Billy Mckay’s hat-trick secured a vital 3-2 victory for Ross County over Ayr United, which keeps them five points clear at the top of the Championship.
The Staggies came into the match with one change from the side that fought back from two goals down on Saturday to thwart Partick Thistle 4-2 at Firhill, Tom Grivosti coming into the side from the start in place of the injured Andy Boyle.
County threatened from the off with skipper Marcus Fraser winning a corner on the right hand side within the opening 60 seconds. Josh Mullin’s whipped delivery was cleanly met by the head of Grivorsti, but Ayr goalkeeper Ross Doohan goal produced a fine save to tip the ball around his right post.
Josh Mullin squandered a golden opportunity in the 26th minute after a neat through ball from Michael Gardyne found the winger with a shooting opportunity inside the 18-yard-box, but Doohan again produced a fantastic save to block Mullin’s low driven shot.
Jamie Lindsay sent an inviting diagonal pass into the path of Mullin on the right, who after controlling finely, sent a rasping drive towards the target, but found only the side netting after 30 minutes.
The Staggies produced the best chance of the opening period after 34 minutes after an enticing cross from The Honest Men fell for the home side to produce a counter-attacking move. Gardyne and Mckay linking together in a one-two move before Gardyne sent a wonderfully struck effort high on goal from 25 yards that was tipped over by Doohan.
From the resultant corner a spot of pinball occurred on the edge of the visitors 18-yard-box, before Lindsay sent a looping ball into the heart of the Ayr box, with Mckay showing great composure and talent to kill the ball with a deft touch, before calmly stroking home to open the evenings scoring.
The Staggies nearly doubled their advantage bang on the stroke of half time, Mckay turning provider for Mullin, whose side footed effort clipped the top of the crossbar and fell behind Doohan’s goal.
The visitors started the second half brightly and would level this encounter in the 62nd minute, Liam Smith robbing the ball from Lindsay before cutting the ball back to the prolific Shankland to smash in his 31st goal of the season.
The home side pressed forward with substitute Brian Graham proving influential in two attacks in the 65th minute, first slipping in Mullin whose low driven shot was cleared off the line by the visiting defence, before Graham’s knockdown fell into the path of Mckay from the resultant corner, but Doohan again produced a fantastic save to deny the Staggies striker a second.
Mckay wasn’t to be denied in the 70th minute though, sending a ferocious finesse shot from the edge of the 18-yard-box into the top right corner following a lay off from Jamie Lindsay.
Again Ayr fought back and levelled the game once more in the 74th minute, Andy Murdoch heading in from close range after the ball was diverted into his path from Moffat after Shankland turned provider, whipping in a cross from the right side.
County regained the lead a minute later, Mckay securing his third of the evening but injuring himself in the process. Ayr keeper Doohan did well to deny Keith Watson’s header from a lofted free-kick from the left, with Mckay nipping in at the left hand post to knock the ball home.
In the act, Mckay landed awkward and required to leave the pitch immediately with what appeared to be an arm injury, with Declan McManus introduced to the fold in the attacker’s place.
Both sides produced chances in the closing period, however, it was the Staggies who held on for all three points in what was a spirited and hearty performance from both sides.