IF Dundee United’s victory over AZ Alkmaar last Thursday was a shot in the arm for the Scottish game, then the inquest must now begin into exactly went wrong in the return fixture. Five down by half-time, they were ripped to shreds by the Dutch side and knocked out of Europa Conference League qualifying at the first hurdle.
They matched the record for the worst ever defeat for a Scottish side in Europe – previously set by Celtic versus Barcelona and Hibernian against Malmo - and last week’s one-goal victory over the same opposition now seems a long time ago.
AZ reached the last 16 of this tournament last season and had United been knocked out in a respectable fashion then there would have been no disgrace, but this was an utter embarrassment. United fans started heading back to their hotels when Dani de Wit knocked in the sixth just after half-time.
Over 2,000 supporters made the short trip over the North Sea but only 1,300 had tickets for the fixture. They lapped up the local culture during the day, and despite reports of minor scuffles with home fans, were largely lauded for their behaviour.
A pre-match party at the Nieuwmarkt area of Amsterdam on Wednesday evening had a jovial atmosphere and a post-bash clean-up operation by the fans was welcomed by the local constabulary. For United fans, it was their first European trip since they watched their side suffer a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Moscow Dynamo 10 years ago and it was their first visit to the Netherlands since they beat PSV Eindhoven 2-0 in 1982. One can only imagine Jim McLean’s reaction to this performance.
The travelling fans were treated a pre-match rendition of club anthem Love is in the Air before kick-off but the pleasantries ended once they finished singing John Paul Young’s 1977 anthem.
AZ had the first chance of the evening in the sixth minute when de Wit sent a low cross into the box towards Vangelis Pavlidis but the Greek international could only shoot straight at Mark Birighitti.
Hakon Evjen followed that up shortly afterwards with an ambitious effort from 25 yards that floated harmlessly over the crossbar.
An Evjen shot slid just wide of the post, but it took a good stop from Birighitti to deny the midfielder in the 20th minute, the Australian getting down well to his left to claw the ball away from goal and it was clear that the hosts were beginning to go through the gears.
They took the lead in the 21st minute. Pavlidis, who had previously tasted defeat in Europe to Celtic and Rangers before the loss at Tannadice, converted to finish a fine move. It was the type of goal typical of Dutch teams, with Tijjani Reijnders displaying great awareness to send a piercing pass through the United defence into the path of Milos Kerkez, whose first time cross was tapped into the net by Pavlidis.
Ian Harkes forced a good save from Hobie Verhulst with a stunning overhead kick as United looked to restore their lead in the tie, but after 31 minutes they were two behind and chasing the game.
There was a degree of fortune in the way that the ball broke to Reijnders from Craig Sibbald’s attempt to intercept a flowing AZ move, but there was nothing lucky about the finish with the ball flying into the bottom corner.
Five minutes later it was three and game over. Evjen swung in a half-decent corner but Birighitti’s attempt to punch clear was miscalculated and he completely missed the ball, allowing Pavlidis to nod in.
The fourth came in the 41st minute. Pantelis Hatzdiakos was afforded far too much time in the box and his cutback was dispatched of by Reijnders for his second. By half-time, it was five and Birighitti could only look on as Evjen lashed the ball into the top corner.
The second half was 50 seconds old when de Wit scored the sixth, and for many United fans, that was enough as they headed home, and it was for the best as they missed Mayckel Lahdo knock in the historic seventh.