PARTICK Thistle moved to within a point of third-placed Inverness with this emphatic victory, a result which hoisted them into fourth in the Championship, above Arbroath on goal difference.

They also stretched their undefeated sequence to five games in which they have not conceded a goal. As assistant-manager Alan Archibald pointed out afterwards, the division is now splitting in two, with Arbroath now 11 points clear of Ayr in sixth.

“We were fantastic,” he said. “It was a brilliant professional performance from the lads. We settled down after the first 15 minutes and played some good football: we thoroughly deserved the win.

“It was a bit scrappy at the start and they had a half-chance but we went on to dominate the game. It was another good away display, building on the win at Kilmarnock last week. We have goals in the team and we’ve shown that.

“Ayr have had some impressive results recently but this was down to us. The goals were welcome but we’re delighted with the clean sheet as well. The league’s starting to open up, with the top half splitting away from the bottom half. It’s very competitive.”  

Ayr manager Jim Duffy fielded the same team which twice came from behind to draw with Inverness here last weekend while Thistle’s Ian McCall replaced Connor Murray with leading goalscorer Brian Graham and defender Lewis Mayo with Ciaran McKenna from the starting XI which beat leaders Kilmarnock at Rugby Park.

It took 13 minutes for the first goalmouth incident of any note, when an inviting cross from Mark McKenzie was met by inrushing left-back Patrick Reading, who headed over from the far corner of the six-yard box.

At the other end, Graham failed to hit the target from 12 yards and it required a brave (and painful) block from Markus Fjortoft to keep out a netbound drive from Scott Tiffoney as Thistle finally found their bearings.

The breakthrough, when it came, carried a sizeable slice of good fortune but it was well-deserved nonetheless. Fjortoft’s clumsy challenge on Zak Rudden earned the visitors a free-kick on the edge of the penalty area. Ross Docherty’s effort was heading for the bottom left-hand corner when it took a deflection off Jonathan Afolabi to wrong-foot goalkeeper Aidan McAdams.

United were still attempting to regroup when Thistle doubled their advantage two minutes later, with Graham somehow managing to make space for himself to volley home Tiffoney’s outswinging corner form six yards, a goal rapturously received by the 716 travelling supporters. 

The hosts’ best chance of the second half also fell to Reading early on, who once again stole in at the far post to connect with Tomi Adeloye’s delivery but, at full stretch, he skied his shot. The gulf between the sides was underlined with two late goals. Graham concluded a fine passing move by heading home Ciaran McKenna’s cross and substitute Shea Gordon drove home the fourth from Stuart Bannigan’s low cross.

“We were beaten by the better side but the scoreline was harsh,” said Duffy. “We played pretty well until we gave away a terrible goal going through our wall, which was horrendous. Then we lost a second quickly after failing to mark one of the most potent strikers in the division.

“That gave them the opportunity to control the game. They’re very well organised and their front two are a handful for anyone. However, when you’re on the end of a scoreline like this, especially at home, you deserve criticism.

“I know they have quality but we shouldn’t be losing as heavily as that. We need to do better.”