Inverness v Ayr United

Scottish Championship. Kick-off: 3pm Saturday August 11th.

THEY'VE been the punters' pal with five wins from five, but newly-promoted Ayr United face another stern test of their early credentials this Saturday.

Ian McCall's free-flowing outfit were a money machine during last season's record-breaking run to the League One title.

All told the Honest Men racked up an incredible 124 goals and 80 per cent of their games breached the over 2.5 goals barrier with ease in what was a memorable campaign at Somerset Park.

And they've shown no sign of slowing this term with 14 goals in their first five outings, including two impressive wins over relegated Partick Thistle.

Central to that success has been the form of Scotland's form striker, Lawrence Shankland, who hit 29 goals last term and has already struck the net nine times this season.

Shrewd backers have been lumping on the former Aberdeen hitman at some pretty fanciful prices in the anytime scorer markets but it's doubtful how long the layers will allow themselves to be caught on the hop.

Ayr go into this as undoubted underdogs but anyone who watched them outplay Thistle in both the Betfred Cup and league opener will be keen to back them at a tasty 18-5 (McBookie).

Ayr haven't ventured to the Highlands on league business since 2010 – a demonstration of the wilderness in which United have found themselves – but there is a lot of belief around Somerset Park this term.

The acid test of their early-season exploits will be coming up against a well-drilled Inverness side who look good bets to go close in the Championship title race.

John Robertson's men flirted with the wrong end of the table last season before embarking on a thrilling end to the campaign which almost resulted in the play-offs.

And had they reached that stage, there is every chance they could have gone up, such was the momentum they had built up in the final quarter of the season.

While Highland neighbours Ross County and troubled Dundee United head the title market, it may be Inverness are the far more settled option, and in Robertson they have by far the most steady pair of hands in the dugout.

An opening-day win at Falkirk was solid if unspectacular and it is those kind of results that make all the difference come the end of the season for those with Championship aspirations.

However, in Ayr they will face a team playing without any fear and one which has not only stayed true to its attacking intent from last season, but boasts the country's hottest striker.

Ayr have slapped a £250,000 price tag on Shankland's head and he is no longer the best kept secret that ran riot in League One.

But United are no one-man team and other rising stars such as midfielder Robbie Crawford are among those with a list of suitors.

The evens about Ayr +1 on the handicap looks fair enough value and a speculative punt about plenty of goals in the Highland capital should give us a run for our money with the visitors likely to favour an open game.

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