CALEY THISTLE’S opener was a delightfully crafted moment of class, Dundee United’s response much more brutish. Lazy preconceptions about these two teams went out of the proverbial window yesterday.
Inverness Caley Thistle 1 - 1 Dundee United
Tulloch Caledonian Stadium
Scorers: ICT; Christie 7, Dundee; El Alagui 71
Ryan Christie, a 19-year-old of immense promise, finished a lovely move after only seven minutes with a confident flick of the head.
Farid El Alagui bludgeoned home at the second attempt amid suspicions of a foul on the goalkeeper to earn United what, to be fair, was a point they deserved.
As a result, the faint Europa League qualification hopes of Inverness were extinguished; United’s route to Europe will now depend on a Scottish Cup final triumph or victories over Aberdeen and Celtic and favours from elsewhere.
El Alagui, though, still believes the league route is achievable.
“It is going to be tough but we keep believing,” the Algerian 28-year-old said. “They will be two entertaining games and I feel we can take six points from those two games, definitely.
“If you see the way these guys can play sometimes, there is no reason not to believe. It was a tough game today and we didn’t start as we wanted to. Fair play to Inverness, they came at us at times. But I’m delighted we came back to draw and I managed to score the goal.”
On a day when city neighbours Dundee were confirmed as champions, United were poor for 45 minutes.
The hosts might have harboured pre-match concerns with a hole ripped in their defence with both regular centre halves, Josh Meekings and Gary Warren injured, John Hughes restoring Danny Devine as a result, and drawing Carl Tremarco into central defence.
Young talent Ryan Christie was among those earning starts – and was to make a big impression.
For all their shuffling and players out of position, Inverness were quick to stamp their authority on the game, taking a seventh-minute lead.
Greg Tansey swept a long, pin-point pass across to Watkins on the right flank. The Caley Thistle wide man controlled and speared a perfect cross into the six-yard box where young Christie rose to head past Radoslaw Cierzniak with ease.
It might have been two six minutes later, when an eye-catching burst of quick passing almost carved United open again.
Greg Tansey and Billy Mckay linked before Christie’s pass pierced the United defence. Mckay surged through but Gavin Gunning did well to make the telling tackle and clear the danger.
There was applause ringing out in the main stand as the home side’s slick passing play kept thrilling the fans.
United might have retaliated, though, after 22 minutes when Ryan Dow surged away through the middle, only for keeper Dean Brill to shut down the angle and block superbly.
No doubt chastised at the break, United were instantly brighter in the early part of the second period.
After 54 minutes, they went close, Nadir Ciftci dropping deep and flicking through a pass to John Rankin, who immediately released substitute Brian Graham. The United striker’s eight-yard shot lacked venom, though, and Brill smothered down low.
The added aerial threat from substitute El Alagui and Graham eventually paid off, though.
With 19 minutes remaining, Paul Paton’s free kick sparked danger in a crowded home box and, after a spot of aerial pinball, El Alagui forced the ball past Brill.
Brill remained adamant afterwards he had been fouled. “I felt my arm was impeded which, to me, is the same as a trip on an outfield player,” Brill said. “I don’t know if it was intentional. We are protected goalkeepers, as a species, but in certain circumstances maybe it needs to be understood a little bit more.”
BT Sport Q&A: Rangers | Hibs | Neil Lennon
THIS week’s BT Sport video Q&A looks at whether Rangers fans will buy season tickets and if the club’s supporters will force a change of ownership.
The form of Hibs under Terry Butcher is also examined following the Easter Road side’s derby defeat while the future of Neil Lennon is also considered following the announcement that his assistant Johan Mjallby is to depart at the end of the season.
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