It was back to the bad old days for Dundee United as they were hammered by league leaders Ayr United at Tannadice.
It was only Robbie Neilson’s first defeat in seven games so perhaps it would be wrong to be too harsh on him or his players.
Nevertheless, this 5-0 drubbing was worse even than the Ross County loss that signalled the end for his predecessor Csaba Laszlo.
In truth, they were played off the park by Ian McCall’s impressive team.
Everything had looked great for United…until the game started.
Talk of the proposed American investment had resurfaced on the morning of the match and the fans had turned out. There was even a flag display to welcome the players on to the pitch.
However, Ayr in general and four-goal Lawrence Shankland in particular spoiled their Friday night under the floodlights.
The Tangerines suffered a huge blow on just three minutes when Shankland scored his 23rd of a brilliant season with a header.
Ayr were 2-0 up four minutes before half-time when Shankland netted his 24th with a tap-in then Mike Moffat grabbed an excellent third on 78 minutes. Shankland made it four from the spot three minutes from time. It was five when the striker shot from close range with a minute to go.
The Tangerines had made a couple of changes to the side that started against Alloa.
As expected, captain Fraser Fyvie was back in midfield in place of Christoph Rabitsch, who dropped down to the bench.
Also, Billy King was handed a jersey as frontman Nicky Clark missed out completely.
United made a terrible start, to put it mildly.
There were just three minutes on the clock when a freekick out on the left saw the home side switch off. Daniel Harvie made the most of the time and space to send over a deflected cross that sailed over defender William Edjenguele’s head and was nodded home by Shankland.
He almost made the Tangerines suffer again just three minutes later when he ran into the box and chipped the ball towards the back post but the ball stayed out of the net.
Home goalkeeper Benjamin Siegrist suffered an injury in that incident and was eventually replaced by Matej Rakovan on 13 minutes.
United nearly got a goal back on 16 minutes when Fraser Aird’s low corner was driven over the bar by Fyvie.
Declan McDaid fired over for the Honest Men on 22 minutes then the same player brought a fine stop out of Rakovan before Moffat sent the loose ball over the bar.
The Tangerines were looking vulnerable at the back and they were lucky to escape when Shankland rampaged towards Rakovan’s net on 26 minutes but couldn’t convert.
United’s Sam Stanton had a shocker on 32 minutes when he gave the ball away in midfield, raced back to try and retrieve it and only succeeded in teeing up Shankland for a shot that, thankfully for him, was saved.
Rakovan saved a Shankland header a minute later as the visitors continued to play well.
United, though, had a great chance to equalise on 34 minutes when a move up the right saw Aird pick out the unmarked McMullan with a cross but the wee man’s header was held by goalie Ross Doohan.
Shankland almost ghosted in at the back post on 39 minutes as the Tangerines’ defensive jitters continued.
A miserable first half for the Tannadice side was rounded off on 42 minutes when Shankland swept a shot home from a couple of yards after connecting with McDaid’s cross from the left.
It was an excellent move from a fine team.
Fyvie tried his luck with a freekick from the edge of the area but it flew over the bar and the visitors took a deserved 2-0 lead into the dressing room with them.
The hosts, who had brought on Craig Curran for the ineffective King at the break, started the second period brightly.
Aird probably should have done better at the back post when he was found by McMullan’s cross from the left but he could only clip his volley over.
Rakovan rode to the rescue on 57 minutes when he got his body in the way of a shot from a charging Moffat.
On 62 minutes, Paul Watson headed an Aird freekick wide for United then as United started to look a bit more threatening.
McMullan pulled a shot wide with a quarter of an hour to go but the next strike came from the visitors on 78 minutes and it was a beauty.
It was painful for the home fans to watch as they were cut open at the back again, with Moffat taking a terrific first touch before slamming the ball past Rakovan.
Shankland rubbed it in late on with a penalty in off the post after Rakovan fouled Moffat before the same player piled even more misery on United with his fourth and his team’s fifth.
Dundee United: Siegrist (Rakovan 13), Booth, McMullan, Fyvie, King (Curran 46), Stanton, Safranko, Bouhenna, Edjenguele, Aird, Watson. Subs not used: Murdoch, Frans, Smith, Robson, Rabitsch.
Ayr United: Doohan, Harvie (Ecrepont 90), Rose, Geggan (McGuffie 86), Moffat, Crawford, McDaid, Bell, Shankland, Murdoch, Smith. Subs not used: Hare-Reid, Higgins, Ferguson, Docherty, McCowan.
Referee: Don Robertson.