Arbroath manager Dick Campbell admitted to being shocked by the way his side capitulated to Ayr United, who scored three goals in five minutes early in the second half to secure a win which took them to the top of League One on goal difference ahead of Raith Rovers.
The Lichties spurned a host of first-half chances before the visitors took a 35th-minute lead through Lawrence Shankland.
The real damage was done between 53 and 58 minutes when a David Gold own goal, a strike from Shankland, and a cool finish by sub Craig Moore put the Honest Men out of sight.
“We should have been five ahead at half-time, but we weren’t. My grandson could have scored from some of the chances we made,” Campbell said.
“We didn’t defend, and I’m concerned about that because I think we have good defenders.
“So it’s back to the drawing board. I apologise to the home fans. It wasn’t acceptable today.
“But give Ian McCall credit. He was wily. He put three men up front in the second half, four at the back and three in midfield. We had four in midfield but still couldn’t get the ball.
“They played it in behind us and gave us problems and their finishing was excellent. They probably had five chances and scored from four.
“We had nine chances and scored one.”
The Lichties dominated the opening 30 minutes, with Bobby Linn, Tom O’Brien and Colin Hamilton all having narrow misses.
Linn came closest when he ended a flowing move involving O’Brien and Danny Denholm by blasting against Hart’s left-hand post.
The home side was made to pay for failing to capitalise when Ayr broke away and Shankland slotted the ball under David Hutton’s body to give his side an interval lead.
The Gayfield men continued to press at the start of the second half but the stuffing was knocked out of them by Ayr’s quickfire treble.
Arbroath continued to plug away, however, and enjoyed a small crumb of comfort when Gavin Swankie notched a consolation goal four minutes from the end.