Dundee United captain Barry Robson grabbed a hat-trick at Tannadice to sink shambolic eight-man Hearts.
Robson scored for United from a controversial free-kick
Robson smashed home from eight yards after 22 minutes but Christophe Berra levelled before half-time.
Hearts' Marius Zaliukas was sent-off for elbowing Lee Wilkie and Robson converted the resultant penalty before setting up Noel Hunt for number three.
Robson scored another from the spot as first Lee Wallace and then Michael Stewart were sent off for Hearts.
Dundee United had asked for the game to be postponed after the trauma of their match at Motherwell which saw the death of Phil O'Donnell after he collapsed on the pitch.
But the Scottish Premier League insisted the game went ahead with a pre-match tribute of a minute's applause for the Well skipper.
There was little goalmouth action in the opening 10 minutes.
New United left-back Danny Grainger survived a penalty appeal when referee Alan Freeland ruled his shoulder charge on Calum Elliot was a fair challenge.
Hearts keeper Steve Banks got down well to hold the first shot on target in the 16th minute when Willo Flood struck a half-cleared corner through a ruck of bodies from 20 yards out.
Freeland enraged the visiting fans by ruling that Robbie Neilson's miscue, which Banks caught, was a deliberate pass-back and awarded United a free-kick just outside the six-yard box.
The hosts took full advantage as Robson smashed the ball into the top corner following Lee Wilkie's touch back, to give United a 22nd-minute lead.
Andrew Driver immediately hobbled off after appearing to injure his foot while slicing wide following a set-piece 20 yards out.
Deividas Cesnauskis replaced him to make his first Hearts appearance since November 2006 following a series of injury problems.
Hearts levelled in the 37th minute when Christophe Berra slid in to convert a corner from Stewart which had been headed on by Zaliukas.
Andrius Velicka soon headed wide from close range after Neilson's long throw, but Hearts could not keep their pressure going until the break.
Robson missed a glorious opportunity to restore United's lead in the second-half when he could not connect properly in the six-yard box after Darren Dods had headed down Willo Flood's corner.
The home side then took the lead following an unfortunate series of events after 67 minutes culminating in a penalty kick.
Zaliukas elbowed Wilkie off the ball in the penalty box after Hearts had cleared an attack and the Lithuanian was immediately sent off.
Then Freeland, after a long delay and discussions with his assistant, pointed to the spot.
Neilson had been waiting to take a throw-in following the red card but the incident had occurred when the ball was in play.
And Robson, who has been subject to lingering speculation about a possible move to Celtic, converted his second gift of the day in the 69th minute.
The United captain turned provider for Hunt after 82 minutes when his wickedly curling free-kick was headed home from close range by the little Irish winger.
And Robson completed the rout and his own hat-trick with three minutes to go when he raced clear through on goal and was felled in the box by Lee Wallace.
Wallace received his marching orders for the professional foul.
Robson drilled his second penalty of the day low past Bank.
Stewart was sent off in injury time as sorry Hearts, who have now lost six league games in a row, were reduced to seven outfield players.
Dundee Utd: Szamotulski, Dillon, Wilkie (Kenneth 90), Dods, Grainger, Flood (Odhiambo 89), Kerr, Gomis, Robson, David Robertson (Swanson 60), Hunt. Subs Not Used: McLean, Conway, Buaben, Jordan Robertson.
Booked: Robson, Gomis.
Goals: Robson 23, 70 pen, Hunt 84, Robson 88 pen.
Hearts: Banks, Neilson, Zaliukas, Berra, Wallace, Mikoliunas (Pospisil 81), Stewart, Palazuelos, Driver (Cesnauskis 34), Velicka, Elliot (Nade 63). Subs Not Used: Basso, Goncalves, Jonsson, McGowan.
Sent Off: Zaliukas (70), Wallace (87), Stewart (90).
Booked: Velicka, Stewart, Pospisil.
Goals: Berra 37.
Ref: A Freeland (Scotland).