Motherwell arrived at Tannadice with the squad barely hanging together so it was perhaps inevitable they’d no answer to Dundee United.
Paul Lawson was the latest injury victim, while Keith Lasley, Stuart Carswell and Henri Anier all declared themselves fit, but were clearly far from 100 per cent.
The only positive was the arrival of defender Craig Reid from Morton to bolster the ranks and he made his debut off the bench.
Also on the bench was goalkeeper Lee Hollis after months out with an ankle injury.
Perhaps realising they had to kill off the game quickly against a sprightly United side, ’Well went for the jugular quickly, but while dominating possession the closest they came was an Iain Vigurs free kick that went over.
However, the home side soon took control and were ahead on 21 minutes as RYAN DOW took advantage of Shaun Hutchinson’s short back pass to slam the ball past Gunnar Nielsen.
Vigurs had a great chance to equalise as Sutton nodded down into his path, but Radoslaw Cizerzniak stretched every inch of his body to save.
And then United as a team stretched their lead four minutes from the break.
Stuart Armstrong’s shot was blocked by Stevie Hammell as was Nadir Ciftci’s effort by Hutchinson.
However, from the resultant corner Ciftci smacked Hammell in the face to make space for himself and headed on to the back post where former ’Well defender GAVIN GUNING scored.
A minute later Gunning made no effort to play the ball and took out Vigurs in the United box, but referee Bobby Madden turned down the penalty appeals.
A minute after the break it was 3-1 as GUNNING’S free-kick deflected off James McFadden and found the bottom corner.
On 56 minutes ’Well were given a lifeline as Ciftci handled McFadden’s free kick and SUTTON scored from the spot.
The visitors sent on Reid and Anier for Lionel Ainsworth and Vigurs respectively and the latter should have set up a grandstand finish. However after Cierzniak failed to hold a cross could only divert his header wide.
Dundee United: Cierzniak, Watson, Robertson, Rankin, Gunning, Good, Mackay-Steven, Paton, Ciftci, Armstrong (Connolly 88 ), Dow (El Alagui 78 ). Subs not used: Dillon, Graham, Wilson, McCallum, Gomis.
Motherwell: Nielsen, Hammell, Francis-Angol, Lasley, Hutchinson, McManus, Ainsworth (Reid 67), Carswell, Sutton, McFadden, Vigurs (Anier 77 ). Subs not used: Hollis, Murray, Leitch, Shirkie, Thomas.
Referee: Bobby Madden.