AYR United boss Lee Bullen says the Honest Men are in "much better position" than this time last year ahead of the start of the new Championship season.

Bullen's optimism comes despite the departure of last season's top scorer Dipo Akinyemi for York City during the close season.

Akinyemi scored 20 times for the Honest Men last season and won the Championship's player of the season prize at the end of the campaign -  though Bullen is confident goals from elsewhere in the squad can help them press on in the 2023/24 campaign.

He spoke to the Advertiser following United's 6-0 win over Alloa on Saturday in their final group stage fixture in the Viaplay Cup.

The result saw Ayr finish top of Group A - with Sunday's draw for the last 16 handing Bullen's men a tough away tie against Premiership side Livingston.

Ayr Advertiser: Lee Bullen spoke to the Advertiser ahead of the start of the Championship season.Lee Bullen spoke to the Advertiser ahead of the start of the Championship season. (Image: Charlie Gilmour Photography)

He said: “When you do well, other clubs come sniffing about your players, and you’ve always got to fight against that.

“One aspect we looked at, in relation to losing Dipo, is we wanted to get goals from a lot more areas of the park – and not just depend on one talisman up top.

“If we could get four or five players chipping in with 30 or 40 goals all in, then I think the club is in a much better position than being solely dependent on one top goal scorer.

“I think the first couple of games in the cup have proved that we seem to be doing that okay – it’s very pleasing from our point of view of what to expect next season.”

Ayr Advertiser: Bullen is confident his side can be in a better place despite the loss of last season's top goal scorer Dipo AkinyemiBullen is confident his side can be in a better place despite the loss of last season's top goal scorer Dipo Akinyemi (Image: Roddy Mackenzie/Final Whistle Media)

United enjoyed a fantastic season last year, finishing in second place before a play-off humbling against Partick Thistle.

And with the new season beginning on Saturday as United face Morton at Cappielow, Bullen is setting his sights high once again.

He told the Advertiser: “Target wise, we’d love to be in a similar position pushing up towards the play-off places.

“The league, on paper, looks stronger this season. I think people will treat Ayr United slightly differently from the way they did at the beginning of last season because of how well we’ve done.

“Also, fan expectation levels will go up – from all those aspects it’s going to be a lot more difficult for us, but we’re quite happy with where we are.

“From this point last season we’re probably slightly ahead of where we were.

“We’re hopeful, but we also know the Championship can give you a bloody nose if you suddenly get above your station.”

Ayr's summer signings include former Celtic, Sunderland and Hibernian star Aiden McGeady and ex St Johnstone midfielder Jamie Murphy - both of whom bring international experience to the Somerset squad - along with strikers Franny Amartey and Ahkeem Rose, former England youth captain Olly Pendlebury, and New Zealand U20 and U23 international George Stanger.

But Bullen is still hopeful new more experience additions to his squad could add the missing piece to take the Honest Men to the next stage.

He added: “Identifying and reviewing last season as a whole, to finish second place shows just how far the club’s come.

"It's been fantastic - probably further than we thought we’d come.

"I think the play-offs proved how far we’ve still got to go.

“In those play-off games, Partick’s experience of being in and around those play-offs for two or three years certainly proved a deciding factor.

“We identified hopefully getting one or two more experienced heads in the door and Aiden [McGeady] and Jamie [Murphy] certainly tick that box.

“We’re really pleased - they will certainly help the young group of players we have in the building.

“We’re hoping that if we do become as successful as we were last season and push towards the play-offs then that experience could be vital.”

First and foremost, the target is to get off to the perfect start with three points on Saturday at 3pm.

Bullen said: “Last year we got off to a wonderful start in the season and then found ourselves at the top end of the league all season.

“It’s vitally important to get off to a good start in any league, but I’m sure Morton will be thinking the same."