Lawrence Shankland turned in a remarkable four-goal display as rampant Ayr United strengthened their grip on pole position in the Championship with this clinical Tannadice triumph.
Shankland stole the show for Ian McCall’s league leaders with a first-half double before netting another two towards the end of the match. In between, Michael Moffat scored in the 78th minute as Dundee United were left reeling.
Shankland, 23, was way too hot to handle for the 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 United.
The visitors made a whirlwind start. A quick free-kick released Daniel Harvie down the left and his cross eluded the entire home defence, allowing Shankland to plant a header past a helpless Benjamin Siegrist.
Neilson’s men were struggling to find their feet 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. These were worrying times for the hosts who were lucky not to fall further behind on 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.
Ayr were in total command. Just after the half hour mark, Shankland 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.
However, McCall’s men 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 the former Aberdeen striker did the rest with a tap-in from inside the United six-yard box.
The hosts tried to throw themselves a lifeline right after the break with Paul McMullan setting up Fraser Aird whose back-post effort went wide.
Neilson’s men huffed and puffed without creating too many scoring opportunities and McMullan’s 77th minute drive from distance went harmlessly past the post.
Ayr put the game beyond doubt with 12 minutes remaining when Moffat latched on to Andy Geggan’s pass and stayed cool to finish low past Rakovan.
Shankland claimed his hat-trick with a penalty four minutes from time after Moffat had been fouled by Edjenguele. He then netted a fourth at the death, bringing down a diagonal ball into the box expertly before slotting past Rakovan to make it 5-0.