Jim Duffy, the Morton manager, nursed a slight sense of frustration at leaving Tannadice with only a point, but saw enough to believe they’re genuine contenders for a coveted play-off spot.
Mark Durnan’s fortunate 83rd-minute equaliser preserved Dundee United’s unbeaten record at home this season, after skipper Lee Kilday had given the visitors a 38th-minute lead through his towering far-post header.
The Greenock club were just seven minutes away from celebrating their first win at Tannadice in 39 years but it couldn’t completely dampen Duffy’s mood, having watched his side more than hold their own against one of their main promotion rivals to remain fourth in the Championship.
“There’s a tinge of disappointment in the dressing-room,” admitted Duffy afterwards.
“We can’t be too harsh if you come up to Tannadice and come away with a point after all.
“I thought in the first half we were outstanding and really on the front-foot. We didn’t allow Dundee United any space at all.
“We felt they would come at us a bit more in the second half but with 15 minutes to go we were still in control of the game.
“Their goal was just bad luck from our point of view and fortuitous from theirs.
“It just ricochets off someone. Durnan doesn’t know anything about it and then it’s in the net. But the hard part is still to come in the last quarter. That’s when things are decided.
“If we can keep that level of performance up we’ll take enough points to ensure we have a good season.”
United were happy to welcome goalkeeper Cammy Bell back after missing their two previous matches due to a thigh injury, while Dutch defender Frank van der Struijk managed to shake off a dead leg.
Having reached the final of the Challenge Cup the week before with a 3-2 win away to Queen of the South, the hosts were intent on breathing new life into their title challenge after losing 3-0 away to Falkirk in their last league outing.
Morton, not surprisingly, remained the same from their 2-2 draw with Falkirk the previous week.
They arrived on Tayside knowing a win would move them above United and had already inflicted defeat on their opponents this season.
Back in September, the Ton saw off United 2-1 in the League Cup at Cappielow and since then have turned themselves into genuine promotion challengers.
They began the brighter side and, in ten minutes, Ross Forbes was the first to try his luck with a curling 20-yard free-kick which was well held by Bell.
On the half-hour mark, Scott Fraser got the better of two Morton defenders and crossed for Tony Andreu, but the on-loan Norwich City attacker shot high over the bar from eight yards when he’s often so deadly in those situations.
Shortly after, Forbes found space inside the box and his low cross was tempting, but there were no takers to apply a finishing touch.
However, they didn’t have to wait too much longer before making the breakthrough.
Forbes’ in-swinging corner eluded the entire home defence to allow Kilday to rise unchallenged at the far post and head into the net.
There was no begrudging Morton their lead and the hosts were forced to dig deep in search of an equaliser after the break.
United should have levelled things in 52 minutes. Charlie Telfer slipped a ball through to Scott Fraser who, with a decent first touch, went clean through on goal but somehow lifted his wayward shot high over the bar from ten yards.
Simon Murray replaced Nick van der Velden in 62 minutes and the substitute almost levelled within two minutes. Thomas Mikkelsen’s headed knock-down was ideal for Murray, who ran on to it but was foiled by visiting keeper Derek Gaston as he raced off his line.
But in 83 minutes the hosts rode their luck when a goal-mouth scramble involving Kilday saw the ball ricochet off Durnan and into the net past Gaston.
“We’re disappointed not to take the three points,” said Ray McKinnon, the Dundee United manager, afterwards.
“It wasn’t a great game but I’ve got to give the guys some credit because they got the result we wanted and salvaged a point.
“Sometimes you need a bit of luck and we got some today.”