Jordan White scored a poacher’s hat-trick as Ross County beat Dundee United 3-1 in their relegation showdown at Tannadice to climb off the bottom of the cinch Premiership and leave their hosts two points adrift at the foot of the table.
A large and expectant home support had turned out to try and roar their team towards safety while also celebrating the 40th anniversary of their club’s only top-flight title win in 1983.
But they endured a demoralising afternoon in the Tayside sunshine as striker White scored in the opening minute and then struck another two in the second half after Jamie McGrath had levelled things up with a penalty midway through the first half.
United boss Jim Goodwin made two changes to the side that started the previous weekend’s defeat at St Johnstone as Kieran Freeman and the suspended Charlie Mulgrew made way for Ryan Edwards and 17-year-old striker Rory MacLeod.
There were also two tweaks to the County line-up from their victory over Livingston as Josh Sims and Alex Samuel came in for Keith Watson and Simon Murray.
On a day when United honoured one of the most revered teams in their history, the spirit of 1983 was sadly lacking as they fell behind after just 38 seconds when White nodded over the line from close range after Jack Baldwin headed George Harmon’s corner back across the six-yard box.
The Tayside outfit had a great chance to get back in the game in the 13th minute when centre-back Loick Ayina surged out of defence to latch on to an Ian Harkes through ball and drove into the box, only to blaze his shot over the bar from 15 yards out.
After their slack start, United had cranked up the pressure and they got themselves level in the 23rd minute when, following a VAR intervention, County winger Sims was deemed to have handled Aziz Behich’s cross in the box and McGrath kept his cool to slot home the penalty.
The home support were revelling in the way their team had fought their way back into the match and MacLeod and Craig Sibbald both tested Ross Laidlaw with shots from the edge of the box as United finished the first half strongly.
They went desperately close in the 50th minute when Fletcher’s shot from inside the box was deflected just wide after MacLeod hooked Ilmari Niskanen’s cross down into his path.
Having enjoyed such a lengthy period of pressure, however, the Tannadice side then completely lost their way.
They were fortunate not to concede in the 55th minute when Mark Birighitti made a superb save after Sims nicked the ball off Ayina in the box and got a shot away.
But there was no reprieve for United in the 57th minute when White beat Scott McMann to the ball and clipped beyond Birighitti from close range after Nohan Kenneh’s cross-shot from the right came across the face of goal.
And County seized full control in the 72nd minute when David Cancola released substitute Simon Murray down the left and his cross was knocked over the line at the back post by White.
Dundee United are away to Livingston in their next Scottish Premiership match on May 20, while Ross County are at Motherwell.
Both games kick-off at 3pm.