They triumphed here in last season’s Championship play-offs and while this second victory of the season over Caley Thistle swung in vital second-half seconds, it was emphatic and deserved by the end.
The only bad taste left in the mouth from the hosts’ perspective was a clear swung elbow from Lawrence Shankland, later claiming his 18th club goal of the season from the spot, on Jamie McCart.
United face neighbours Dundee on Friday having dug out nine valuable points in seven days, with this win more precious than most. “Everyone was asking questions externally after losing three away games,” manager Robbie Neilson said. “This win shows the bottle we’ve got. We’ve come to one of the hardest places in the league and got a 3-0 result.
“It shows what we’re capable of. We had 780 fans up today, backing us to the hilt, and the players have sent them down the road very happy.”
In battering rain, United found their stride first and were ahead after 20 minutes.
Paul McMullan took the ball on the right and a low-smashed ball across goal was heading for the prowling Nicky Clark and Shankland, before Shaun Rooney stabbed into the roof of the net off the woodwork.
A minute later, the hosts were raging as Shankland took out defender McCart with a swung elbow. Unsighted referee Grant Irvine kept all cards firmly in his pocket after consulting with the linesman.
Caley Thistle’s only first half chance came five minutes before the break, James Keatings losing his balance as he struck.
Two Mark Ridgers saves within six minutes kept Caley Thistle in the game early in the second half, but United then hit them with a four-minute double to seal the game.
The home defence backed off as Ian Harkes threaded the ball forward and Clark gleefully smashed home a 12-yard finish after 72 minutes.
Then Liam Smith was taken down on the right side of the box by Miles Storey and Shankland sent Ridgers the wrong way from the spot.
“The game changes in the blink of an eye,” said home manager John Robertson, referring to the Keatings miss and Clark goal.
“United were slightly slicker in their passing and movement and definitely more clinical.
“For the Shankland incident, I don’t blame the referee. We’ve seen it on video and the referee is blindsided. However, his assistant is standing ten yards away and should have seen a clear elbow.”