RYAN McGowan’s first goal for Dundee United rescued a point against Inverness after Michal Szromnik continued a poor start to his Tannadice career with an early red card.
Greg Tansey netted a ninth-minute penalty after the goalkeeper had been sent off for bringing down Marley Watkins, who caused United all sorts of problems in the early stages with his runs in behind.
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But Caley Thistle were never entirely comfortable in a lively contest that saw eight players booked and McGowan finished at the second attempt in the 74th minute to secure a 1-1 draw that prevented the visitors moving 10 points clear of United in the top four of the Scottish Premiership.
And the drama continued into injury time when Inverness defender Gary Warren was shown a straight red card following an off-the-ball clash with Nadir Ciftci.
Inverness right-back David Raven was the first player booked after 13 seconds for hacking down Ryan Dow and the next, more significant, card came for Szromnik five minutes later.
The 21-year-old had retained his place in the starting line-up despite conceding two soft goals on his debut on Saturday in United’s 2-0 home defeat by St Johnstone.
He was put in trouble by Graeme Shinnie’s ball over the top and a perfectly-timed run by Watkins to beat the offside trap, despite protests from the home dugout.
Watkins raced past the goalkeeper with the ball and there was no doubt about the red card after the Pole took the striker out just inside the box.
Chris Erskine was sacrificed for Radoslaw Cierzniak, who dived the wrong way from Tansey’s penalty.
Watkins soon rounded his second goalkeeper of the night after a one-two with Nick Ross but this time centre-back McGowan got in front of him to shepherd the ball wide.
The 10 men fought back and Dow had two chances in the right channel, the first following a blatant push from Ciftci and the second after a back-heel from the striker, but Ryan Esson was only forced into action once and got down to hold.
Watkins sent a weak effort straight at Cierzniak after being gifted possession and the game grew increasingly ill-tempered.
Paul Paton and Warren were booked after a flare-up and Shinnie followed for a late tackle on Dow, with Esson holding Ciftci’s subsequent free-kick.
Ross Draper headed over from two yards with his back to goal at the other end after Ryan Christie’s corner had ultimately reached him in a crowded goalmouth full of jostling players.
With refere Calum Murray under pressure from the home fans in the 7,276 crowd - which was boosted by £5 admission prices - Raven took a risk with a clumsy foul on Paul Dixon 60 seconds after the interval but he avoided another card.
Watkins and Christie were booked as United forced Inverness to give everything to protect their lead.
Esson blocked well from Dow before the hour mark and Ciftci shot well over under pressure.
Caley Thistle were beginning to look more comfortable when McGowan levelled.
The former Hearts player initially mis-kicked after Sean Dillon’s cross broke to him just inside the box but his second effort took a deflection and sailed past Esson into the top corner.
United almost took the lead three minutes later when Paton’s long ball sent Ciftci clear but Esson came off his line to parry the forward’s shot.
Inverness soon reasserted themselves as an attacking force and Danny Williams had a header blocked before Watkins flicked the ball wide. Cierzniak then pushed over Tansey’s powerful free-kick after Dow was booked for a cynical foul on Christie.
United had just seen an attack fizzle out when Warren and Ciftci clashed, with the former dismissed and the latter shown a yellow card for his part in a tussle that prompted a linesman to run into the penalty box.