Caley Thistle’s fighting qualities never waned on Saturday but a little bit of belief certainly seemed to ebb away as a familiar scenario unfolded.
Nobody attuned to the match could deny the hosts were dominant in the first half, with wingers Logan Chalmers and Sam Pearson contributing greatly to a bright and energetic start that ultimately proved toothless.
The two January loanees were not alone in fading in effectiveness as events conspired against them once again.
It was a case of one chance, one goal for Ayr United before the break.
Sean McGinty silenced the home crowd with an all too easy header from a corner and Billy Dodds’ team were in recovery mode yet again.
In the second half, they simply lost their way against a side revitalised under new manager Lee Bullen.
Tomi Adeloye, just 90 seconds on the park, netted the second goal and, four minutes later, David Carson earned a second yellow card for a rash challenge on the goalscorer.
While young Lewis Nicolson trimmed the margin with four minutes left, there was no way back for the home side and boos rang out at the final whistle.
A ninth game without a win has left Caley Thistle seven points off leaders Arbroath with an extra game played, but still firmly embedded in promotion play-off territory.
How they crave a result to reignite a season that promised so much heading towards the winter period.
“I can understand the fans’ frustration, but I’m frustrated as well,” manager Dodds stressed.
“You can see the way it is going for the boys. I thought we were the better team in the first half.
“Ayr camp in, get the goal from the corner and, suddenly, a couple of our lads think ‘here we go again’.
“I just said to them at half-time, we can still win this – you deserve it.
“We’re not playing to our capabilities, I’m not going to kid you on, but we’re still in there fighting and battling to the end, even with 10 men.
“Two chances for Ayr today and they take the two of them. It is a kick in the stomach to a team not winning recently.”
Ayr’s 35th minute opener stung the hosts. Mark McKenzie forced a corner on the right and Kerr McInroy’s corner found skipper McGinty free to head home from inside the six-yard box.
Three minutes before the break, Chalmers’ strike drew a brilliant save down low from keeper Aidan McAdams.
Shane Sutherland then picked up the loose ball and teed up Billy Mckay, but he sent a deflected shot just wide.
The Honest Men grabbed their second after 64 minutes from a McInroy free-kick.
McKenzie’s strike from the right side of the box was diverted past MacKay by the knee of Adeloye, his first touch 90 seconds after entering the fray.
Carson received a second yellow card for what looked like a stamp on Adeloye and although young left-back Lewis Nicolson dragged it back to 2-1 four minutes from the end as an attempted cross hit the net, the points were lost.
Dodds was asked about the fans’ reaction before and after the full-time whistle, and whether he still had full backing at the club.
“We’ve got a lot of youth and inexperience within the squad, but ask the players, of course they are still with me. Otherwise, they wouldn’t keep giving what they have been giving, right to the end in matches,” he said.
“It’s just not going our way just now. It is not a great run of results, but anybody that knows me knows I keep going.”
🗣️ Head Coach Billy Dodds gives his thoughts following this afternoon's 2-1 defeat against Ayr United at the Caledonian Stadium.
— Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC (@ICTFC) February 19, 2022
Asked if he needed patience from the board and fans, Dodds agreed.
“I think that would be good,” he said. “We’ve shown our capabilities earlier in the season. It is up to me to keep the boys going.
“There’s a real team spirit here. If you know the boys you know they’ll keep going and get the win.
“It has to come soon – I’m not stupid – but when we get that win, I’m sure we’ll get ourselves right back in and about it.
“I’m not daft, I realise once you’re beaten again the fans are going to let you know. You take it on the chin.
“We’ve a group of boys who just need that we trigger to get them going.”
Caley Thistle (4-4-1-1) – MacKay 7; Duffy 5 (Hardy 71), Broadfoot 5, Deas 5, Harper 6 (Nicolson 78); Pearson 6 (Hyde 78), Carson 5, McAlear 6, Chalmers 7 (Doran 78); Sutherland 5 (Samuels 65); Mckay 5. Subs: Esson.
Ayr United (4-4-1-1) – McAdams 7; Houston 5 (Rowe 62), Muirhead 6, McGinty 7, Reading 6; McKenzie 7 (Gondoh 90), Murdoch 6, McInroy 8, Maxwell 6 (O’Connor 90); Dempsey 6 (Smith 90); Ashford 6 (Adeloye 62). Subs: Albinson, Baird, Fjortoft, Bryden.
Referee: Kevin Clancy 6
Man of the match: Kerr McInroy