After a valiant effort, United were knocked out of the League Cup by Scottish Premiership new boys Partick Thistle.
In front of a vociferous away support Marko’s men fought strongly throughout and could count themselves unlucky not to take the game into extra time after dominating for long periods of play.
Following their progression in the Ramsdens Cup, Roberts made one change from the side that defeated Queen’s Park with Anthony Marenghi replacing the suspended Robbie Crawford.
United started the match well and were unfortunate to concede after 12 minutes through a thunderous drive from right back Stephen O’ Donnell.
Despite going down a goal, United didn’t let it affect them with Craig Malcolm going close after 16 minutes. Michael Moffat was involved in neat build up play on the edge of the box and saw his deflected shot slip through to Malcolm who crashed a looping shot against the crossbar.
United looked extremely organised in defence in the first half but suffered a blow early on when Martyn Campbell had to retire with a knock in place of Josh McArthur.
Michael Donald was impressive throughout for Ayr and went close after half an hour when he unleashed a fearsome 30 yard shot which bounced inches wide.
Michael Moffat was also close to having his name on the score sheet after Aaron Taylor-Sinclair thumped the ball clear just as the striker was ready to prod home.
In the second half, United continued to impose themselves on the game with Michael Moffat posing a threat again. The cult hero embarked on a 20 yard dash with the ball, slaloming his way towards goal but saw his shot fly wide of the target.
The home side had to wait until the final 15 minutes before they could build any pressure in the second period, with Piccolo heading off the bar while substitute Sean Welsh had a nodded effort cleared off the goal-line by Marenghi.
A second Thistle goal arrived as Stevie Lawless picked out Balatoni at the near post to steer a header into the far corner of the net.
As the game neared to a close, Roberts fielded Shankland in place of Malcolm and the move paid off with the 18 year old making an immediate impact.
Scott McLaughlin’s pinpoint cross was met by the head of the youngster who nodded beyond the stranded Scott Fox.
United then had their tails up and were agonisingly close to drawing level in the final moment of play when Shankland slid a shot against the upright much to the angst of the travelling fans
Despite exiting the League Cup, Mark Roberts saw plenty of positives to take.
He said: “I thought the boys were brilliant. Our team shape was superb and we had eight or nine chances in the game.
“We are obviously disappointed we’re out of the cup but there are so many positives to take.
“If the guys play like that regularly in the league then I can guarantee we’ll win more games than we’ll lose this season.
“Mikey McGowan and Martyn Campbell both went off with niggles but it is nothing serious.
“We’ve worked very hard on being harder to beat and on that evidence, our work has paid off.”
Scorer, Mark Shankland said: “Partick Thistle are a top side and the boys were excellent.
“We should have taken the game to extra time though which is disappointing.
“I knew in pre-season that I would have to fight to play regularly and take my chances when they came along so I was delighted to come on and score.
“It was unusual that my goal was a header as I don’t score many of them!
“In the dying moments I hit the post which was frustrating as I think I hit the ball too well. I thought it was going to hit the inside of the post and bounce in but unfortunately that wasn’t the case.”
Partick Thistle: Fox, O’Donnell, Taylor Sinclair, Piccolo, Kerr, Balatoni, Osbourne (Welsh), Elliott (Bannigan), Baird, Forbes (Mukendi), Lawless. Subs: Gallacher, Bannigan, Mukendi, Welsh, Craigen.
Ayr United: Hutton, Hunter, Pope, Campbell (McArthur), Lithgow, McLaughlin, McGowan (Forrest), Marenghi, Moffat, Malcolm (Shankland), Donald. Subs: Shankland, Forrest, McArthur, Roberts, Muir.
Referee- Iain Brines
By Michael Lamont