle last season. The 32-year-old is a questionable signing for the Honest Men especially when they are desperate for an out an out goalscorer. Mcall will be hoping that the goal burden will be shared throughout the team rather than putting the pressure on one player. However, Doolan has had 3 goal contributions in 2 games so far in the league cup so maybe he will prove us wrong.
For the fans sake Ayr should really be looking to bring in more players, especially a forward who is a quality finisher because they lack one in the squad right now. Although they have brought in young players , 3 of them are on loan and are only short term solutions to a huge problem – although admittedly this is a common issue for lower league sides, as we touched upon.
Ayr have lost the core of their strong side and have replaced them with short term unproven talent. It’s a huge risk for Ayr, it could be a stroke of genius or an absolute disaster. Sam Roscoe and Ross Doohan are smart signings, they are proven at that level and are fantastic additions. Stephen Kelly and Frank Ross are both huge risks due to the fact that neither have really had long term experience in a professional side. Kelly is an extremely talented player and could take the championship by storm however, Ross has had a very average spell on loan at Morton and only appeared 5 times in 2 years for Aberdeen. Kris Doolan seems like a pointless signing. 6 goals in almost 40 games is a shocking return considering that Shankland scored 34 goals in 41 appearances. Shankland scored more than all Ayr’s strikers (including Doolan) combined last season.
The obvious aim for Ayr is obviously to continue to press for those play-off spots, they need to show they’ve replaced talent with equally skilled players this season and try and replicate last term – as hard as that could be with the budget they posses. However, even just challenging for the play-off’s, but not quite reaching them, and bringing through their next star players could be considered a success for the honest men.
The loss of the core could see the Honest Men drop out of the play off places, especially because they have not recruited the right replacement for their main goal threat. Without goals they will struggle to show the form they did last season. I expect Ayr to finish just outside the play-off spots. If they are extremely lucky they maybe grab fourth but I don’t see that happening unless they have something up their sleeve.