Dundee United didn’t exactly dazzle in the Somerset Park floodlights but they grabbed a decent point against Ayr.
The Tangerines had needed to bounce back from their dismal defeat to Dunfermline and they did so, albeit with a modest goalless draw.
With second-placed Inverness Caley Thistle grabbing a late winner against Alloa, that meant their lead at the top of the Championship was reduced to 16 points but this was still a reasonable result for United.
Watched by 406 loyal travelling fans, the Tangerines had made the couple of changes promised by boss Robbie Neilson. Out of the side that flopped in Fife went Jamie Robson and Peter Pawlett. In came captain Mark Reynolds and Paul McMullan. That meant a defensive three-cum-four, similar to the formation away to Partick Thistle in January.
The home team made only one change, with Aaron Muirhead coming in to be a holding midfielder in place of Connor Malley.
On five minutes, the Tangerines had the first chance of the game when McMullan’s cross form the right was glanced wide by Ian Harkes.
Just a minute later, Louis Appere showed neat feet to make room for himself inside the box but his cross-shot was saved by Ayr goalie Ross Doohan. Up at the other end, Alan Forrest blasted wide for the hosts.
United were spending plenty of time in the opposition half without making it pay and it was the Honest Men who threatened next on 18 minutes when Sam Roscoe’s looping header was plucked out of the air by keeper Benjamin Siegrist.
Luke McCowan then had the United defence backtracking on 27 minutes before unleashing a decent low shot that Siegrist did well to save.
It had been mediocre stuff from both sides but the visitors’ Rakish Bingham threatened to liven things up on 32 minutes when he sent a shot wide of the post from just inside the box.
The Tangerines found themselves stretched as Ayr broke up field but, thankfully for them, Stephen Kelly curled his shot wide of the far post.
United had their best chance of the first half just two minutes before the break. Harkes pushed a pass forward to Shankland inside the box and the striker rounded goalie Doohan.
The former Ayr man had been pushed too far to the left so instead of shooting he lifted a cross into the goalmouth for the inrushing McMullan, who was ruled to have fouled defender Daniel Harvie as he tried to head into the empty net.
Home player-boss Marr Kerr substituted himself at half-time, bringing on Michael Moffat.
United’s Bingham fired a forward pass into Harkes’ path on 51 minutes but the American was beaten to the ball by goalie Doohan.
Dillon Powers was delivering some excellent set-plays for the Tangerines and he placed a freekick on the head of Mark Connolly at the back post but the defender couldn’t make it count. At the other end of the pitch, Kelly fired a freekick over the United bar on 61 minutes.
Bingham was booked for handball and was replaced by sub Pawlett before Roscoe hooked the ball over the United bar.
The Tangerines had a fine chance on 67 minutes when Harkes found himself clear inside the box but he shot wide of the far post when it looked easier to hit the target.
Shankland raced towards the home box on 73 minutes but should have slipped in Pawlett to his right before the opportunity was gone.
The visitors suffered a setback on 75 minutes as McMullan hobbled off looking injured and had to be replaced by Rosbon.
Jordan Houston headed wide for Ayr four minutes later then Drinan, Harvie and Drinan again had decent late efforts on goal.
The match finished with the home side dominating but they couldn’t break down United’s solid defence.
Ayr United: Doohan, Houston, Kerr (Moffat 46), Forrest (Tiffoney 83), Harvie, Muirhead, Drinan, Kelly, Roscoe, McCowan (Malley 58), Bell. Subs not used: Hare-Reid, Smith, Gillespie, Murphy.
Dundee United: Siegrist, Smith, Powers, Connolly, Reynolds, McMullan, Bingham (Pawlett 65), Harkes, Shankland, Appere, Watson. Subs not used: Deniz, Sporle, Robson, Glass, Freeman, Neilson.
Referee: David Munro.