Lawrence Shankland, their four-goal hero, starred as rampant Ayr United strengthened their grip on pole position in the Championship with this thumping Tannadice triumph.
Shankland stole the show for Ian McCall’s league leaders with a first-half double before netting another two towards the end allied to Michael Moffat’s 78th-minute strike which dumped shell-shocked Dundee United.
Swansea and Sunderland-target Shankland struck in just two minutes before adding a second in 41 minutes to further increase his stock ahead of next month’s transfer window, and Moffat also got in on the act prior to Shankland’s late double which included a penalty.
The 23-year-old was too hot to handle for the toiling Tangerines who tasted defeat for the first time in seven games under Robbie Neilson as Ayr moved five points clear of second-top Ross County and six ahead of last night’s opponents.
There was a decent crowd inside Tannadice to generate a lively enough atmosphere in time for kick-off in front of the television cameras.
The home fans were boosted by the sight of skipper Fraser Fyvie back in midfield after missing the Alloa game through injury.
But they were stunned by the Honest Men’s whirlwind start.
A quick free-kick released Daniel Harvie down the left and his cross eluded the entire Tangerines defence, allowing Shankland to plant a header past helpless Benjamin Siegrist.
It was a Shankland’s 23 goal in as many matches this season and minutes later he almost grabbed his second of the night.
This time midfielder Andy Geggan did the donkey work with a weighted pass for Shankland to run on to, only for the Somerset talisman to clip his effort just wide of the far post.
Neilson’s men were toiling and suffered a further blow in 13 minutes.
Swiss keeper Siegrist has been struggling, and a hip injury meant he was replaced by Matej Rakovan between the sticks.
These were worrying times for the hosts who were lucky not to fall further behind in 24 minutes.
Declan McDaid went on a surging run into the box and unleashed an effort which Rakovan parried, only to see Moffat struggle to keep down his shot from the rebound as it sailed over the bar.
It was all-Ayr. Two minutes later, Shankland skinned three United defenders before seeing his shot saved by Rakovan, who then had to be called upon to thwart the big forward from netting the rebound with his head.
Shankland was unstoppable by this point. Just after the hour mark, the Somerset star danced past both William Edjenguele and Rachid Bouhenna, and again Rakovan had to look lively to smother his low left-foot drive from inside the box.
United were anonymous as an attacking force and took until the 34th minute to carve out their first decent opportunity.
Fraser Aird advanced down the right and his cross picked out Paul McMullan whose header from close-range was straight at Ross Doohan who gathered comfortably.
However, Ayr extended their lead four minutes before the interval in simple fashion.
McDaid once more found space out wide and wasted no time in crossing for Shankland and he did the rest with a tap-in from inside the six-yard box.
The hosts tried to throw themselves a lifeline right after the break with McMullan setting up Aird whose back-post effort went wide.
Ayr, though, should have killed the contest in 57 minutes. Moffat raced clear of the United defence but instead of squaring for McDaid, he elected to go himself and Rakovan saved with his legs.
Neilson’s men huffed and puffed without creating too many scoring opportunities as McMullan’s 77th-minute drive from distance went harmlessly past the post.
But Ayr executed matters with twelve minutes left when Moffat latched on to Geggan’s pass and stayed cool to finish low past Rakovan. Shankland claimed his third from the spot four minutes from time after Moffat had been fouled by Edjenguele, before netting a solo fourth right at the end.
Dundee United: Siegrist 4 (Rakovan 13, 2), Booth 5, McMullan 5, Fyvie 5, King 4 (Curran 46, 5) Stanton 6, Safranko 5, Bouhenna 5, Edjenguele 5, Aird 6, Watson 6
Ayr United: Doohan 7, Harvie 7 (Ecrepont 90, 1) Rose 7, Geggan 7 (McGuffie 86, 1) Moffat 8, Crawford 7, McDaid 8, Bell 7, Shankland 9, Murdoch 7, Smith 7
Referee: Don Robertson 7
Source : HeraldScotland