United top Group F and progress to the next round of the Betfred Cup after beating Stranraer on penalties at Somerset Park on Saturday. Darryl Duffy's early opener for the Blues was cancelled out by Luke McCowan in the second half. The shoot-out went into sudden death with Thomas Orr the unfortunate taker.
Manager Mark Kerr made three changes to the starting line-up. Michael Hewitt, Michael Miller and Dario Zanatta came in for Andy Murdoch, Patrick Reading, who was on international duty with the Scotland U21, and Cammy Smith who is cup tied.
Stranraer got off to a perfect start and opened the scoring with just a minute played. Darryl Duffy, who only came into the starting 11 as a late replacement for the injured Andy Stirling, picked up a rebound off Thomas Orr in the box and slipped the ball under Michael Hewitt and into the bottom left corner.
Ayr came agonisingly close to a quick equaliser on seven mins when Joe Chalmer delivered a floating corner and Jack Baird rose to meet it but saw his effort headed away on the line.
It could have been 0-2 on 11 mins when Stranraer were awarded a penalty following Hewitt being deemed to have upended Ruari Paton. Duffy stepped up to take it but his shot clattered off the crossbar and over.
While Ayr managed to hold their opponents at bay, they lacked intensity going forward and struggled to create something in the final third.
It was not until stoppage time that the Honest Men had another decent chance. Luke McCowan crossed in a high ball from the left that met Bruce Anderson for a header from ten yards, but Blues keeper and former United man Greg Fleming tipped the ball over the bar at full stretch and Ayr went into half time with a 0-1 disadvantage.
Strong words from manager Kerr had an early impact after the restart as United equalised within two minutes. McCowan found himself free in front of goal with a cross-field pass from Michael Moffat and, despite calls for offside, he rounded Fleming to score.
Ayr displayed a vastly improved performance and had decent efforts through Baird and McCowan but failed to find a goal.
The visitors also wasted great chances to secure the win in normal time through Duffy and Orr and with a stalemate after 90 mins, the game went into to a penalty shoot-out for the bonus point.
Anderson, Moffat, Chalmers, Mark McKenzie and McCowan all converted for United while James Hilton, Duffy, Adam Cummins, Joao Victoria and Paton all found the net for Stranraer. The shoot-out went into sudden death mode and while Michael Miller put his shot past Fleming, Orr's spot kick flew wide off the right post.