Dundee United 3 Rangers 3
Rangers squandered the opportunity to extend their lead at the summit of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League to nine points after being held to a draw by Dundee United at Tannadice.
Christian Kalvenes, Noel Hunt and an own goal from Carlos Cuellar provided the home side with the lead on three occasions but they were pegged back each time by Rangers in a thrilling contest.
David Weir, Nacho Novo and Kris Boyd were all on the scoresheet but the SPL leaders failed to find the winning goal that would allow them to take a major leap towards wrapping up the title.
Rangers had looked like a team running on empty in the latter stages of Thursday’s goalless draw with Sporting Lisbon in the UEFA Cup and it was no surprise to see Walter Smith make changes for today’s trip to Tannadice.
Boyd, who inspired the CIS Insurance Cup win over United last month, started along with Novo, with Jean-Claude Darcheville named on the bench. Christian Dailly and Steven Whittaker were also drafted into the starting line up.
Daniel Cousin had hoped to play a part after recovering from the broken jaw he sustained against Werder Bremen four weeks ago but looks set to make his comeback in the return leg against Sporting in Lisbon next week instead.
Garry Kenneth had been outstanding for United at Hampden but he missed out through suspension, along with Danny Swanson after both picked up red cards in last week’s defeat at Hearts. Lee Wilkie started despite fears over a dead leg.
Events at Celtic Park 24 hours earlier had a major impact on both teams involved today, United’s hopes of finishing third being dealt a blow by Motherwell’s win and Rangers expected to wrap up the championship sooner rather than later after Celtic lost further ground in the title race.
Rangers’ last domestic defeat was at this venue back in October and fans who had made the journey from Glasgow expecting to see a side galvanised by Celtic’s predicament were disappointed early on.
Dundee United started the game well and carved out the first couple of chances. Hunt beat Sasa Papac to a long ball from Willo Flood at the near post only to send his header narrowly past the upright with Allan McGregor flapping in the Rangers goal.
David Robertson, added to the first team along with Darren Dods and Sean Dillon, then delivered a cross from the right to the feet of Mark de Vries but his close range shot lacked power and punch and was comfortably collected by McGregor.
United continued to look impressive going forward and McGregor was called into action again to smother at the feet of Hunt before he could pull the trigger after exchanging a smart one-two with de Vries.
The home side took the lead with 37 minutes gone. Flood’s free-kick picked out Dods, whose header was blocked at close range by McGregor. The ball broke to Kalvenes who cracked a shot off the post before bundling home at the second attempt.
The celebrations were short-lived when Rangers restored parity a minute from half-time when Boyd was fouled just outside the box. Barry Ferguson stepped up for the free-kick and Weir rose above everyone else to nod into the top left corner.
United were back in front within six minutes of the restart. Kalvenes provided the cross and Dillon lofted the ball over McGregor where Hunt was waiting to nod home.
Boyd then squandered a great chance to level almost immediately when he narrowly failed to connect with a Ferguson ball a few yards out with the gaping net at his mercy.
The honours went to Novo instead when he pounced on a through ball from McCulloch and squeezed between Kalvenes and Dodds before rounding the goalkeeper and slotting home with 58 minutes on the clock.
There were more twists and turns to come. A Dillon cross from the right was missed by McGregor and Cuellar’s despairing attempts to clear the danger saw the centre-half succeed only in diverting the ball over the line instead after 65 minutes.
Rangers levelled again two minutes later when Boyd seized upon a poor pass-back from Flood and rifled home in off the goalkeeper’s left-hand post.
With both teams searching for the winner, Rangers threw Darcheville into the action in place of Thomson for the final 15 minutes.
Instead it was United who could have snatched the decisive goal had it not been for a superb save from McGregor to deny Robertson’s point-blank effort, before Kalvenes squandered a chance late on.
In the end, a share of the spoils seemed a fair result following a contest which proved to be almost as enthralling as last month’s CIS Cup final between the two clubs.