Dundee United sent an emphatic message to the chasing pack in the Championship as they swept fourth-placed Inverness aside with a commanding display.
Questions had been asked about the Tangerines’ ability to stand up to physical challenges on the road after three away defeats on the spin.
Heading to a notoriously tough venue to face a strong Caley Thistle outfit in wet and windy conditions, United’s title credentials were going to be tested to the full (see video below).
They came through their Highland examination with straight A’s, however, as they maintained their three-point lead at the top of the division.
A defeat at fellow title-hopefuls Ayr United is understandable and plenty of sides have found it difficult on Alloa’s plastic park.
However, the 4-0 thumping suffered on the road at Queen of the South had alarm bells ringing after United’s defence coughed up cheap goals.
A big factor that day at Palmerston was that Robbie Neilson’s side had been over- powered in the two boxes.
Heading to another physically strong side in Inverness, the Tangerines would need to show that was a one-off.
In came Paul Watson in the centre of defence, allowing Calum Butcher to step back into midfield after featuring as a defender at home to Partick.
Much of Caley Thistle’s threat comes from hitting targetman Jordan White and then getting quality wingers like Aaron Doran on the ball from there.
Arguably United’s strongest player in the air, Watson’s task was to shut down that supply route from White and he did that superbly.
Supported by central defensive partner Mark Reynolds, Butcher in front and Jamie Robson and Liam Smith down the sides, the former Falkirk man was all over White at every opportunity.
So much that Inverness boss John Robertson took off wingers Doran and Mitch Curry after just an hour.
A-plus for the defence.
In the middle of the park, Butcher was at his best while Ian Harkes showed his ability on the ball at times, though he gave up possession too easily on others.
Paul McMullan and Louis Appere were real threats throughout, too.
The former should have got on the scoresheet late on but the control the midfield had over their hosts easily gave them passmarks in what was a quality team display.
Of course, so did the strikeforce with both Nicky Clark and Lawrence Shankland getting on the scoresheet.
Clark has made a real impact since returning to the side after injury with two goals in the last three matches and is showing he can ease the burden on Shankland.
He may have been having to run the line himself had the referee seen a clash between the Scotland man and Jamie McCart the same way as an enraged Caley Thistle side did, however.
He didn’t and United march on to their next test, the small matter of a derby at Dens Park, on top form and full of confidence.