Dundee United saw their early form take a hit after a surprise defeat to bottom side Alloa Athletic gave the rest of the Championship hope for the season ahead.
Following an imperious start to the campaign that had seen the Tangerines stick six past both Dundee and Morton and four beyond Inverness, Robbie Neilson’s side stumbled once more on the road to the part-time Wasps to make it just one point picked up at the Indodrill Stadium out of the last nine.
What’s most worrying for the Tannadice gaffer is the exposure of a soft underbelly to his team when certain key players are missing.
Midfield enforcer Calum Butcher picked up a groin injury in the lead-up to the contest on Friday night, leaving the Tangerines with a central pairing of Sam Stanton and Ian Harkes.
Robbie’s demeanour on the touchline in Clackmannanshire got increasingly more angry as the match wore on with the inability of his midfield to get close enough to the Alloa players.
By the 70th minute, both Stanton and Harkes were substituted along with the ineffectual Adrian Sporle.
Peter Grant’s side put together some excellent passing moves, particularly in the first half, as they ran the United defence ragged.
From the Tangerines’ point of view, it was far too easy for the home side to play their way through the lines – something Butcher plays a major part in preventing when he is in the team.
Another change forced upon the manager was the use of right-back Liam Smith in place of Jamie Robson, with the former Ayr man caught out for the ultimately-decisive goal.
Robson is expected back for United’s next match away to Queen of the South in just less than a fortnight.
The Tangerines need him, too.
With right-footed Smith playing in the unfamiliar position on the left of defence, the Tangerines lack balance.
Argentine Sporle was brought in initially as a left full-back but has been used recently as a wide midfielder rather than being trusted in the defence.
That’s left Smith to deputise in the unfamiliar role and his discomfort there showed as Alloa snatched the lead after 18 minutes.
Smith was caught out of position as Scott Taggart played the ball inside the full-back for Kevin Cawley to scamper onto and cut across for Kevin O’Hara’s goal.
And that wasn’t the end of the Wasps’ buzzing attacking play as Paul McMullan’s inexplicable decision to dribble out of his own box allowed Iain Flannigan a look at goal only for Troy Brown to save his team-mate’s blushes.
Goalscorer O’Hara also flashed another effort just over following a flowing passing move with the visiting defence looking beleaguered at times in the opening half.
If Alloa were incisive in attack, the travelling Tangerines certainly weren’t as star man Lawrence Shankland was starved of any real service.
All the news in the lead-up to the match of course was about his call-up to the Scotland squad.
And any accusation of the hitman taking his eye off the ball for this one wasn’t the case – mainly because United rarely got him on it.
Just once did he break free of the Alloa shackles and was found by the United midfield as McMullan swung in a good ball.
The normally prolific striker, though, couldn’t hit the target with his header.
The manager accused his players of a lack of fight in the game – the rest of the promotion contenders will certainly take a lot of hope from that.