“If I was given a half-term report card, I would say ‘room for improvement’."

That was the honest assessment of Ayr United's season so far as manager Lee Bullen took the time to review the campaign to date with the Advertiser.

The Honest Men lie in mid-table in an incredibly tight Scottish Championship battle.

And while Ayr may not have reached the heights of this time last season - when they were challenging for the title for the whole campaign, only to miss out in the promotion play-off semi-finals - Bullen remains hopeful that the best is yet to come in 2024.

He told the Advertiser: "We’ve had our fair share of injuries in vital areas of our team, especially right at the beginning of the season when we lost three of your four central midfielders within the space of a week.

“You’re bringing in new lads, having to bed them in, they have to understand the way you want to play, the way their teammates play.

“We were always going to get a bit of inconsistent results – and so it proved.”

But results, and performances, have started to turn around in recent weeks - with United looking much more assured at the back, something Bullen says will be key to climbing the table in the new year.

"Slowly but surely we are getting people back," the manager continued. 

"The last few games have been much more consistent performances.

“Defensively we are looking a lot more secure and solid. Some of the goals we have conceded recently have just been sloppy mistakes - other than that we have defended really well.

”I think, and I hope, the consistency levels will continue the way they are going, but this league has a way of telling you differently.

“When you think you’ve got it sussed that’s when you’ve got big problems.”

At the other end of the pitch, Bullen says he's been impressed with how his side have gone about plugging the gap left by the departure of last season's top scorer, Dipo Akinyemi, for York City in the summer.

"That was always going to be the toughest thing to replace," he said. 

"I think the aim was trying to replace that three to five players who could all chip in with eight to ten goals.

“I’ve been relatively pleased with the way they have been spread round, but Anton [Dowds] coming in has given us a big lift.

"He’s been a good addition to support the young boys he’s got in those forward positions.”

Ayr Advertiser: Anton Dowds has been a standout performer for Ayr so far this season.Anton Dowds has been a standout performer for Ayr so far this season. (Image: Charlie Gilmour Photography)

Dowds was not the only summer signing coming in for praise as Bullen reflected on the positive impact of much of the club's transfer business.

He said: “It’s all about consistency, making sure we are hard to beat in games, ensure we are creating opportunities.

"Ultimately, more often than not, I feel we do have the individuals who can get us over the line.

“Getting those boys back from injury - your Musondas, Murphys, McGeadys - getting Jack Young and Roy Syla up to speed, and then bringing in Anton Dowds to support the other young lads up the top end of the pitch.

“That’s all been different pieces of the jigsaw that we’ve had to put together that we weren’t able to do at the beginning of the season.

“Roy Syla has been magnificent, Jack Young’s come back in and was magnificent against Airdrie, big Jay [Senga] has been magnificent whenever he has taken part, and Paul Smith's coming through and has had a big impact.

“I’m really happy with the way they have progressed - and getting Ben Dempsey back was massive – he’s a stalwart in there for us.”

While Ayr's immediate aim is to move up the table in the new year, the Championship table is so tight that Bullen is only too well aware of how easily Ayr could be dragged into a relegation dogfight.

“Our target at the beginning of the season was trying to be up there and push for the play-offs," he said, "and that won’t change.

“The way the league is going I don’t think we are ever going to be out of that scenario as everybody is sort of cutting each other's throats.

“But I also don’t think we will ever be out of the scenario where there is a potential you could get involved in a relegation battle – because it is that tight.

“That’s how ridiculous the league is, and that’s how it’s going to be until the end of the season.

“One thing we can’t do is get complacent, but we can still be confident of having an impact up the way, rather than down the way.”