Dundee United self-destructed at Tannadice as they threw away a lead in this Premiership play-off semi-final first leg against Livingston
It had all looked so promising for the Tangerines as they sat 2-1 up with just 13 minutes of the game to go.
However, they caved in at the back and handed an unlikely advantage to Livi while also losing skipper Willo Flood to a late red card.
There was a blistering start to the tie, with Rafa De Vita firing the away side into a second-minute lead and Thomas Mikkelsen levelling for United just 60 seconds later.
After the match had settled own a bit, the Tangerines made it 2-1 thanks to a deflected strike from Anthony Ralston on 28 minutes.
However, the walls came tumbling down on United as Livi scored on 77 minutes through Josh Mullin then Scott Pittman three minutes later, with the home team’s defending comical at times.
The Tangerines had made two changes to the line-up that kicked off against Dunfermline in the quarter-final on Friday night.
As expected, keeper Deniz’s cruciate ligament injury – he will probably be missing for the rest of the year – ruled him out and he was replaced by Harry Lewis.
Also, Paul McMullan dropped down to the bench and Mikkelsen took his spot.
Livi’s last game was at Tannadice on April 28 and they made a couple of changes to the side that lost 2-0 that day, bringing in Scott Robinson and De Vita.
United made a terrible start, losing a goal after just a couple of minutes.
They were cut open as the ball was played forward to De Vita by Robinson and the Italian blasted a low shot past the despairing hand of Lewis.
However, the hosts hit back within a minute, with Billy King crossing from the left and Mikkelsen smashing home a volley from 12 yards.
The action just kept on coming and it was Livi on the attack just seconds later when Mullin pulled a shot wide of the far post.
After such a frantic start the match had to settle down a bit and it wasn’t until the 17th-minute that Livi threatened next, with De Vita volleying over before being flagged for offside.
The visitors then had a claim for a penalty ignored by ref Nick Walsh when Robinson went down after United’s Stewart Murdoch attempted to clear, claiming he had been caught by the defender’s boot.
Robinson became the first player booked on 22 minutes when he hacked down United captain Flood.
There was pressure from the hosts when Ralston lobbed a cross into the box and Mikkelsen’s header was tipped over the bar by Livi goalie Neil Alexander.
United were now nice and composed and took the lead on 28 minutes.
It was a neat move that saw Sam Stanton spread the ball out to his right for Ralston to run on to and the on-loan Celtic man took a touch then fired a low shot that made it past Alexander with the aid of a deflection off Livi defender Jackson Longridge.
Just two minutes later, the visitors threatened to level when De Vita broke forward but could only fire into the side-netting. A Fraser shot missed the target, while Ralston almost grabbed his double just before the break, when he sent a strike just over.
The home team started the second period well, with Fraser prominent in most of their creative play.
They had a decent opening on 51 minutes when swung in a great cross from the right from Ralston but McDonald’s head flick didn’t quite have enough on it.
Livi were looking a bit ragged and there was a booking for Mullin when he hauled down King. Indeed, it looked at this stage like the visitors were barely hanging on but it was up to United to take advantage.
The away fans were singing “We are staying up,” which gave an insight into their ambitions for the season.
De Vita had a shot blocked on 69 minutes as the visitors continued to look for a leveller and the same player then made way for Nicky Cadden on 70 minutes.
United should have done better just a minute later when Mikkelsen cut in from the left and had the opportunity to send Fraser clear but the Dane overhit the pass.
Flood was booked for a foul on Robinson after the Tangerines needlessly surrendered possession from a decent attacking position.
United, who had just brought on Emil Lyng for King, then lost their lead on 77 minutes.
Mullin was the scorer, taking advantage of some dreadful United defending as Jamie Robson and Mohsni both failed to get in his way after he was played in by Pittman.
If that goal was a bad one, the next was awful.
Suddenly it was 3-2 Livi on 80 minutes as United messed around at the back before Murdoch slipped and on ran Pittman to first beat Mohsni then clip the ball beyond Lewis and into the net.
The home fans were stunned and it got even worse for them when Flood was sent off with three minutes left, earning a yellow then red card for pushing Shaun Byrne. The Irishman was in a foul mood as he left the pitch, shouting and bawling.
It was a sad end to the night for him and his team. There is still a second leg to go on Friday but the Tangerines will have a mountain to climb at the Tony Macaroni Arena.
Dundee United: Lewis, Murdoch, McDonald, Mikkelsen, Fraser, King (Lyng 76), Stanton, Flood, Robson, Ralston, Mohsni (Durnan 90). Subs not used: Donaldson, McMullan, Edjenguele, Slater, Gillespie.
Livingston: Alexander, Longridge (Thompson 89, Lithgow, Byrne, Mullin, Pittman, Robinson (Jacobs 79), Miller, De Vita (Cadden 70), Halkett, Gallagher. Subs not used: Maley, McMillan, Buchanan, Jacobs, Frizzell, Thompson.
Referee: Nick Walsh.